Anna Inotsume takes double victory in TCR Japan season opener
With a perfect start of the TCR Japan season, Anna Inotsume claimed two victories, a pole position and a fastest lap at a very wet Suzuka circuit.
Anna Inotsume has kicked off her third season in TCR Japan with two race wins and a pole position - launching her title bid with a dominant performance in a very wet Suzuka.
Inotsume contested a partial campaign in 2021, before stepping up to a full-season effort in 2022, where she secured 2 wins, 9 podiums, one pole position and 3 fastest laps - ultimately finishing runner up in the championship standings of both the Saturday and Sunday series.
Returning behind the wheel of the #98 Dome Racing Honda Civic TCR FK7 entry, Inotsume had a perfect start to her 2023 and will be clearly the driver to beat in Japan's TCR series.
Inotsume led the first 15 minute qualifying session on Saturday under intermittent rain at the famous Suzuka Circuit; most of the cars headed out on track on wet weather tyres, with a few drivers gambling with slicks. While lap times were dropping quickly - Anna Inotsume emerged as the fastest with a 2:30.467 lap on wet tyres, 7 tenths faster than Hirobon's #19 Cupra, who had changed to the faster but harder to control slicks.
Again in very challenging conditions, race 1 was underway for the first race of the season: Inotsume and Hirobon held positions at the start, while Kenji Suzuki dropped down from third on the grid, promoting Masanobu Kato.
The battle for the lead was on - and Hirobon attacked Inotsume at Spoon Curve, before the pole-sitter fought back on the back-straight, as she tried to get back ahead at the fast 130R.
On the second lap, though, positions were restored when Inotsume took advantage of a mistake by her rival - also overtaken by Kato for second.
From then on, Inotsume extended her gap and never looked back, crossing the finish line 5 second ahead of Hirobon - who had found a way past Kato once again - Suzuki and Mototino. It was Inotsume's third career win in the series.
On Sunday morning cars hit the track once again for the second qualifying session of the weekend - in increasingly wet conditions. The rain had in fact never stopped overnight and, when the session got underway at 8am, everyone went out on wet tyres, in extremely difficult grid conditions.
Inotsume set the early pace and - having used only one set of tyres unlike other drivers - she remained on top of the timesheets until a red flag. Action resumed with 4 minutes to go - and Hirobon was able to improve Inotsume's 2'29.805 lap by almost half a second.
Inotsume responded with a 2:29.623, which was her personal best but wasn't enough to claim a back-to-back pole position.
In the final race of the weekend, Hirobon and Inotsume shared the front row - but it would be the Japanese young woman to immediately seize the lead of the race at turn 1 after a perfect start, followed by Mototino and Hirobon who battled for second place.
Anna Inotsume took advantage of that scrap to open a 4 gap, as Hirobon switched back at Degner Curve.
A safety car for the stranded Audi of Seiji Tamada, though, erased Inotsume's margin. The race resumed on lap 4 and, with another comfortable restart, Inotsume kept the lead and pulled away from Hirobon, setting the fastest lap of the race and eventually extending her lead to almost 5 seconds. After 10 laps, Anna Inotsume crossed the finish line and secured her second win of the weekend - completing a perfect round in extremely challenging conditions at Suzuka. Hirobon and Mototino completed the podium.
After the first of the five scheduled rounds, Anna Inotsume now leads the championship standings of both the Saturday and Sunday series.
The next race will be at Okayama International Circuit, on 10-11 June.