TCR Japan: Anna Inotsume wins again at Okayama
With another perfect weekend at Okayama, Anna Inotsume remains unbeaten in TCR Japan, having collected four wins in just as many races.
Japanese touring car ace Anna Inotsume swept the weekend at Okayama, second round of the TCR Japan championship, to claim her fourth win of the season in just as many races.
With a pole position and two victories, Inotsume continued her dominant run in the national TCR championship.
The driver of the #98 Honda Civic TCR has been unbeatable since the season opener at Suzuka, where she again took a pole position, a fastest lap and two race wins to kick off the season. Her performances at Suzuka cost her extra 50kg of success ballast for the Okayama weekend.
This didn't stop Inotsume from showing her speed at the 3.703 km Okayama International Circuit, which also hosted two F1 GPs in 1994 and 1995.
In an overcast Saturday morning, drivers battled out for pole position in the first 15-minute qualifying session: Mototino and Hirobon alternated at the top of the timing screen, before Mototino set a 1'36.283 lap that represented the new circuit record. Inotsume, though, would break the record a few seconds later, clocking a 1'35.936 that remained unbeaten, for the first time under the 1:36 mark.
Anna Inotsume therefore secured her second pole position of the season and geared up to expand her trophy collection in the first race of the weekend, later on the day.
She would have to fight back Mototino, though, as the latter took the lead at the start with a great getaway, leading Inotsume, Umemoto and Kato into turn 1.
Inotsume immediately responded with a pass at the hairpin in the opening lap; while Mototino was back ahead at the final corner, positions were eventually restored into turn 1 on lap 2. After the initial battle for the lead, Mototino, Umemoto and Kato fought for second place - allowing Anna Inotsume to pull away. Mototino eventually ended up with a 10 second penalty for a jump start and, after a mistake on lap 5, he went off and hit the barriers - triggering the safety car.
The race resumed on lap 7 and Inotsume was immediately able to once again open a 5 second gap. From there, she was never challenged and crossed the finish line achieving yet another lights-to-flag victory. Junichi Umemoto and Masanobu Kato rounded out the podium.
Drivers found a wet track on Sunday morning, with the second qualifying scheduled for 08:45. In the mixed conditions, Seiji Tamada was the only driver to opt for wet tyres, where the others gambled for slicks. This turned out to be the right choice, as slicks were over 5 seconds faster: Hirobon set the pace for most of the session, topping his lap reference consistently as the track improved.
In the final minute of the qualifying session, Anna Inotsume recorded a 1:54:972 that looked like the new provisional pole position - but her lap was topped by Hirobon in the closing seconds, by over 9 tenths of a second.
From second on the grid, Inotsume had a bit more work to do in order to maintain her perfect score after four races. Under grey clouds but a dry track, Inotsume had a better start than Hirobon - but they were both overtaken by the Audi RS3 LMS Masanobu Kato, who had a great launch and fired into the lead at turn 1.
A four-car train battle for the lead eventually saw Kato and Inotsume chipping away; the latter intensified the attacks and, on lap 4, she made an attempt at turn 1 - but she had to back out. The opportunity arose again at turn 4 - and Inotsume made a move stick, grabbing the top spot despite light contact.
Behind them, Mototino, Hirobon and Umemoto were battling for the final podium position. Hirobon eventually drifted behind this pack, as Mototino emerged in third.
While Kato continued to have a competitive pace, he wasn't able to keep up with Inotsume, who checked out and took another dominant win in race 2 - her fourth of the season and the sixth of her career.
With two additional fastest laps, Inotsume rounded out another spectacular weekend, extending her lead in both the series' championship: she now leads by 23 points in the Saturday Series and 20 points in the Sunday Series.
The third round of TCR Japan is scheduled for 19-20 August at Twin Ring Motegi.