Japan takes GT Cup gold as Hamaguchi and Sasahara master rain-soaked Vallelunga

3 November 2019

Japan has taken GT Cup gold at the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games after triumphing in this afternoon's rain-affected medal showdown at Vallelunga.

The duo of Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Ukyo Sasahara were fast throughout the weekend, taking pole position for both qualifying races and converting their advantage into victory in the second run.

The Japanese-liveried Lamborghini Huracan started from third on the grid having fallen to a 10th-place finish in the opening qualifying contest, but converted that into second almost immediately when the medal showdown began by surging past Germany's Stefan Göring.

Poland took the start from pole after Andrzej Lewandowski and Artur Janosz claimed third and fourth respectively in the qualifying runs. They had shown consistency, but this was no match for Japan's raw pace and Hamaguchi was quickly able to snatch the lead and disappear into the distance.

There was an intruiging subplot during the early stages: while the race had begun on a drying track, most of the front-runners had started on wet Pirelli tyres. There were a few gamblers further down the order who took a punt on slicks and, as conditions improved, they were richly rewarded.

This allowed Italy to climb as high as second having started from 15th on the grid. They looked set to challenge Japan for the lead, only for Gianluca Roda to hit a wet patch and slide into the barrier, ending the hosts' chances of a famous tactical victory.

Russia were still out on slicks and had moved to as high as fourth, but the rain returned just before the pit window opened and left Rinat Salikhov struggling for grip in his Ferrari. The same was true of Kuwait's Zaid Ashkanani, who set the fastest lap to collect the Pirelli Speed Hero Award but could do nothing about the lack of traction once the weather turned.

Hamaguchi was able to hand over to teammate Sasahara with a commanding lead, but this was wiped out when the safety car was deployed shortly after the pit window closed. In worsening rain several cars found themselves in the gravel, including Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak. The impressive Thai racer had climbed as high of second and looked a real medal prospect before losing control of his Porsche and sliding out of contention.

Sasahara led behind the safety with Miguel Ramos second for Portugal and Janosz third in the Polish machine. Germany ran fourth, with Belgium fifth and Australia sitting sixth. When racing resumed Janosz quickly passed Ramos, while behind them Belgium's Nico Verdonck tipped the German car of Alfred Renauer into a spin. Ramos was the next to hit problems, allowing Verdonck and Australia's Brenton Grove to move past.

The green flag action did not last long as another safety car was deployed due to ever-worsening conditions and further spinners, including the beached Chinese car of Yaqi Zhang. As the rain grew ever more torrential and the clock ticked down, the contest was all but decided.

There was a change to the medal positions while the race was neutralised as Verdonck was handed a penalty for his contact with Renauer, relegating Belgium down the order and moving Australia up to third. The race finished behind the safety car with Japan taking the gold. Poland collected silver, while Australia celebrated their bronze medal.

Though their competitive running was limited in the second half of the final race Japan's pace throughout the weekend had been evident. Hamaguchi and Sasahara could therefore celebrate a deserved GT Cup triumph at the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.

Driver Quotes

Hiroshi Hamaguchi, Team Japan: "Our team has done a fantastic job. We've won everything you could ask for this season, so to finish in this way makes me very happy. Ukyo has done a great job, too. I can't believe this was his first weekend driving in GT3 – it's amazing."

Ukyo Sasahara, Team Japan: "Firstly, a huge thank to Hiro-san, who enabled me to do this race. I am very grateful to have had such a wonderful team around me. This is just a perfect day to be Japanese!"

Andrzej Lewandowski, Team Poland: "We planned to begin gently in races 1 and 2 in order to secure our position on the grid, which did a big part of the job for the main race. I am very happy with this result."

Artur Janosz, Team Poland: "My first aim was to enjoy the race weekend, that's the main reason we came here. We stuck to the plan of surviving during the two first races, which we more than succeeded in by taking pole position for the main race! This final race was just a pleasure to drive and finish P2 is a great result."

Stephen Grove, Team Australia: "I am really happy about that result! We worked really hard this weekend and to come here and represent our country has been just fantastic!"

Brenton Grove, Team Australia: "It was an amazing weekend, but we didn't have it easy by any means. We qualified well but we got tangled up with slower cars in each race. I said to Stephen, 'Let's not do anything silly but still push.' Also full credit to Herberth Motorsport who did an incredible job with the car. This is a great day."

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