Race Report & Photos by Thomas Tran:
Quickly establishing itself as THE on-road race in Japan, the AOC finale brought a lot of international talent to the legendary Yatabe Arena setting the stage for the biggest race of the year and with some saying…. the biggest race the country has ever seen. With multiple former world champions, national champions, and numerous international stars attending this event, the competition keeps getting higher making it a battle of champions.
Having dominated qualifying by TQ’ing 4 of 4 rounds, Yokomo’s Ronald Volker was clearly the man to beat. As the tone went off, Volker quickly dashed from the line leading the elite field of modified touring cars around the sweeper and into the first turn. With an unusual aggressive, hot start Volker’s intentions were clear as he started to pull away from the field immediately leaving the rest to battle amongst themselves. The 1st lap would prove to be a tough lap for a lot of drivers including 4th place qualifier, Yokomo’s Meen Vejrak who dropped back to last with a 1st turn incident. Next 2nd place qualifier, Yokomo’s Nicholas Lee would suffer a body tuck entering the chicane dropping him back to 9th. Meanwhile 3rd place qualifier, Yokomo’s Hayato Matsuzaki would inherit 2nd but soon traction roll going into the sweeper dropping him back to 6th. With all the chaos on the 1st lap, Tamiya’s Akio Sobue and Naoto Matsukura would be gifted 2nd and 3rd without having to battle. With already a comfortable gap by the 2nd lap, Volker would be able to run at his own pace and safely drive to another dominating win and making it a flawless victory at the AOC finale. The final two podium position would be a showdown between teammates, Sobue vs Matsukura with Matsukura charging hard to close the gap and contest for 2nd place. By the 19th lap, Matsukura would suffer a traction roll, but luckily retain his position by getting the racer’s roll and land on his wheels just in time to recover and save 3rd place. The current Japanese national champion, Sobue, would finish 2nd and Matsukura 3rd.
A rough start in the 17.5 stock sedan class saw TQ Hiroyuki Hayashi and 2nd place qualifier Kojima Yoichi break away from the pack early to pursue their own personal battle that would last the entire 5 minutes. Yoichi would start to close the gap to Hayashi, but a traction roll exiting the chicane allowed Hayashi to pull away with a comfortable margin of 1.5 seconds. Slowly Yoichi would chip away at Hayashi’s lead, but Hayashi would hold off Yoichi’s charge to take the win with Yoichi in 2nd and Yoshikatsu Namba would capitalize on the rough start and finish 3rd on the podium from the 6th spot.
The 13.5 boosted sedan race saw a very clean start by the field as they freight trained around track. 3rd place qualifier, Mio Hakamata would soon take over 2nd from a small mistake by Kota Kawakami on the 3rd lap. Hakamata would chase down class TQ and leader, Kyoichi Matsumoto, but would push a little too hard into the sweeper and grip roll her car and fall back to 7th. This would give 2nd place back to Kawakami and while chasing down Matsumoto, the two would make contact in the chicane allowing Toshiaki Hirata to sneak pass and steal the lead. Feeling in the zone, Hirata would check out and control the rest of the race and take the win from the 5th spot on the grid. Kota Kawakami would retain 2nd while Tomoyuki Ooshima would fight his way from 6th to 3rd with an amazing ‘never give up’ effort.
In qualifying, it was Hiderou Kitazawa taking TQ and looking as if he had the 1/12th modified class covered. Unfortunately as slow start from Kitazawa saw 3 time 1/12th world champion, Naoto Matsukura jump Kitazawa from the tone and take over the lead by the 1st turn. While defending his position, the Roche driver would make a catastrophic mistake entering the chicane hitting a dot and rolling his car giving up the lead and allowing the field through. Kosuke Suzuki would jump to the front but his lead would be short lived as CRC’s Hayato Ishioka would find his way around Suzuki after he went wide tapping a dot. Ishioka would maintain the lead for 12 laps until he too would turn in a bit early catching a dot allowing 2nd place car Yokomo’s Toto Ebukuro to the front. Ebukuro and Ishioka would battle for the remaining 3 minutes only tenths apart. Proving to be too strong, Ebukuro drove flawlessly in the remaining minutes to seal the victory while Ishioka would finish 2nd and recovering from a poor start, Hiderou Kitazawa would find his way to 3rd on the podium.