Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing claimed a dominant victory in the Suzuka 10 Hours as the German manufacturer took over the Intercontinental GT Challenge championship lead from Audi.
The #888 GruppeM car, shared by Raffaele Marciello, Maro Engel and Tristan Vautier, inherited the lead early in the Japanese endurance classic after the pole-sitting #28 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 struck trouble.
Australian Nick Foster claimed pole position on Saturday for the Taiwanese squad, leading the opening hour, before copping a drive-through penalty for having team members on the grid after the formation lap had started.
HubAuto Corsa’s woes gave the GruppeM Mercedes a clear road up front, with the latter comfortably stretching its advantage and maintaining control right through until the chequered flag under the cover of darkness.
Strakka Racing’s #43 Mercedes of Lewis Williamson, Maxi Goetz and Alvaro Parente came home second despite late race pressure from the #6 Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Christopher Hasse closed in on Williamson in the final minutes, but the Audi had to settle for third along with Absolute Racing co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Kelvin van der Linde.
Bathurst 12 Hour winners Audi Sport Team WRT finished up fourth as Dries Vanthoor brought the #06 machine across the line.
Local outfit Team Goodsmile completed the top five with its Mercedes which featured Toyota LMP1 star Kamui Kobayashi as part of its driver line-up.
Sixth was the best of the Bentley Continental GT3s in the form of the #08 M-Sport entry.
Ex-pat Australian Kenny Habul claimed Pro-Am class honours in the #75 Sun Energy1 Racing Mercedes that he shared with Mikael Grenier and Luca Stolz in 10th outright.
The race saw only a single Safety Car intervention over its 10 hour duration, which came in Hour 3 following a heavy crash for Come Ledogar.
Ledogar, at the wheel of the sole McLaren 650s GT3, made contact with one of the Bentleys on the run to 130R, with the former spearing backwards into the wall and coming to rest in the gravel with considerable damage.
Earlier in the hour, trouble struck Kiwi Earl Bamber when his #7 D’station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R stopped on track with a terminal engine issue, as countryman Jono Lester ended up 28th in the #77 D’station Racing Porsche.
Nissan’s hopes of victory were dashed in the fourth hour, with the #018 KCMG GT-R NISMO GT3 suffering a fuel pressure problem, before ultimately retiring in Hour 6 after momentarily returning to the track.
Foster recovered to 13th at the flag in the pole-sitting Ferrari, while HubAuto Corsa’s sister #27 car finished outside the top 20 after sustaining damage due to an incident with the #07 Bentley in Hour 7.
Hot conditions plagued the race, with temperatures in excess of 35 degrees making it tough for drivers in the cockpit, before things cooled down in the final two hours during the night segment.
Mercedes now lead the IGTC manufacturer standings, while Marciello and Vautier take over the drivers’ points standings heading into the season-ending California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in October.