Consigned to 15th on the GT500 grid after Matsuda’s heavy crash in qualifying, the fortunes of the #23 crew were transformed by a mid-race safety car period that was deployed just after Quintarelli had pitted to hand over to Matsuda.
Quintarelli had been running in 12th place at the start of the pitstop phase, but was one of the last two drivers to make his mandatory stop on lap 22 of 52.
Just moments later, the safety car was called following contact between the #3 NDDP/B-Max Nissan and the Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra GT300 that left the latter car in the barriers – slowing down the field and sensationally allowing Matsuda to rejoin in the lead.
When the race resumed on lap 27, Matsuda was faced with pressure from Impul Nissan man Kazuki Hiramine, who inherited what appeared to be a net lead during the pitstop phase just a couple of laps prior from teammate Daiki Sasaki.
Hiramine stuck close to Matsuda initially and came close to making a pass exiting the final chicane on lap 35, but Matsuda clung on to the lead and as the race entered its closing stages he was able to build a small margin, finally pulling five seconds clear.
A late charge by the pole-sitting #8 ARTA Honda of Nirei Fukuzumi almost yielded second place, but Hiramine just hung on, also sealing Impul’s first podium since last year’s Okayama opener, and forcing Fukuzumi and ARTA teammate Tomoki Nojiri to be content with third for a second race in a row.
Nojiri led for the first 19 laps before making his stop, but the ARTA car was jumped by not only Sasaki in the Impul car but also the #3 Nissan and the #64 Nakajima Racing Honda when that trio of cars pitted on lap 20.
Fukuzumi was able to repass the #64 Honda and #3 Nissan, but was unable to find a way by Hiramine before the safety car period, and when the race resumed he was forced to focus on keeping Katsuamasa Chiyo in the #3 Nissan at bay before catching up to Hiramine.
Fourth place for Chiyo and Kohei Hirate represented their best finish of the season, while a tightly-bunched top five was completed by Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa in the best of the Toyota contingent, the #38 Cerumo GR Supra.
TOM’S Toyota duo Sacha Fenestraz and Yuhi Sekiguchi clawed back some vital ground in the championship fight with seventh, one place behind the Nakajima Honda of Hiroki Otsu and Takuya Izawa that had started on the front row.
The second TOM’S GR Supra of Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa however retired following an apparent collision with the #100 Kunimitsu Honda that was not caught on camera.
Rear-left damage on the Honda of Tadasuke Makino and a damaged nose for Cassidy's Toyota told the tale of a clash that spelt the end for the #37 crew, with Ryo Hirakawa soldiering on for some laps and serving a drive-through penalty before parking up the stricken Supra.
Naoki Yamamoto rejoined with a fresh, unpainted rear section on the Kunimitsu Honda albeit, some 20 laps down, finishing 14th.
Jann Mardenborough and Mitsunori Takaboshi led the Yokohama contingent in eighth in the Kondo Racing Nissan, for only their second points finish of the year, followed by the Bandoh Toyota of Yuji Kunimoto and Ritomo Miyata that was delayed by a puncture.
Real Racing Honda pair Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette salvaged a solitary point in 10th thanks to a late pass by Tsukakoshi on the struggling SARD Toyota that Yuichi Nakayama took over from Heikki Kovalainen.
The #14 Cerumo Toyota of Sho Tsuboi and Kazuya Oshima failed to score as Oshima pitted a lap too soon to hand over to Tsuboi, forcing the team into a second driver change in the latter stages that consigned the pair to 12th.
That leaves the top five cars in the standings separated by just two points, with Cerumo pair Tsuboi and Oshima still leading Cassidy and Hirakawa by one point, with Baguette/Tsukakoshi, Fenestraz/Sekiguchi and Quintarelli/Matsuda all a further point back.
In GT300, the Hitotsuyama Audi squad came through for its first win since 2016 thanks to Shintaro Kawabata and Tsubasa Kondo.
More to follow