Mercedes dominated the first running of the Suzuka 10 Hours, with the GruppeM squad leading a one-two finish for the German manufacturer.
The #888 trio of Raffaele Marciello, Maro Engel and Tristan Vautier moved into the lead at the start of the second hour and were unchallenged for victory thereafter, ending Audi’s unbeaten streak in the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge season.
Lewis Williamson, Maxi Gotz and Alvaro Parente finished second in the #43 Strakka Mercedes, while Absolute Racing claimed the final podium spot with its factory #6 Audi – driven by Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Kelvin van der Linde.
The pole-sitting #28 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari led the field in the first hour, only to drop out of contention when it was handed a drive-through penalty for a start procedure infringement.
Mechanics were seen working on the Pro-Am Ferrari after the formation lap had begun and although it was released before the final car had moved off the line, it still breached the rule that states that no personnel are allowed on the grid after the 15-second board is shown.
HubAuto’s early troubles allowed the #888 GruppeM Mercedes to seize the lead, with the #43 Strakka Mercedes making headway in the first half of the race to catapult into second position.
The #6 Absolute Audi and #66 WRT Audi of Christopher Mies, Dries Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch did one more stop than their rivals, with those strategies allowing them to finish as Mercedes’ closest challengers in third and fourth respectively.
Good Smile Racing with Team Ukyo finished as the highest classified Super GT team, with ex-Formula 1 driver Kamui Kobayashi and Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka propelling the #00 anime-liveried Mercedes from 21st to fifth at the chequered flag.
Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet gave Bentley’s new-generation Continental GT a successful first outing in Japan, taking the chequered flag in sixth position in the factory-supported, M-Sport run #08 entry.
Maxi Buhk, Oliver Rowland and Adrien Tambay were seventh in the #44 Strakka Mercedes, ahead of the #21 Audi Hitotsuyama car driven by Richard Lyons, Ryuichiro Tomita and Alessio Picariello, which was recovered from an early spin to end up eighth.
Sheldon van der Linde, Stuart Leonard and Jake Dennis finished ninth in another Audi, the #17 WRT factory entry, while the top 10 was completed by the #75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes of Kenny Habul, Mikael Grenier and Luca Stolz.
Nissan was the lead Japanese manufacturer in a race dominated by German marques, until the #23 KCMG of Edoardo Liberati, Richard Bradley and former Audi LMP1 star Oliver Jarvis stopped on track just before the halfway mark.
The race, which replaced the Suzuka 1000km event, had just one safety car intervention, which came when the #07 M-Sport Bentley and the #58 Garage 59 McLaren collided in the fifth hour.
Factory McLaren driver Come Ledogar was attempting a move when he was pitched into a spin at 130R, with the 650S GT3 getting beached in the gravel and forced into retirement.
The Bentley, which was in hunt for a podium finish early-on, also retired after nearly running out of fuel and then suffering a spin at Degner the lap after it exited the pitlane.
It was also handed a drive-through penalty for a separate collision with the #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari.