The famous number 100 Raybrig Team Kunimitsu Honda NSX-GT dominated all of Saturday’s on-track activities for the Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis – fastest in morning practice, and then fastest in both stages of qualifying, culminating in pole position for Team Kunimitsu and drivers Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa.
Yamamoto’s pole-winning lap time of 1:33.740 was just under a second off the lap record, but it was still good enough to take his first career Super GT pole position, as well as Team Kunimitsu’s first GT500 pole since the 2008 Suzuka 1000km!
It will be a Honda/Nissan front row for Sunday’s race, as the only Nissan GT-R to advance to Q2, the #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and Katsumasa Chiyo, put in a solid effort as four-time Autopolis winner Motoyama qualified 2nd.
Despite mounting Success Ballast, five Lexus LC500s made it to Q2, led by the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate. They’ll start third, alongside the #16 Motul Mugen NSX-GT of Hideki Mutoh & Daisuke Nakajima.
GT500 Championship leaders Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy will start fifth in the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500, sharing the third row with the second-placed car in the tables, the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 of Kazuya Oshima & Andrea Caldarelli.
Kazuki Nakajima, back from his winning excursion to Spa-Francorchamps, ran off during his final flying lap in Q2, so the #36 au TOM’s LC500 that he shares with James Rossiter will start seventh, next to the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) – which was relegated from fourth to eighth after their fastest time was disallowed for failing to slow down sufficiently in a yellow flag sector.
A spin in Q1 cost the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) a legitimate shot to advance to Q2, but look for them to try and advance up the field tomorrow from 15th and last on the GT500 grid – they were second-quickest in Saturday practice.
JAF-GT300 and Mother Chassis cars dominated qualifying in the GT300 class, and defending GT300 champions VivaC Team Tsuchiya led the way in their #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC.
Kenta Yamashita wasted little time re-calibrating to GT300 by going fastest in Q1, then his co-driver Takamitsu Matsui stepped up and took pole position in Q2 with a best lap of 1:43.702, to take the VivaC 86’s fifth pole position since its 2015 debut, and Matsui’s third career pole-winning lap.
Next to them on the front row will be the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi, the turbocharged JAF-GT300 machine showing its strengths in the high altitudes and around the technical layout of Autopolis.
A remarkable third place effort for privateers Team Mach, who qualified third in the #5 Mach Syaken MC86 with the all-rookie lineup of Natsu Sakaguchi and Kiyoto Fujinami – it was the former Nissan young driver Fujinami who brought them up to third in Q2, their best qualifying result in some time.
The #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Sean Walkinshaw) will line up on the outside of the second row in GT300, ahead of an all-Mercedes third row, of the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim) and the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) two cars showing little apparent disadvantage from their 35kg BoP penalties or their large Success Ballast handicaps.
GT300 championship leaders Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi will line up seventh tomorrow in the #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3, next to the third of the contending Silver Arrows, the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou).
Back after missing the Fuji 500km due to damage sustained in a heavy crash at Okayama, the #50 INGING & Arnage Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 made it into Q2 as Morio Nitta went eighth-quickest in Q1, and co-driver Akihiro Tsuzuki was the best of the mini-battle of the gentleman drivers, qualifying the Ferrari in 12th.
It wasn’t a good qualifying day for former GT300 champion Taku Bamba and the #52 GreenBrave Toyota Mark X MC, which crashed 40 seconds into Q1, and will line up 30th and last for the race.
Also missing the cut in GT300 were some very strong cars from the FIA GT3 contingent: Both Porsche 911 GT3-Rs, both Audi R8 LMSes, both Lamborghini Huracán GT3s, and all four Nissan GT-R GT3s – including defending Autopolis race winners Kazuki Hoshino & Mitsunori Takaboshi in the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R.