The fastest-ever lap by a GT car at Suzuka Circuit was set during Saturday’s qualifying for the 46th and final International Suzuka 1000km, as the #24 Forum Engineering Advan Nissan GT-R of João Paulo de Oliveira and Daiki Sasaki took pole position with a record-breaking lap time of 1 minute, 47.074 seconds – eclipsing the old GT500 track record by nearly four-tenths of a second.
For Kondo Racing, it was a milestone in the making as they finally captured their first pole in their twelfth season in the series, in the biggest race of the season. It’s also the first pole for the Nissan GT-R in 2017, a year that has been especially difficult for the team managed by Masahiko “Matchy” Kondo.
But with his sixth career GT500 pole position, Oliveira – trying to win this race for the first time in his twelfth appearace – has given Kondo Racing real hope for tomorrow’s 173-lap race.
“The effect of the rain on the morning practice was something that we hadn’t expected,” said Oliveira, remarking on a Saturday morning free practice that started on a very wet track. “But the machine’s balance wasn’t bad from the time we started running. And with some adjustments made before the afternoon qualifying, the car was feeling much, much better by the second half of the session.”
“Since Daiki got us through to Q2 with his driving in Q1, and the perfect performance of the car in Q2, I was able to run a good time when I got a clean lap. I am very happy to have gotten this pole position in the last running of the Suzuka 1000km race.”
With GT3 and GT300 taking over as the top class in next year’s Suzuka 10 Hours, it is likely that we’ll never again see a faster pole position at the summer endurance race at Suzuka Circuit.
It’s an all-Yokohama tyre front row, as the #19 WedsSport Advan Lexus LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Yuji Kunimoto/Kamui Kobayashi) qualified a season-best second place. Though Kobayashi didn’t partake in either qualifying session, Kunimoto’s Q2 lap time of 1:47.269 was more than sufficient to put Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh on the front row for tomorrow’s race.
They’ll start ahead of an all-Honda second row, with the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) lined up third on the grid, and the #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette/Kosuke Matsuura) in fourth.
The #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Katsumasa Chiyo) finished fifth, next to the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa), which set the fastest time in the morning practice and in Q1 courtesy of Yamamoto, but qualified sixth in Q2. The #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Jann Mardenborough) in seventh, and the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa/Nick Cassidy) on 84kg of Success Ballast in eighth, complete the first four rows for the race.
2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button just missed out on advancing out of Q1 in the #16 Motul Mugen NSX-GT (with Hideki Mutoh & Daisuke Nakajima), by 0.089 seconds at the end of the session. They’ll start ninth for tomorrow’s race.
Defending Suzuka 1000km winners Yuji Tachikawa & Hiroaki Ishiura in the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 will start 13th, and the most recent Super GT winners, the #8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri/Takashi Kobayashi) will start 15th and last on the GT500 grid.
In GT300 qualifying, the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC of Kenta Yamashita, Takamitsu Matsui, and Tsubasa Kondo overcame an 82 kilogram weight handicap to set a new course record and take pole position for tomorrow’s race.
Reigning Japanese F3 champion Yamashita was the only driver to go under the 1 minute 58 threshold in qualifying, and he set the new record with a 1:57.543, to eclipse Tadasuke Makino’s record from 2016, and score his first career Super GT pole position in the process – just a week after taking his first Super Formula pole at Motegi.
“I am very happy to have won pole position,” said Yamashita. “The machine’s balance wasn’t good when we first started running this morning, but by the start of the qualifying Takeshi-san (Takeshi Tsuchiya, team director & chief engineer) made corrections to make it easier to drive.”
“We were carrying 82 kg of handicap weight but the feeling of the car was so wonderful that you almost couldn’t notice the extra weight. Having gotten not only the pole position but also the course record, I am very pleased.”
It’s the third GT300 pole of the year for VivaC Team Tsuchiya, with co-driver Matsui having qualified P1 for them at Autopolis and Sportsland SUGO.
Mother Chassis Toyota 86es locked out the top three places in GT300 qualifying, with the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Shintaro Kawabata) on the outside of the front row, their second straight front row start at the 1000km after winning pole here last year. The #5 Mach Syaken MC86 GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami/Tetsuji Tamanaka) set the best time in Q1 courtesy of Fujinami, and fellow rookie Sakaguchi followed it up with the third-fastest time in Q2.
Perhaps as monumental a feat as Yamashita’s pole position, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka qualified fourth on the grid to lead the FIA GT3 cars – this despite carrying the maximum 100kg of Success Ballast!
Then it’s the two Lexus RC F GT3s, the #51 JMS P.MU LMcorsa RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi) and the #60 Syntium LMcorsa RC F GT3 (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) on the third row, ahead of the last two winning GT300 cars at this event: The #10 Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R (Ryuichiro Tomita/Hiroki Yoshida) in seventh, and the defending winners, the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) in eighth.
An all-German GT3 fifth row follows, with the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) ninth, and the #33 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tomonobu Fujii/Sven Müller) tenth. The sixth row is all Italian-made cars, the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine/Koji Yamanishi) qualifying eleventh, and the #50 INGING & Arnage Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Akihiro Tsuzuki/Morio Nitta) in twelfth.
The #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Sean Walkinshaw) which won so emphatically at Fuji three weeks ago, was one of a few notable cars to miss Q2. So too did the Sugo winners, the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim), and the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R with three-time GT300 winner Kazuki Hoshino & Mitsunori Takaboshi. A late spin for third driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi in Q1 cost co-driver Hiroki Katoh a real chance to go for pole position in the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC (with Kazuho Takahashi), as they too failed to advance out of Q1.
Tomorrow’s 46th and final running of the International Suzuka 1000km will start at 12:30 PM JST (local time), 4:30 AM BST (London). DailySportsCar will have updates at half-distance and at the conclusion of the race, with live rolling updates via Super GT World on Twitter (@supergtworld).
Photos courtesy of Nissan and the GT Association.