Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy took Pole Position for this Sunday’s Chang Super GT Race, the penultimate round of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, the first pole position of the year for the #37 KeePer TOM’s Lexus LC500.
In a close Q2, the top four cars were separated by just 0.172 seconds – and Hirakawa had just enough to edge out the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R of Jann Mardenborough for pole. The Calsonic GT-R had been fast all day, taking the fastest time in Q1 thanks to veteran co-driver Hironobu Yasuda.
Hirakawa’s fourth career Super GT pole gives he and Cassidy a big boost towards the championship. They pick up a bonus point in the championship standings, and the GT500 championship leaders, the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda & Ronnie Quintarelli, will have to start from 11th after missing the cut in Q1.
The #17 Keihin Honda NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) will start third, best of the mid-engined Hondas, ahead of the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli) which is third in the standings.
The third row will consist of the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) and the #8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri/Takashi Kobayashi), two more title contenders, with the defending GT500 champions Heikki Kovalainen & Kohei Hirate on the fourth row in the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500, right alongside the Suzuka 1000km winners, the #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette/Kosuke Matsuura).
Also failing to advance out of GT500 Q1, were the #36 au TOM’s LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima/James Rossiter), fourth in the points, starting 9th – and last year’s Buriram winners, the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Yuji Kunimoto) in a distant 15th and last.
GT300 saw a minor upset of sorts, as the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS of Richard Lyons & Masataka Yanagida drove to its first pole of what has been a woeful season for Audi’s two challengers in the second tier.
Lyons was quickest in Q1, and Yanagida, for the first time since his last GT300 stint ended in 2010, took pole in Q2. The seventh of his career, and a much-needed result after the two-time dual class champion struggled for pace at the start of the year.
Several of the GT300 title contenders made it into Q2, with the #51 JMS P.MU Lexus RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi) in 2nd, the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Sean Walkinshaw) 3rd, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) 4th, and the best of the JAF-GT cars, the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) 5th. The championship-leading #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) was a respectable 9th on the grid.
But it was a relative disaster for the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC of Takamitsu Matsui & Kenta Yamashita, with the latter unable to do better than 19th in Q1, leaving last year’s GT300 champion team – and last year’s winners at Buriram – well down the grid for Sunday’s 66-lap race.
All five of the Mother Chassis cars missed the cut in Q1, even the Thai-based #35 Arto 86 MC 101 (Nattavude Charoensukhawatana/Nattapong Horthongkum) which will start 24th and last in its class.
Images courtesy of the GT Association.