The #28 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Nick Foster, David Perel, and Hiroki Yoshida will start on pole position for tomorrow’s Suzuka 10 Hour race, after a day of qualifying that saw a fair bit of dramatics in the build up to the Pole Shootout, and Foster reigning supreme with the fastest times in both stages of qualifying.
Q1 was split into three 15-minute segments, one for each of the teams’ three drivers, with the fastest 20 cars advancing on aggregate time.
In the first session, the 26-year-old Aussie Foster laid down the gauntlet, setting a fastest lap time of 2’02.355 that would hold up as the fastest time throughout all three stages of Q1, ahead of the #018 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Katsumasa Chiyo in 2nd, and the #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Le Mans GTE-Pro class winner Laurens Vanthoor in 3rd.
The yellow and grey #28 Ferrari led the way once again in Q2, this time it was David Perel, who won the Pro-Am Cup in a Rinaldi Racing Ferrari at the Spa 24 Hours, who edged out the #888 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing GT3 of Maro Engel in 2nd, and the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes of Maximillian Götz in 3rd.
But the #888 “GruppeM Gundam” was already down and out by the time Raffaele Marciello went into Q3, times that would have put Tristan Vautier 6th in Q1 were deleted due to track limits violations, and eventually, put him down into 29th place.
Marciello did a stellar job in Q3 to lead the session with a lap of 2’02.688, but as the results stood after three qualifying sessions, the #888 GruppeM Mercedes would not advance into Q2 and the Pole Shootout. The #66 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS of Frédéric Vervisch was 2nd quickest, and the #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Miguel Molina finished 3rd.
On combined times, the two HubAuto Corsa Ferraris finished 1-2 in Q2 ahead of the #66 Audi of Vervisch, Christopher Mies and Dries Vanthoor.
During the break between Q1 and Q2, there was a delay as the stewards met over the removal of several fast laps during the three stages of Q1. After several minutes of reviewing track limits applications, race directors added four cars to the Pole Shootout, including the #888 GruppeM Mercedes. Vautier’s fast lap from Q1 was reinstated, and the #888 Mercedes officially split the two HubAuto Corsa Ferraris in Q1 combined times.
So now, the Top 20 Pole Shootout became a Top 24 Pole Shootout, a final 15-minute session to settle pole position.
Foster set the early benchmark on a 2’01.930, the Aussie becoming the first driver to crack into the sub 2’02s range. On his following lap, he improved once again, the Brisbane native proving impervious in the Pole Shootout as he set the quickest time of 2’01.740.Marciello, who was not originally meant to take part in the session, went second-fastest with just under two minutes to go in the session.
But with a minute left in the session, a red flag would end the proceedings, as 2011 Suzuka 1000km winner Takashi Kogure spun off in the #34 Modulo Drago Corse Honda NSX GT3 at Degner Curve 1, beaching his NSX in the gravel and putting a slightly premature end to the pole shootout.
It’s pole position for Ferrari, their first-ever overall pole in the Suzuka summer endurance race previously run as the Suzuka 1000km. The first for a Taiwanese-entered team, and the first for an Australian driver.
“I’m buzzing, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Foster in the post-qualifying press conference. “But this isn’t even half the job: we’ve got 10 hours of proper racing still to come tomorrow. We knew we’d be fast after competing here in Blancpain GT Series Asia earlier this year when we were also successful against some top-line drivers.”
“We just had to work with what we had, and most importantly give David and Hiroki as much seat time as possible because of their limited experience here and in the car. There was a lot of work to get them up to speed but we wouldn’t be in this position without them setting the fast times they did in Q2 and Q3. They did the business, too.”
The HubAuto Racing #28 crew received a ¥1,000,000 prize (£7,000 GBP) for winning pole position.
Fastest of the Intercontinental GT Challenge entries at Suzuka, the “GruppeM Gundam” will share the outside of the front row at Suzuka.
“It’s a long race tomorrow and I’m also looking at the Intercontinental GT Challenge standings because there’s a good opportunity to make up ground on Robin Frijns, who isn’t competing this weekend,” said Marciello, who along with co-driver Vautier is 2nd in the IGTC Drivers’ Championship.
“The Mercedes-AMG usually has good race pace but we were surprised with the speed in qualifying trim so we can be happy with P2. It’s been a good start but we have to finish the job. I raced here earlier this year with GruppeM but I don’t think it’s so important. Maybe the team’s experience helped us today.”
They will lead Mercedes’ quest for their first overall win in the Suzuka summer endurance race since the CLK-LM of Bernd Schneider and Mark Webber led a Silver Arrows 1-2 in 1998.
Rounding off the top three qualifiers was the #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari of Davide Rigon, and co-drivers Matt Griffin and Miguel Molina. They’ll be on Row 2 next to the second-quickest Pro-Am Cup car, the #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes of Luca Stolz, with Kenny Habul, and Mikaël Grenier.
The #23 KCMG GT-R of Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Liberati, and Richard Bradley will start fifth, but their sister car, the #018 of Tsugio Matsuda/Alexandre Imperatori/Katsumasa Chiyo, will start way down in 30th after trouble during Imperatori’s run in Q2. Sixth-fastest was the #911 Manthey Porsche (Romain Dumas/Frédéric Makowiecki/Dirk Werner), another car reinstated after review to the Pole Shootout, with 2013 Suzuka 1000km winner Makowiecki competing in the Pole Shootout.
In 7th was the #07 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3 (Jordan Pepper/Steven Kane/Jules Gounon), 8th was the #17 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 (Sheldon van der Linde/Stuart Leonard/Jake Dennis), and in 9th and 10th were the best of the Super GT teams, the #21 Audi Team Hitotsuyama R8 (Richard Lyons/Ryuichiro Tomita/Alessio Picariello), ahead of their GT300 rivals, the #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hironobu Yasuda/Kazuki Hoshino).
Having been one of the quick cars all weekend, Kévin Estre could only manage 17th fastest for the #991 Craft-Bamboo Porsche (with Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet). They were one of a few favourites mired in the mid-pack after the pole shootout.
The #00 Mercedes-AMG Team Goodsmile GT3 (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka/Kamui Kobayashi) and the #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 (Andrew Watson/Ben Barnicoat/Côme Ledogar) will start on Row 11. Ryo Michigami’s attempt to tie Kunimitsu Takahashi’s record of four Suzuka Summer Endurance Race wins will start from 23rd in his #34 Modulo Drago Corse NSX (with Kogure & Hiroki Otsu), and 2013 Suzuka winner Naoki Yamamoto was 24th in the #10 Honda Team Motul NSX GT3 (with Hideki Mutoh & Daisuke Nakajima).
The JAF-GT300 Mother Chassis cars have surprisingly struggled for pace all weekend on a track where they’ve previously excelled, neither advancing to the Pole Shootout. The #18 Team UPGarage 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama/Takashi Kobayashi/Takuto Iguchi) will start 26th.
The 47th running of the Summer Endurance Race, the Suzuka 10 Hours starts at 10:00 JST tomorrow.
Images courtesy of SRO Motorsports Group / Dirk Bogaerts Photography