It was the dream qualifying result for Honda with a championship on the line at one of their two “home circuits”, and for the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT of Tomoki Nojiri and Takuya Izawa, a much-needed pole position to boost their long-shot title odds.
The #8 ARTA NSX-GT took pole position for tomorrow’s season finale, the Motegi GT 250km Race: “Grand Final”, with a new track record set on Nojiri’s Q2 run that gave the bright orange NSX its third pole of the season. Nojiri’s best lap of a 1’35.550 eclipses the old GT500 track record set last year by Ronnie Quintarelli by a whopping 0.766 seconds.
It also gives the Honda NSX-GT a total of six pole positions from eight races in 2018, confirming its qualifying dominance in 2018.
“We desperately wanted this 1 point for our effort to take a come-from-behind season title tomorrow,” said Nojiri, who captured his fifth career GT500 pole position in just the last two seasons.
“In the morning official practice, the car’s balance wasn’t very good and I worried that it might be difficult for us to clear Q1, but the team was able to find us a good setting before the qualifying, and between Q1 and Q2 they adjusted it to my preference. So, we were able to take pole position with the team moving in a good direction.”
Nojiri and Izawa close their gap to 16 points away from the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT of Naoki Yamamoto & Jenson Button, who were the best-qualified of the four GT500 Championship players as they qualified in 2nd. A win in tomorrow’s race would clinch Team Kunimitsu’s first GT500 Championship, as well as the first for both drivers Yamamoto and Button.
Their main championship adversaries, the defending champion #1 KeePer TOM’s Lexus LC500 of Ryo Hirakawa & Nick Cassidy, qualified in 6th, keeping the top two cars tied in the championship at 67 points each going into the 53-lap title decider tomorrow.
“Very happy with my lap, just not quite enough in the tank,” said Cassidy on social media after the race. “‘Give up’ ain’t in my dictionary, game on tomorrow!”
Meanwhile, qualifying could not have gone much worse for the #36 au TOM’s LC500 of Kazuki Nakajima and third-placed title contender Yuhi Sekiguchi, who enters this race 12 points outside of first place. Nakajima, the reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champion, lost a chance to get into Q2 on the final lap when he ran way wide in the S-Curves at Sector 2. Not only did they fail to crack the top 8 and advance past Q1, but the #36 au LC500 will now start 15th, making their task ahead even more difficult come Sunday.
Also missing the cut in Q2 was last year’s winning car, the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) in 9th. Three of the four Nissan GT-Rs ended up failing to advance out of Q1.
Honda’s 1-2-3 lockout of the grid was completed by the Dunlop-clad #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette/Kosuke Matsuura) in third. Honda will now be up to the task of trying to replicate this pace in race trim, something which hasn’t always been guaranteed this season.
Completing the rest of the top eight in GT500 were the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) in 4th, the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) in 5th, the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuji Kunimoto/Kenta Yamashita) in 7th, and the #3 CraftSports Motul Nissan GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Katsumasa Chiyo), the only Nissan to advance out of Q1, in 8th.
In GT300 qualifying, the role of spoiler in this crucial leg of the championship was played by the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Kazuki Hiramine and Marco Mapelli.
Hiramine turned in a new GT300 course record of 1’45.911 in the Q2 session, good enough for his first career Super GT pole position, and the second on the year for Team JLOC’s #88 ManePa Huracán, which took pole at the season-opener in Okayama in the hands of series newcomer Mapelli.
“I am very grateful that everyone on the team prepared the car so well and that Marco ran so hard to get us to Q2,” said Hiramine. “In Q2, I drove as hard as I could to live up to everyone’s expectations. I was really very nervous before the qualifying, but once I started driving, I had good grip from the tires, so I was able to attack hard in the timed laps. I’m very happy with this result.”
The #65 LEON Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) qualified 2nd-fastest, the best of the “championship six”, ahead of the defending GT300 Champions, the #0 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) in 3rd. Kurosawa and Gamou won last year’s race at Motegi to clinch 2nd in the championship for 2017 behind the Miku AMG of Taniguchi & Kataoka, who are going for their record fourth GT300 titles tomorrow.
The #11 Gainer TanaX Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hironobu Yasuda) qualified in 6th, while after escaping being bumped out of the top 14 in Q1 in the dying seconds, the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Kohei Hirate) ended up qualifying 8th in Q2, in the mid-engined Prius GT’s final event.
The championship-leading #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 of Shinichi Takagi and Sean Walkinshaw qualified 10th, Takagi went 2nd-quickest in Q1, while Walkinshaw couldn’t quite replicate his teammate’s pace in Q2. Takagi and Walkinshaw can clinch the GT300 Championship tomorrow by finishing on the podium. Qualifying 12th was the last of the title contenders in GT300, the #96 K-Tunes Lexus RC F GT3 (Morio Nitta/Yuichi Nakayama).
Worth mentioning as well, the #26 Taisan Audi R8 Fukushima (Shinnosuke Yamada/Shintaro Kawabata) will roll off 24th tomorrow in Team Taisan’s final Super GT race.
Images courtesy of the GT Association (GTA)