Oshima clinches Sugo pole as Nissan fleet falters

Kazuya Oshima just needed one magic lap to secure his first pole position in over two years, setting a new course record by over a second with a lap of 1:10.516.

It’s the first pole of the year for the Wako’s Lexus RC-F of Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans, and the team’s first pole position since 2014 at Okayama, which was also won by Oshima. For the always-entertaining Juichi Wakisaka, it is his first pole position as a team director, at a track that was already so special to him as a driver.

The other story of GT500 qualifying at Sugo was the disappointing exit of the entire Nissan GT-R fleet in Q1, capped by a dramatic crash for defending champion Ronnie Quintarelli at the rapidly tricky SP-Out curve.

Quintarelli walked away from a head-on impact into the same sponge barriers that collected Takuto Iguchi’s Subaru in practice earlier in the day, at much higher speeds, after the car drifted wide exiting SP-In and slid through the grass and gravel.

That crash brought out a red flag with 0:57s left in the session, which was not restarted – leaving the championship-contending #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R and #46 S Road MOLA GT-R out in Q1, as well as the #24 Forum Engineering GT-R of Kondo Racing, which was the first car out of Q1.

That left a selection of Lexus RC-Fs and Honda NSXes to battle for pole, and the long-struggling Hondas did more than well enough – as Koudai Tsukakoshi, hero at Sugo six years ago, qualified second-fastest in the #17 Keihin NSX.

Lexuses make up row two, with Yuji Tachikawa qualifying third in the #38 ZENT RC-F, and Nick Cassidy continuing his great form at Sugo with a fourth-fastest qualifying lap in the #36 au RC-F. However, the au RC-F will need to serve a 10-second stop/go penalty early in the race due to an impermissible change in monocoque.

Oliver Turvey was fifth-fastest in the #15 Drago Modulo NSX, followed by the #37 KeePer TOM’s RC-F of James Rossiter, remarkably done on 54kg of ballast.

Takuya Izawa couldn’t quite get the Raybrig NSX up as high as he’d liked. Naoki Yamamoto was second-fastest in Q1, but Izawa qualified seventh in Q2, ahead of the #39 Denso SARD RC-F, piloted by Kohei Hirate in Q2.

Behind Yanagida in tenth, and setting an identical lap to the Forum Engineering GT-R, was Bertrand Baguette in the oft-beleaguered #64 Epson NSX. The only Lexus to miss the cut was the #19 WedsSport Bandoh RC-F, which was also caught out in the red flag with Yuhi Sekiguchi aboard – it starts 14th tomorrow.

Andrea Caldarelli will likely start the Wako’s RC-F from pole position tomorrow. When his co-driver Oshima won here in 2012, he shed tears as he helped Team LeMans snap a nine-year losing streak in a fierce duel with Kazuki Nakajima. Will it be another emotional victory for the Wako’s team tomorrow?

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