Fastest in the official tests in July, fastest in this morning’s practice, and now, Hideki Mutoh is the fastest man in Super GT at the Suzuka Circuit – and has taken a very popular pole position for the 45th International Suzuka 1000km at the wheel of a Honda NSX.
Mutoh and co-driver Oliver Turvey were the fastest men in both phases of qualifying, with Turvey pacing Q1, and Mutoh going quickest in Q2 with a record lap time of 1:47.456 – a record that, thanks to the changes in GT500 regulations next year, is likely to stand for a significant period of time.
It is the first pole position for the Drago Modulo Honda Racing team, run by Ryo Michigami, himself a three-time Suzuka 1000km winner as a driver. It’s also Mutoh’s first-ever pole-winning lap as a GT500 driver. With Penrith’s finest racing driver Turvey going to the top of the timesheets in Q1, the other surprises were the two Yokohama Advan-clad cars, the #24 Forum Engineering GT-R (driven by Daiki Sasaki) and the #19 WedsSport RC-F (driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi) going second and third fastest.
The other surprises were those who missed the cut, including the two Lexus Team TOM’s entries, as both the #36 au TOM’s RC-F (Daisuke Ito/Nick Cassidy) and the #37 KeePer TOM’s RC-F (James Rossiter/Ryo Hirakawa) missed the cut for Q2. So too did the #100 Raybrig NSX (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa), another pre-race favorite, with Izawa spinning on his hot lap at the second Degner curve.
From a former Le Mans 24 Hours class winner in Turvey, to a former Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in Mutoh, the Drago NSX was about to unleash the shackles in Q2.
Mutoh swiped pole position from the #46 S Road Craftsports MOLA GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama by over a tenth of a second on his best lap, and would never be challenged as the white, red, and black NSX secured its first pole position.
“I am very happy that we were able to win pole position,” Mutoh said after his qualifying run. “After Oliver [Turvey] ran in Q1, I knew from him that the car was in good condition when I ran in Q2. So, I was able to make my time attacks knowing that all I had to do was to do my best to run a good time.”
“By believing in myself, I was able to get pole position, so I was very happy,” he added.
Motoyama, still in search of his first Suzuka 1000km victory, still had enough in his 1:47.587 to qualify in second place. His chance in Q2 was thanks to a superb effort by class rookie co-driver Mitsunori Takaboshi, who got the S Road GT-R into Q1 on his first-ever qualifying run in a GT500 car. Takaboshi is replacing the injured Katsumasa Chiyo, and did he ever impress.
The most recent GT500 race winners, the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda / Joao Paulo de Oliveira), qualified third fastest, ahead of the WedsSport RC-F, qualified in Q2 by Yuji Kunimoto.
Another former Indy 500 ROTY, Kosuke Matsuura, got the #8 ARTA NSX (with Tomoki Nojiri) into fifth on the grid, sharing the third row with another Honda, the #17 Keihin NSX (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure).
Masataka Yanagida qualified seventh in the Forum Engineering GT-R, with the #38 ZENT Cerumo RC-F (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura) qualifying eighth after Tachikawa went off at Spoon Curve on his final hot lap.
On the maximum 100kg of success ballast handicap, the #1 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) still managed to avoid qualifying last place – though winning from 12th on the grid will be a very tall order, even before applying the ballast.
Mutoh’s fast lap won’t guarantee a victory for Honda tomorrow, but it does show how far the NSX Concept-GT has developed since the start of what looked to be a wretched 2016.