The Mooncraft Engineering-built Lotus Evora looked poised to romp to a second straight Suzuka 1000km pole position, but in the end, a perfect lap from Yuhki Nakayama in Q2 saw his Dome-constructed Upgarage Toyota 86 MC go to GT300 class pole for the 45th International Suzuka 1000km.
Nakayama and rookie teammate Shinnosuke Yamada took Team Upgarage with Bandoh’s first-ever pole position in Super GT, leading an all-Toyota front row, and a lockout of positions 1 through 5 for JAF-GT300 cars.
The first phase of qualifying was highlighted by a sensational lap by Super GT newcomer Tadasuke Makino, who aboard the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus, set a new GT300 class lap record around Suzuka.
19-year-old Makino’s best lap of 1:57.811 in Q1 reset the record previously held by his co-driver, Hiroki Katoh, in the same Lotus Evora MC from last year. A time so fast, that it eclipsed the fastest GT500 car in the 2002 Suzuka 1000km, and was 1.1 seconds clear of the second-place time by Naoya Gamou in the #65 Leon Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3.
It was a star-making performance for the Honda prospect stepping up from Formula 3, but it was only Q1.
Notable teams who missed Q2 included both BMW M6 GT3s, the championship leading #55 ARTA BMW (Shinichi Takagi/Takashi Kobayashi) and #7 Studie BMW (Ara/Muller/Farfus), the latter of which suffered from recurring mechanical issues and stopped during the first session. Also missing the cut was the #11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG (Hiranaka/Wirdheim).
Kota Sasaki appeared to get the #30 apr Toyota Prius GT into Q1, but his fastest time was deleted due to track limits violations, putting the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 into Q2 in its place.
Come Q2, Katoh was expected to take pole position for the second straight year, but Yuhki Nakayama had other plans, driving the #18 Upgarage 86 to a best time of 1:57.876 – just 0.066 seconds away from the record, but good enough to secure pole position.
“I am happy that we got pole position,” Nakayama said after qualifying. “It is really great for us. But, even though we have it, tomorrow’s race is a long 1,000 kilometers, so we can’t take anything for granted.”
“Still, it feels good to have gotten pole in such a big race as this. The car is in good condition, so it is up to us now to get ourselves in the right frame of mind for tomorrow’s race.”
It’s the first time Nakayama has ever taken pole position as a GT300 driver, his first Super GT pole position lap since the 2012 Fuji 500km with Epson Nakajima Racing. For Racing Project Bandoh, this is their first GT300 class pole position since 2009 – and the first for this Team Upgarage entity.
The other Nakayama in the field, Yuichi, put the #31 Toyota Prius GT on the outside of the front row with a 1:58.092. Katoh’s Q2 hot lap, a 1:58.127, was only good enough for third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race.
The #61 Subaru BRZ (Takuto Iguchi Q1, Hideki Yamauchi Q2) will grid up fourth, and the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takeshi Tsuchiya Q1, Takamitsu Matsui Q2) qualified fifth to complete the top five lockout of JAF GT300/MC machines on the starting grid.
Best of the FIA GT3 cars is last year’s champion entry, the #0 Gainer Tanax GT-R (Ryuichiro Tomita/Andre Couto) in sixth, ahead of the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Tatsuya Kataoka/Nobuteru Taniguchi) in seventh as the best of the Mercedes-AMGs.
Eighth was the #33 Excellence Porsche (Naoya Yamano/Yuya Sakamoto) which did amazingly well to get into Q2 and qualify as high as they did in the midst of a slump season. The Leon Cvstos AMG qualified 9th with Haruki Kurosawa running Q2, and completing the top ten was the #63 Direction 108 Lamborghini Huracan (Adrian Zaugg/Naoki Yokomizo).