Yuhi Sekiguchi’s magnificent 2016 racing season continues on in the Autobacs Super GT Series, thanks to a record-setting, pole-winning lap for the Buriram Super GT Race at Buriram United International Circuit.
The Super Formula championship leader Sekiguchi scored his first career pole-winning lap in GT500, while securing the second pole position for Lexus Team WedsSport BANDOH and their #19 WedsSport Lexus RC-F in GT500 competition, their first since the 2012 race at Autopolis.
Sekiguchi will line up on the front row tomorrow, next to the #15 Drago Modulo Honda NSX, which stole the show in Q2 thanks to a sensational run from 19-year-old rookie Tadasuke Makino in his GT500 debut.
“From the morning practice the car’s performance was good, but after driving in Q1, [Yuji] Kunimoto said that it was lacking a bit [in performance],” said Sekiguchi after qualifying. “So, since the track surface temperature had dropped some, we tried our best to correct the settings somewhat for Q2. Then when I ran in Q2 as Kunimoto’s information had suggested, I was able to get the fastest time.”
“But, the important thing is still tomorrow’s race. Since we were able to do a long test run in today’s morning practice to verifies things, the only thing left is for us to run our own race tomorrow and win the race.”
And it would be a historic, and long-awaited win at stake for Sekiguchi, Kunimoto, and their WedsSport RC-F tomorrow – as Racing Project BANDOH, one of Super GT’s most popular teams, have never won in GT500 since stepping up to the top division in 2011.
Sekiguchi, who qualified fastest with a 1:24.307 lap time, will start on pole for the first time since the 2013 Sugo GT 300km Race.
But young Makino was only 0.033 seconds short of stealing the pole in his GT500 debut, and he was only slightly miffed to miss out. “I am disappointed, I missed it on one corner in my last qualifying lap. I could do better,” he told J Sports’ Amie Izawa after the session (translation thanks to Speedhunters’ Pierre-Laurent Ribault).
Still, it is another solid qualifying outing, the second straight front-row start for the Drago NSX after winning pole position for the Suzuka 1000km. This despite a tense moment in Q1 when Hideki Mutoh spun on his final hot lap, but his time was still good enough to get to Q2 and give his rookie co-driver a shot at the pole.
Making up the second row will be the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Joao Paulo de Oliveira), and the #8 ARTA NSX (Kosuke Matsuura/Tomoki Nojiri), which stunned many in Q1 when Nojiri went second-fastest.
The third row will feature the defending champions’ car, the #46 S Road MOLA GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and the returning Katsumasa Chiyo; as well as the first of the title contenders, the #6 Wako’s RC-F (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli). Oshima’s Q1 time led the session, and with the top four teams in the GT500 championship missing Q2, this race could represent a golden opportunity for Juichi Wakisaka’s team to close in on the leaders from a 21-point deficit, before the grand finale at Motegi.
And it’s the same for the #37 KeePer TOM’s RC-F (James Rossiter/Ryo Hirakawa), which qualified seventh, and is sixth in the standings. They’ll line up next to the #64 Epson NSX (Daisuke Nakajima/Bertrand Baguette), which advanced to Q2 for the first time this season thanks to a brilliant fifth-placed lap by Baguette in Q1.
The top four teams in the championship will line up in the back rows of the GT500 field: The #39 Denso SARD RC-F (Heikki Kovalainen/Kohei Hirate) was tenth in qualifying, ahead of the Suzuka 1000km winners, the #38 ZENT Cerumo RC-F (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura).
The championship-leading #1 Motul NISMO GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) will start a season-worst 14th on the grid, carrying the maximum 100 kilograms of ballast – but avoiding a last-place start, unlike the #36 au TOM’s RC-F (Daisuke Ito/Nick Cassidy), which qualified 15th and last.