2016 Review: Drago Modulo Honda Racing

Drago Modulo Honda Racing have closed their doors after just two seasons. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Honda’s newest flagship team, led by one of their greatest factory drivers – but unrealized potential will be what comes to define most of this team’s brief existence.

#15 Drago Modulo Honda NSX Concept-GT

Drivers: Hideki Mutoh / Oliver Turvey (5 rounds) / Tadasuke Makino (3 rounds)
GT500 Drivers’ Championship:
Mutoh – 13th Place (20 points)
Makino – 16th Place (15 points)
Turvey – 19th Place (5 points)
GT500 Teams’ Championship: 14th Place (32 points)
Podiums: 1 (Buriram)
Best Finish: 2nd (Buriram)
Pole Positions: 1 (Suzuka)

2015 was a tough debut season for the Drago Modulo team, under the direction of former GT500 champion driver Ryo Michigami. 2016 brought the promise of improved form: Turvey now partnered by former IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Mutoh, and the rookie growing pains now out of the way.

For most of the season, the Drago NSX was, pound-for-pound, the fastest of the five Honda NSX Concept-GTs, qualifying as the fastest Honda in four of the first six rounds, and in the summer tests leading into the Suzuka 1000km, they were fastest of all the GT500 field. They then went out and took their first-ever pole position as a team at Suzuka, setting a new lap record in the process.

If ever the stars were to align for the Drago team to break through with a victory, it should have been at Suzuka, Honda’s “home track”, and the great race that Honda have won seven times since 1999, with team boss Michigami being a part of three of them.

1-21QC7051
© GT Association

Unfortunately, it was never meant to be. The engine let go in the back of the Drago NSX after 79 laps, forcing their third retirement of the season to that point after suffering suspension failures in each of the two races at Fuji. Honda’s luck in 2016 was poor across the board, but the Drago Modulo team’s was downright atrocious.

After Suzuka, Turvey left the team, and in his place came the 19-year-old phenom Makino, arguably Honda’s top young driver racing in Japan out of Formula 3. And it was at Buriram where the team finally broke through with their best result: Makino, in his first qualifying session, just missed taking pole position for the Thai round by 0.033 seconds. Then, in the race, he drove a remarkable closing stint to help secure Drago Modulo Honda Racing’s first podium finish.

Tadasuke Makino became the youngest GT500 to score a podium finish in history, and partnered with Mutoh, who was genuinely and remarkably quick driver all season in the lead role. Things were finally starting to come together.

drago-sgt6
© Honda

And then, of course, on the week of the Motegi GT Grand Final, Drago Modulo Honda Racing (and their Super Formula counterparts Drago Corse) announced they were closing down after the season. They deserved a better send-off at Twin Ring Motegi than the one they got – no points in either race, and an overheating issue on Sunday in their final race forced them to retire just a few laps before they could take the chequered flag.

Michigami will hopefully get another chance to be a team leader in Super GT one day, he did all he realistically could to build a successful team in a very tough environment at Honda.

And both drivers were sublime under the circumstances. Mutoh increased his value with his quick drives through the summer months, and Makino seems a lock for Honda to at least let him try and climb the ladder to Formula 1. It’s why Mutoh will lead Team Mugen in their return season in 2017.

Everyone at Drago Modulo Honda Racing – from the drivers, to the engineers, to the mechanics, should, and most likely will, get another chance to succeed. It was a tough two years, and a glance at the results with only one podium finish and one pole position doesn’t tell the whole story.

 

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