Defending Okayama GT 300km Race class winners K2 R&D LEON Racing will start up front for the first time ever in the Autobacs Super GT Series, as their #65 Leon Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou captured GT300 class pole position in Saturday’s two-stage qualifying session.
A GT300 class lap record by the 27-year-old Gamou in Q2 secured his first career pole position, and the first ever for the Leon Racing team, in their very first race meeting since switching to Bridgestone Potenza tyres in the off-season.
The pewter black Leon AMG will head up an all Mercedes-AMG front row in GT300 on Sunday afternoon, with Q1 pacesetters Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO qualifying second in the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka).
Both GT500 and GT300 saw a number of red flags, and both sessions of GT300 qualifying were interrupted by one red flag each due to driver errors on a cloudy, but dry track.
It was a difficult first qualifying session for Super GT newcomers Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave. Returning former GT300 champion Taku Bamba locked the brakes of his #52 GreenBrave Toyota Mark X MC on his first hot lap, and crashed into the tyre barriers at the First Corner, bringing out a red flag.
The interrupted session caught out a lot of strong teams from practice, including the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 (Kyosuke Mineo/Jono Lester), the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi), and the #33 D’Station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tomonobu Fujii/Sven Müller) who qualified 15th, 16th, and 19th respectively after getting into the top ten in Saturday morning’s practice. Mineo and Takaboshi in particular will rue missing the Q2 cut by just 0.051 seconds between them.
But one team that wasn’t caught out was the Goodsmile Racing team, as Tatsuya Kataoka improved from a 1:26.301 to a 1:25.825 in the closing minutes of Q1 to set the pace in the first round of qualifying.
Second-fastest in Q1 was the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC of Hiroki Katoh, and the #30 Toyota Prius apr GT of Kota Sasaki, who gave their pro-am teams a fighting chance by getting their cars up into the first seven rows for tomorrow’s race.
Haruki Kurosawa put the #65 Leon AMG in fourth, and Super GT rookie Sho Tsuboi put on an incredible performance in the #51 JMS P.MU LMcorsa RC F GT3 to go sixth-fastest and advance the Lexus RC F GT3 into Q2 for the first time ever.
The frustrations continued to mount at BMW Team Studie, as Seiji Ara in the #7 Studie BMW M6 GT3 was not able to get out on track for a Q1 run due to what the team discovered was an electrical issue in the BMW. They will start thirtieth and last on the GT300 grid – assuming the car’s recurring issues from Saturday don’t pop up again on Sunday.
For Q2, Yuichi Nakayama took over the #51 JMS P.MU Lexus, and set an early benchmark of 1:25.877 – but it wouldn’t last long, as Naoya Gamou in the #65 Leon AMG set a new GT300 class lap record with a blistering lap of 1:25.044 – beating the old record from last year’s qualifying by half a second.
With the #30 Toyota Prius in the top half of the grid, all that gentleman driver Hiroaki Nagai was expected to do was just get the car as high on the grid as he could. But exiting Piper Corner (Turn 7), Nagai spun and crashed his Prius, bringing out a red flag with five minutes to go – as Nakayama was on a flying lap in his Lexus.
The session restarted with five minutes to go, and Nobuteru Taniguchi, who set the fastest lap in the morning’s practice session, was able to improve the Hatsune Miku AMG’s best time to a 1:25.166.
But in the end, nobody had an answer for Gamou’s fastest time in the Bridgestone-clad Leon AMG, which took pole position for Sunday’s race. It’s the first-ever GT300 pole position for Gamou, and it’s the first-ever GT300 pole position for K2 R&D Leon Racing since they joined the grid as an independent team in 2013.
“I am happy that we have won our first pole position, but at the same time I am honestly very relieved,” Gamou said in the post-qualifying press conference. “During the off-season, we changed to Bridgestone tires. So the big focus of our off-season was working to get the car in tune with the Bridgestone tires. Tomorrow we will do our best to get the win like we did last year.”
Taniguchi’s best time in the Miku AMG was good enough for second on the grid – giving Mercedes-AMG a front-row lockout, in the same order that both the Leon AMG and Hatsune Miku AMG finished last year’s race in a 1-2 finish.
With seven of the top ten grid places in GT300 belonging to FIA GT3 category cars, the best of the JAF-GT300/MC contingent were the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita), last year’s defending champions going third-fastest courtesy of reigning drivers’ champion Matsui in Q2.
Nakayama would settle for what was still a very impressive fourth on the grid, the best ever for the Lexus RC F GT3, The #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Manabu Orido/Kazuki Hiramine) qualified fifth, and the #87 Shop Channel Lamborghini (Shinya Hosokawa/Kimiya Sato) was seventh, the two JLOC Huracáns sandwiching the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) in sixth, best of the Dunlop runners.
The #11 Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim) was eighth, ahead of the Bridgestone-clad #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo) in ninth, the #10 Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R (Ryuichiro Tomita/Hiroki Yoshida) a fitting tenth, and the #50 INGING & Arnage Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Morio Nitta/Akihiro Tsuzuki) and #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons/Masataka Yanagida) eleventh and twelfth.