If the modern-day master of Mount Panorama Circuit in Australia is the great Craig Lowndes, then the same could be said about Yuji Tachikawa, the master of Fuji International Speedway, at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan.
The eighteen-year ace driver of the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 of Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo continued to etch his name into the history books of the fabled circuit, and the Golden Week classic that is the Fuji GT 500km Race, by taking his 22nd career pole position on Wednesday for tomorrow’s Fuji 500km.
With the bonus point for pole position, 41-year-old Tachikawa is now the third driver in Super GT history to score 1,000 career championship points, joining Morio Nitta and Satoshi Motoyama in the exclusive club.
Just as they did at Okayama, the fleet of Lexus LC500s looked to be the quickest cars of the three manufacturers – but after Wednesday’s practice, and with success ballast accounted for, the margins weren’t as deep as they were in April.
In Q1, it was the #36 au TOM’s LC500 of James Rossiter which went fastest with a time of 1:28.056, just ahead of Hiroaki Ishiura, who backed up his fastest lap in practice with a best time of 1:28.089 in the ZENT Cerumo LC500.
All six LC500s made it into Q2, in fact, with the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Andrea Caldarelli) third in Q1, the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi) fourth, the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen) sixth, and the championship-leading #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa) seventh.
Tomoki Nojiri in the #8 ARTA NSX-GT came in fifth in Q1, to put themselves into the top half of the field – the only Honda NSX-GT to do so. The only Nissan to advance to Q2 was that of the defending Fuji 500km winners NISMO – Tsugio Matsuda in the #23 Motul Autech GT-R clinched eighth place by just 0.023 seconds over the ninth-placed #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto).
In the car that won pole for this race last year, reigning GT300 race winner Jann Mardenborough missed the cut for Q2 in the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R – but for the superstitious types, it might be a lucky omen for Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s squad, as they line up twelfth on the grid on Thursday, matching their car number.
Tachikawa, a seven-time race winner at Fuji International Speedway, three times in the Fuji 500km alone, would set the first benchmark time of Q2 with a 1:28.101 – but many challengers would have a decent shot at taking pole position.
With less than 37 seconds left in the session, Tachikawa would put pole position out of reach once again, with a time of 1:27.825 that was good enough to take pole for Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo, plus a crucial bonus point in the championship standings.
After qualifying, an elated Tachikawa, who had his hopes of an eighth Fuji victory dashed when the ZENT Cerumo Lexus ran out of fuel in last year’s race, had this to say about his qualifying performance:
“First of all, I want to express my appreciation to the Lexus development team for making us a car that can win pole position, to our team crew for setting it up so well and to my teammate Ishiura-san. But, our big goal this time is to win here at our (Lexus/Toyota) home track, which we haven’t been able to do in three years.”
“Since it’s a long 500 km race, winning pole position only really gives us a few meters of lead. So, tomorrow we have to concentrate on winning the race and be back here for the winner’s press conference.”
This is Tachikawa’s 22nd pole position of his career, extending his current all-time record even further – he’s now ten poles ahead of second-placed Takashi Kogure (12). It’s his ninth career pole position at Fuji Speedway all-time, and with one bonus championship point awarded for pole position, the three-time GT500 champion Tachikawa is now the third member of the 1,000 career point club.
Down but not out after a tough start at Okayama, the #23 Motul Autech GT-R snatched the outside of the front row as four-time GT500 champion Ronnie Quintarelli qualified second, his best time of 1:28.168 a much-needed result for Nissan’s GT500 programme on the whole.
The Italian wasn’t able to improve on his time in the final seconds of Q2, but still, to break up a potential top-six lockout of the grid by Lexus will be a big accomplishment for the NISMO team, going for their third straight Fuji 500km victory on Thursday.
Kazuya Oshima qualified the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 in third on the grid, next to the returning former GT500 champion Daisuke Ito, who was an impressive fourth in Q2 aboard the #36 au TOM’s LC500.
Kohei Hirate qualified the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 in fifth for Thursday’s race, one place ahead of GT500 debutant Kenta Yamashita, who had a respectable start to his top-flight career by qualifying the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 in sixth.
The fourth row will be the championship-leading #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 in seventh, thanks to Nick Cassidy, and Takashi Kobayashi, the surprise pole winner at Okayama, will have the #8 ARTA NSX-GT eighth on the grid, hopefully not to be afflicted by another terminal issue before the start.