Not even a field-high 40 kilogram Success Ballast penalty was going to stop Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO from continuing their torrid start to the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, as they took GT300 pole position for the 2017 Fuji GT 500km Race thanks to a pole-winning lap in Q2 from ace driver Nobuteru Taniguchi.
The pole position for the Golden Week classic ends a run of over six years since the last time Goodsmile Racing and Taniguchi sat on pole position, dating back to the 2011 Motegi GT 250km Race.
The close results from Wednesday free practice meant that the fight to get into the top 14 in Q1 was going to be a dogfight, with the top 14 in practice covered by half a second.
In that first session, the #11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka) set the quickest time, a 1:35.864, three-tenths ahead of Tatsuya Kataoka in the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG in second place.
Four cars just missed the cut for Q2 by 0.120 seconds in the end: Last round’s polesitters, the #65 Leon Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa), missed it by 0.029 seconds and qualified 15th. Also missing the cut in this group were the #10 Gainer Tanax triple a GT-R (Ryuichiro Tomita), the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Manabu Orido), and the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama) in 16th, 17th, and 18th.
Shockingly, both Toyota Prius apr GTs failed to make it into Q2, as did the #60 Syntium LMCorsa RC F GT3 (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto*), which showed well in practice, as did their sister car, the #51 JMS P.MU LMCorsa RC F GT3 – which did make it into Q2 thanks to a fourth-place effort from rookie Sho Tsuboi.
That set up a great battle for pole position, not only between the two top Mercedes-AMGs, but also with the two Porsche 911 GT3-Rs in the mix of D’Station Racing and Pacific with Gulf Racing who were both extremely strong in practice.
Taniguchi, already a six-time GT300 class winner at Fuji Speedway, continued to be unphased by the 40kg ballast handicap, and set the fastest time of the afternoon with a 1:35.824 – just a tenth away from last year’s lap record held by Takashi Kobayashi in the ARTA BMW M6, but still good enough for pole position.
“In the opening round, I was very disappointed because the pole position was within our reach, but we missed getting it,” said Taniguchi after qualifying. “But this time, we were finally able to get it.”
“I felt that I had run my best attack and gotten the best time, but since I didn’t know what the others had done, it wasn’t until I took the checkered and returned to the pit that I found out. I was very relieved when I finally learned that we had pole.”
It’s GSR’s first pole since Motegi in 2011, as well as the first pole since that round for two-time GT300 champion Taniguchi – his sixth career GT300 pole position in total.
The #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 will start from the front row for the first time ever after Kyosuke Mineo was third-quickest in Q1, setting up Kiwi co-driver Jono Lester to qualify second on the grid for Thursday’s feature race in Q2, with a best time of 1:35.930.
In fact, it’s the first front row start for Pacific Racing Team under any iteration, this after capturing their first podium finish at Okayama in April, as well as Lester’s first-ever front row start in Super GT – but the Kiwi was confident that the car had the pace to take pole.
“I think we could’ve got pole – which is a shame – but I’ve got to be happy,” Lester told Simon Chapman of VelocityNews after qualifying.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m being negative, but I don’t think I got the most out of it. It was my first time on decent rubber today.”
Both Porsches looked very strong, but unfortunately for the #33 D’station Porsche (Tomonobu Fujii/Sven Müller), they will start down in 14th on Thursday after Müller’s fastest time in Q2 was deleted for exceeding track limits. The deleted time of 1:35.986 would have been good enough for third on the grid.
That would promote the #11 Gainer Tanax AMG to third on the grid, Björn Wirdheim not quite able to match the best time from co-driver Hiranaka, but it was still good enough for the second row, alongside the #51 JMS P.MU LMCorsa RC F GT3, which got fourth on the grid with Yuichi Nakayama running in Q2.
The #87 Shop Channel Lamborghini GT3 (Shinya Hosokawa-Q1/Kimiya Sato-Q2) will start on the inside of the third row after another great qualifying performance to get into the top half of the grid, alongside the best of the JAF-GT300 cars, the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Hideki Yamauchi-Q1/Takuto Iguchi-Q2) in sixth.
Only three JAF-GT300/MC cars made it into Q2, with the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui-Q1/Tsubasa Kondo-Q2) qualifying eighth, sharing the fourth row with the #7 Studie BMW M6 (Seiji Ara-Q1/Jörg Müller-Q2). The other MC car in Q2 was the #5 Mach Syaken 86MC GTNET (Kiyoto Fujinami-Q1/Natsu Sakaguchi-Q2), qualifying tenth, and sharing the fifth row with the #55 ARTA BMW M6 (Shinichi Takagi-Q1/Sean Walkinshaw-Q2).
Qualifying eleventh is last year’s Fuji 500km race winning car, the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Mitsunori Takaboshi-Q1/Kazuki Hoshino-Q2), and Keishi Ishikawa did a great job in Q1 to get the #111 EVA RT Test-01 Rn-s AMG (with Ryosei Yamashita) into the top half of the field, qualifying twelfth. The #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons-Q1/Masataka Yanagida-Q2) was thirteenth, as Yanagida again struggled to put together a consistent lap in Q2.