The regular driver pairing of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita are back together at VivaC Team Tsuchiya, and the defending GT300 champion team got their title defense back on track after taking GT300 class pole position for the Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis circuit.
The session was a benefit for the JAF-GT300/MC machines, seven of which made it into the second phase of knockout qualifying – with the top three cars in Q2 all being JAF-GT300/MC cars. However, there was no catching the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC – especially in Q2, when Matsui set the fastest time of the afternoon’s time trials.
It took only 40 seconds in the warm, sunny conditions for one team’s aspirations of a front row start to go up in smoke, as Taku Bamba, former GT300 champion, spun off on his warmup lap in the #52 GreenBrave Toyota Mark X MC – a poor follow-up from a great ninth-place result in the morning practice. Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave will have to start 30th and last on the GT300 grid on Sunday afternoon – and the incident brought out a brief red flag.
There were several top cars from the FIA GT3 contingent that missed the cut for Q2: Both Audi R8 LMSes, both Lamborghini Huracán GT3s, both Porsche 911 GT3-Rs, and all four Nissan GT-R GT3s – including 2015 winners Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi, in the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R, in seventeenth.
The #60 Syntium LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) missed the cut in 21st place, but the championship-leading #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa RC F GT3 did advance, thanks to a solid lap from rookie Sho Tsuboi.
There was also a great story as the rebuilt #50 INGING & Arnage Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 advanced into Q2, as three-time GT300 champion Morio Nitta was eighth-fastest in Q1 – in their first race back after missing the Fuji 500km.
But at the head of the field, it was the reigning All-Japan Formula 3 Champion, Kenta Yamashita, who was fastest in the VivaC 86.
For Q2, there were nine different models from eight different manufacturers – including the top four teams in the championship, who all had a shot to make it to the top.
Early on in Q2, it was the turbocharged #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport that led the way, with native of nearby Fukuoka, Takuto Iguchi, aiming for pole position after co-driver Hideki Yamauchi got the car through Q1.
But in the final two minutes of qualifying, Takamitsu Matsui laid down the only sub-1:44 lap time of Saturday – a 1:43.702, the fastest time of qualifying by six-tenths of a second over Iguchi’s fastest time in the Subaru.
That lap time was quick enough to give the #25 VivaC 86 its fifth pole position since its 2015 debut, and its first of the 2017 season. For Matsui, it’s his third career pole, having taken P1 at Sugo and Buriram in 2016.
“I’m glad that we have gotten our first pole position of the season,” said Matsui. “Since there were some small mistakes out there today, we weren’t able to get the course record. But, even if it wasn’t for those mistakes, the existing course record is so fast that I don’t think we could have matched it. Still, the machine set-up today went well and I was able to feel very good during my attack runs.”
The result was a great one for VivaC Team Tsuchiya, which has been run by deputy general manager and chief engineer, Takeshi Tsuchiya, since his father Haruo Tsuchiya was hospitalized with a bout of oral cancer last November.
Third-fastest, completing an all-86/BRZ 1-2-3, was the #5 Mach Syaken MC86 GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami) – their best starting position in a long, long time, and a great result for the team based out of nearby Fukuoka Prefecture.
The turbocharged #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Sean Walkinshaw) led the GT3 cars in fourth.
Then, the top four teams in the championship will all occupy rows three and four: The #11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Björn Wirdheim) and the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) on row three, and the #51 JMS RC F (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi) and the #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou) on row four. The three Mercedes-AMG GT3s seem unaffected by both heavy Success Ballast and a recent 35kg BoP penalty.
The #7 Studie BMW M6 GT3 (Jörg Müller/Seiji Ara) was ninth, the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo) tenth, and the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama/Shintaro Kawabata) was eleventh. In the mini-battle amongst the gentleman drivers in Q2, Akihiro Tsuzuki in the #50 Ferrari beat out Hiroaki Nagai in the #30 Toyota Prius, and Kazuho Takahashi in the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC.
The technical layout of Autopolis benefitted the high-downforce JAF-GT300 specials, and the high altitudes helped the turbocharged machines – but will this year’s race at Autopolis produce a thirteenth different winning car in GT300?