The Ferrari 488 GT3 of ARN Racing secured their third straight pole position of the 2017 Super Taikyu Series on Saturday at Suzuka Circuit.
Drivers Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki led their respective qualifying groups in the ST-X class to take pole position by an aggregate time of 2.2 seconds.
In the Second Chance 100 qualifying race, it was the #112 Sato-SS Rn-sports Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Atsushi Sato/Ryosei Yamashita/Nobuo Kubo) who took the victory, overcoming a puncture to guarantee a spot in the field for Sunday’s four-hour main race – as all three ST-X cars in the last chance qualifier hit problems during the race.
In the “A Driver” bracket, Nagai’s best time of 2:02.056 in Saturday morning qualifying was quickest among his gentleman driver peers by over a second. In the “B Driver” bracket, Sasaki – the all-time pole winner in Super GT GT300 class history – set the fastest lap of time trials with a 2:00.764 – their aggregate time was a 4:02.820.
Nagai and Sasaki will start on pole for the third straight race, but in two previous races, they’ve yet to stay in the lead of the race for more than a handful of corners. Yuki Shiraishi was set to compete as their C Driver, but he is presumably a late withdrawal from the team after not showing for the C Driver time trial session.
Starting second on the grid will be the #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Tadao Uematsu/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami), Fujinami setting the fastest time of the “C Drivers” in the final part of time trials.
The #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo) will start third, next to the championship-leading #1 ThreeBond Nissan GT-R (Yuudai Uchida/Tomonobu Fujii/Kazuki Hiramine) in fourth, and the #3 Endless Advan GT-R (Yuke Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Yuya Motojima). Sixth was the sole ST-1 car in the field, the #31 Nissoku Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhito Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita).
The #45 Liqui Moly Audi RS3 LMS (Shozo Tagahara/Takuya Shirasaka/Naoto Takeda) scored its third straight pole position in the ST-TCR category, with the former GT300 journeymen Tagahara and Shirasaka leading their driver groups. They’ll start on the fourth row with the new #10 RacingLine Performance Volkswagen Golf TCR (Philippe Devesa/Shogo Mitsuyama), second in class for its debut outing.
Ninth overall was the ST-3 Class pole sitter, the #62 Denso Le Beausset Lexus RC350 (Koki Saga/Yuichi Nakayama/Kenta Yamashita), which beat out the #97 Modulo Civic TCR (Keiichi Tsuchiya/Hidenori Kouichi/Ryo Michigami) in Tsuchiya’s racing return and Michigami’s Super Taikyu TCR debut.
The ST-2 pole winning #6 Shinryo Auto/DIXCEL Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (Tomohiro Tomimasu/Yasushi Kikuchi/Masazumi Ohashi) qualified sixteenth overall in time trials.
Group 2 time trials were led by the ST-4 Class pole sitters, the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 (Takamitsu Matsui/Naoya Gamou/Sho Tsuboi), which took class pole by 1.8 seconds over the #54 TC Corse iRacing Mazda Roadster NC (Teruaki Kato/Yuui Tsutsumi).
The pole winners in ST-5 were the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster ND (Hiroyuki Murakami/Takeshi Wakitani/Masanobu Kato), the most recent ST-5 Class winners picking up a third driver just before the start of the weekend.
Rn-sports wins dramatic Second Chance 100
The action wasn’t done on Saturday, as the bottom three teams from the ST-X, ST-3, ST-4, and ST-5 classes would have to race their way into Sunday’s race through the Second Chance 100 – a 1 hour, 40 minute qualifying race.
The last of the previous-generation GT3 cars, the #112 Rn-sports Mercedes SLS, raced their way in by way of winning the event outright, over the #999 CARGUY Roger Dubuis Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Takeshi Kimura/Naoki Yokomizo/Afiq Yazid).
The Rn-sports SLS overcame a puncture on lap 24 when they ran over a piece of debris, but their ST-X rivals had troubles of their own. Young Malaysian driver Yazid was the fastest man in the CARGUY Lamborghini, but was hit with two drive-through penalties – the first for a jump start, the second for a pit lane speed violation.
The #14 Okabe Jidosha ZEROSUN MyCars Z34 (Manabu Yamazaki/Yasuhiro Arai/Toshiaki Koshimizu) finished third overall, advancing through in ST-3 along with the #34 SKT Team Motoyama Z34 (Satoshi Motoyama/Masaki Kano/Satoshi Matsubara) – the latter a shock relegation to this last chance qualifier after missing the cut in time trials by just 0.006 seconds!
The little #26 Endless Advan Trust Toyota Vitz (Tobio Ohtani/Mitsuaki Matsuo/Toshihisa Kono) advanced through in ST-4, as did the #100 AGENT-1 Toyota 86 (Takashi Shibuya/Hachiro Osaka/Tadashi Watanabe).
And in ST-5, the #57 Honda Cars Okegawa V-BOX Sekisho Fit (Mitsuhiro Endo/Ryusuke Masumoto/Kenta Harada) made it through to the final race.
The #89 HubAuto Racing Ferrari 488 (Morris Chen/Hiroki Yoshimoto/Yuya Sakamoto) suffered a fuel system failure on the second leg of time trials, and would be relegated to the Second Chance 100 and have to start at the back of the grid. On their pace alone, the car could have easily advanced to the main event
But tragedy struck the team when the same mechanical gremlins struck during the race, putting them down five laps to the leader. Yoshimoto set the fastest lap of the qualifying race on his closing stint, but their fate had been sealed, and one of Super Taikyu’s heavy-hitting teams would miss the race – or so they thought!
Because the #37 NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Yutaka Seki/Kaoru Ijiri/Go Umeda) did not run at all on Saturday, all the two remaining ST-5 cars had to do was finish the Second Chance 100 unscathed. That plan went to shambles when the #213 WAKO’s-field-HPI-WM Toyota Vitz of Takashi Azuma crashed on lap 12, bringing out a safety car.
The damage was enough to knock the #213 Vitz out for the rest of the weekend, and after the race, the #89 HubAuto Ferrari was given the 50th and final position on the grid for tomorrow’s 4 hour endurance race.
Did Not Qualify
- #17 DXL Aragosta NOPRO Mazda Axela Sky-D (Tatsuya Tanigawa/Tatsuya Nogami/Toshihiko Nogami) – did not qualify
- #18 Y’s Distraction Toyota 86 (Takeo Asano/Masataka Inoue/Masayuki Mori) – did not qualify
- #37 DXL Aragosta NOPRO Mazda Demio Sky-D (Yutaka Seki/Kaoru Ijiri/Go Umeda) – electrical failure, did not run on Saturday
- #213 WAKO’s/field/HPI/WM Toyota Vitz (Takashi Azuma/Yuichi Yoko) – crash/withdrew
Last Minute Driver Changes
- Toshihisa Kono (#26 Endless Advan Trust Toyota Vitz)
- Hachiro Osaka (#100 AGENT-1 Toyota 86)
- Koji Yamanishi (#2 Mach Syaken BOMEX Mazda ND5RC Autolab)
- Hiroshi Takamori & Keiichi Inoue (#48 GO & FUN Honda Cars Nozaki Fit)
- Masanobu Kato (#88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster)
- Seiji Imuta (#700 J’s Racing Honda Fit)
- Yuki Shiraishi (#8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3)
- Futoshi Omeya (#213 WAKO’s Toyota Vitz)