The defending GT300 champions and current GT300 championship leaders kicked off their Super GT Summer Series on the right foot, as the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita scored their second straight pole position of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series during qualifying for the Sugo GT 300km Race.
Their second pole of 2017 gives Matsui and Yamashita a bonus point in the championship heading into Sunday’s race – as they’ll lead the field to green as part of an all-Mother Chassis Toyota 86 front row.
Q1 wasn’t short of excitement, nor attrition. The #5 Mach Syaken MC86 GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami) was unable to take a qualifying run after sustaining heavy damage in a practice incident, and during Q1 itself, Hiroki Katoh in the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC (with Kazuho Takahashi) brought out a red flag when he went off spectacularly in Turn 3.
Up at the front of the field, the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Hideki Yamauchi) showed great speed, going to the top of the timesheets in Q1, ahead of the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Shintaro Kawabata) in 2nd, and the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Yamashita) 3rd.
The surprise of Q1 was a terrific lap from Taku Bamba in the #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave Toyota Mark X MC (with Shigekazu Wakisaka) to finish the session in 9th, earning their first Q2 appearance in just their fourth race in Super GT – Wakisaka would go on to qualify the car 11th in Q2.
The #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 (Jono Lester) just missed the cut by 0.068 seconds, heading up the list of cars unlucky to not advance into Q2: The #11 Gainer Tanax Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Björn Wirdheim, 17th), and the #26 Taisan SARD Audi R8 LMS (Shinnosuke Yamada, 19th) each failed to capitalize on good practice pace, while the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi, 21st) had a tough day in contrast to their GT500 compatriots.
Q2 was also interrupted by a red flag caused when Manabu Orido, in the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (with Kazuki Hiramine) spun and crashed rear-first at the tricky SP-Out corner. The two-time GT300 champion walked away from the crash, and the car itself suffered miniscule damage – but for bringing out a red flag, Orido was stripped of his fastest lap and the #88 ManePa Huracán will start 14th on Sunday.
Even with a field-high 58 kilograms of Success Ballast on board the VivaC 86, Matsui was still able to string together a great lap of 1:18.657 – just over a second off the record lap he set one year ago – to take his second consecutive pole position of 2017, and his second in a row at Sportsland SUGO.
“I am very happy to have gotten pole position,” said Matsui. “The car had been set up perfectly for Q2, and tat was thanks to the advice given by Yamashita after running in Q1.”
“Watching him driving on the monitor, it looked as if he had been struggling somewhat with an under-steering tendency, but thanks to the advice he gave after his session, our mechanic Takeshi (Tsuchiya) had been able to adjust the settings well so I was able to get pole position. I am very grateful to the two of them and to the whole team for the great job they have done.”
This is Matsui’s fourth career GT300 pole position – in a span of just nine races dating back to his first pole at this event one year ago.
With the bonus point for pole, Matsui and Yamashita now sit at 30 points in the championship, 2 clear of the #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi) which qualified seventh, and 3 ahead of the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka), which qualified eighth, best of the foreign-make cars as Japanese badges locked out the top seven.
Sharing the all-Mother Chassis front row with VivaC Team Tsuchiya will be the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86, which qualified in second place thanks to a great lap from lead driver Yuhki Nakayama in Q2, just a tenth slower than Matsui with a 1:18.753.
But Saturday’ss most inspired performances came from the 43rd and final entry for the race, the #60 Syntium LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3. They were fastest in practice, advanced out of Q1 thanks to former GT500 champion Akira Iida, and ultimately qualified in third – best of the FIA GT3 category cars – thanks to a fast lap from Hiroki Yoshimoto.
They’ll share the second row with the #61 Subaru BRZ, which qualified 4th thanks to Takuto Iguchi – they’re the best of the original construction JAF-GT cars, and the best of the Dunlop runners as well – who will excel if it rains during the race as predicted in the weather forecasts.
The third row will be made up of the #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi), and last year’s winning car, the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo), the fastest Bridgestone car – and another car and tyre to watch in the event of a wet race.
Yuya Motojima, on his D’station Racing debut, qualified the #33 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (with Tomonobu Fujii) twelfth in Q2.