Quite simply, qualifying for the fifth round of the Autobacs Super GT Series at Fuji Speedway was a banner day for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, who took pole position in both GT500 and GT300 classes.
Thanks to a last-gasp flying lap from Tomoki Nojiri in Q2, the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT of Nojiri and Takashi Kobayashi notched up their third pole position of the 2017 season, and completed ARTA’s historic double pole position – the first for a single team in nearly twelve years.
Conditions were much hotter than they were three months ago, during the Fuji GT 500km Race in May. As a result, the pole-winning time was expected to be at least a second slower than it was in May – also factoring in the much higher amounts of Success Ballast.
With a revised version of the Nissan NR20A engine under the hood of their four Nissan GT-Rs, three of the four were able to advance out of Q1, led by the #23 Motul Autech GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda, and the #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R of Katsumasa Chiyo, making it an all-Nissan, all-Michelin provisional front row.
João Paulo de Oliveira, celebrating his 100th career Super GT race, finished fourth in the #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R – the signs were there for a Nissan block party at Fuji, even after the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda*/Jann Mardenborough) missed the cut by just two-tenths of a second.
In a field covered by just 0.899 seconds, there were bound to be some disappointed teams after Q1. The most recent race winners, the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD Lexus LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen*/Kohei Hirate) finished ninth, and the championship leaders, the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima*/Andrea Caldarelli), finished in eleventh – both cars weighed down by Success Ballast and fuel-flow limiters.
It only serves to highlight the good job that Ryo Hirakawa in the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500, and Kazuki Nakajima in the #36 au TOM’s LC500, did to put their respective teams third and fifth in Q1 despite carrying over 38 kilos of physical ballast and a “Stage 2” fuel-flow restrictor on their respective cars.
Two disappointments came at the very back of the grid: The #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Yuji Kunimoto*) finished 14th fastest after pacing the practice session earlier that morning, and the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa*) sporting a revised HR-417E engine this weekend, finished 15th and last in Q1.
With three Lexus, three Nissans, and two Hondas making it into Q2, the fight for pole position was bound to be competitive.
In the final minutes of Q2, it looked as if Ronnie Quintarelli had sewn up Nissan’s first pole of the year, with a best lap of 1:29.475 in the Motul GT-R.
But right as the chequered flag fell on the session, Nojiri nailed his run through Sector 3, and posted a flying lap of 1:29.104 – taking his second consecutive Super GT pole position, the third of the year for ARTA, the fourth for Honda, and, securing the double pole position for ARTA for the first time since the 2005 Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis.
Even after his breakthrough maiden pole at Sugo, Nojiri admitted that he was under some pressure to perform in Q2. “In the pre-qualifying talk show event, Aguri-san predicted that we would take pole position, and while that was encouraging, it also put the pressure on me, especially because the No. 55 car had just won its own pole position,” said Nojiri.
“But, once I was in the car, I was able to concentrate and get a good flying lap. The condition of the car wasn’t good when I ran it (in the morning practice), but during the interval before qualifying it had gotten much better. With advice from Kobayashi-san, we made almost no changes in the car for Q2 and that helped me get pole position.”
Quintarelli’s best lap was still good enough to give NISMO their second front-row start at Fuji in as many races in 2017, as they will line up second on the grid, the best of a Nissan contingent that won five out of the last six races at Fuji from 2014 to 2016.
James Rossiter put in another mega lap for the au TOM’s LC500, qualifying third to lead the way on the grid for Lexus at their home circuit, ahead of the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure), in fourth place.
Daiki Sasaki qualified the Forum Engineering Advan GT-R in fifth, and he and Oliveira will line up alongside the defending Fuji 500km winners, Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura, in the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500.
Nick Cassidy finished seventh in Q2 in the KeePer TOM’s LC500, and Motoyama finished eighth in the S Road GT-R, to complete the front four rows for tomorrow’s 66-lap race.