What happened to Honda's other title contenders at Fuji?

Jamie Klein
·2-min read

Prior to the weekend, Real Racing Honda pair Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi were tied at the head of the standings with TOM'S Toyota man Ryo Hirakawa, and actually led on countback having scored two wins this year to Hirakawa's one.

Hirakawa eked out a one-point lead as his teammate in the #37 Toyota GR Supra, Kenta Yamashita, took pole in a qualifying session dominated by the marque.

By contrast, only one of Honda's three Bridgestone-shod NSX-GTs made it into Q2, which was the Team Kunimitsu car of Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino that went on to win the race after Hirakawa dramatically ran out of fuel exiting the final corner.

#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT

#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT<span class="copyright">Masahide Kamio</span>
#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GTMasahide Kamio

Masahide Kamio

The first part of the race was very different for ARTA, as Nojiri went backwards on the first lap as he slipped behind a fast-starting Baguette, and then remained 11th after an early move on the Dunlop-shod Nakajima Racing Honda.

From there, it was a slow but steady ascent up the order to eighth ahead of the pitstop phase, at which juncture Nojiri took the lead as he was the penultimate GT500 runner to come into the pits, doing so four laps after the other Bridgestone Hondas on lap 26.

Taking no fresh tyres vaulted the ARTA car, now in the hands of Fukuzumi, up to sixth place. And that became fifth when the #14 Cerumo Toyota of Sho Tsuboi, which had also opted for a no-tyre change strategy, picked up terminal damage in a Turn 1 clash with the #36 TOM'S Toyota of Yuhi Sekiguchi while battling over second place.

Fukuzumi brought the car home in that position, only five seconds behind the Real Honda of Tsukakoshi - in turn a massive 45s down on the winning #100 car at the finish.

"We lost a lot of time at the beginning, which was painful," ARTA chief engineer Ryan Dingle told Motorsport.com. "But I think we were the only team to get away with no tyre change, as for the #14 it didn't really work out.

"Nojiri was saving the tyres in the first stint, but it cost us a bit too much time. Nirei’s pace in the second stint was good. It was a shame, we just lost too much time in the first stint.

"That boils down to qualifying. We should have probably been where the #100 car was, but I don’t think we could have touched the Toyotas. It was a bit less than what we hoped for."

#8 ARTA NSX-GT

#8 ARTA NSX-GT<span class="copyright">Masahide Kamio</span>
#8 ARTA NSX-GTMasahide Kamio

Masahide Kamio