The official qualifying for the OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE, Round 1 of the 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series was held at the Okayama International Circuit (one lap 3.703 km) in Okayama Prefecture on April 7. In difficult conditions that saw rain fall part way through the qualifying, the GT500 class pole position went to the No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT driven by Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure. In the GT300 class, the MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT3 driven by Kazuki Hiramine and Marco Mapelli won the class pole. With this result, these two cars will start from front position on their respective class starting grids in the final race on April 8.
On this day the skies were cloudy from morning and intermittent strong rain showers made for difficult conditions. During the morning’s official practice that started from 9:00 there was rain at the end of the session that prevented the teams from getting their cars fully set up before the afternoon’s qualifying. At 2:45 in the afternoon the official qualifying started. At this point the skies were cloudy and the track was dry.
The GT500 class Q1 session started at 3:15. The period for time trials was 12 minutes. Until now, the GT500 contestants didn’t usually begin their serious time trials until the last few minutes of the session, but with the threat of rain this time, the teams sent their cars out on the track early and began gradually improving their laps times right away. The fastest lap in this Q1 session was recorded by the No. 24 Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R driven by Mitsunori Takaboshi on his last lap. Competing full-time in the GT500 for the first time this year, his performance surprised everyone. And, the second fastest time was recorded by Naoki Yamamoto in the No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT. Having been unable to drive hardly at all in the morning practice due to machine trouble, Yamamoto did a great job to ensure that teammate Jenson Button would be able to drive in the Q2 session. On the other hand, last season’s champion car, the No. 1 KeePer TOM’S LC500 (Nick Cassidy) could only manage to get the 9th fastest time, falling short of a place in Q2 by just 0.1 sec. The time difference between that fastest qualifier and the 15th and last car in the Q1session was just 1.1 sec.
Before the start of the GT300 class Q2 session, rain started to fall and changed everything, bringing full-wet conditions for the 8-minute GT500 class Q2 session. What’s more, after the start of the session the sun came out and the track began to dry, making conditions even more difficult. The driver who showed his skill in these types of conditions was Koudai Tsukakoshi in the No.17 KEIHIN NSX-GT. After fully warming up his tires, he recorded the fastest time of 1’26.905 on his last lap to win pole position. Finishing 2nd was another Honda, the No. 8 ARTA NSX-GT (Takuya Izawa), thus giving the NSX-GT a one-two finish. Third and fourth places went to the new team No. 3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama) and the （No. 6 WAKO’S 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima). The former F1 champion Jenson Button competing in SUPER GT for the first time this year (No. 100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT) finished in 5th position.
In the GT300 class, the same difficult track conditions caused much difficulty and upsets. In Q1, which was cloudy but dry throughout, last year’s champion car, the No. 0 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi) finished in 15th position by just 0.009 sec. and thus failed to advance to Q2. The fastest time in Q1 went to the No. 25 HOPPY 86 MC (Sho Tsuboi). Then, heavy rain began to fall just before the start of Q2, making the track quite wet. In these conditions it was Marco Mapelli in the No. 88 MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT that performed fabulously. The 29-year-old Italian who cam to Japan to compete at the recommendation of Lamborghini managed to take pole position in his very first SUPER GT entry.
Pole Position Winner Comments
No. 17 KEIHIN NSX-GT
“The conditions changed so completely after Q1, so it was a difficult tire choice. Then I decided to completely warm up my tires and save everything for my last lap. Even on that last lap, the tires weren’t fully warmed up, but I was able to get pole position. Things had been going well since the [March] tests and we drivers and the team all believed that we could get pole position if we gave it our all. For that reason, I was very happy that we were able to get pole position in this opening round.”
No. 88 MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT
“During the official practice with dry track condition, the machine felt difficult to handle, but then it changed to wet conditions for the Q2 session. This was my first time driving on this course in wet conditions, but the feeling of the machine had improved. So, it turned out to be lucky rain for me. Being able to win pole position in my first race in Japan makes me very happy. I am grateful to the team for the way they set up the car and to Yokohama for the tires they prepared for us.”