The official qualifying for the opening round of the 2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT series, the “Takanoko Hotel OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE,” was held on April 10 at the Okayama International Circuit (one lap 3,703 m) in Okayama Prefecture. The SUPER GT qualifying is run in a knock-out style format, and in the GT500 class the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra (Ryo Hirakawa/Sena Sakaguchi) was fastest in both the Q1 and Q2 sessions, and as the driver in Q2, Sakaguchi took his first GT500 pole position. In the GT300 class, the No. 11 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hironobu Yasuda) won the class pole. With this result, these two cars will start from front position on their respective class starting grids in tomorrow’s final race on April 11.
There were blue skies and not a cloud in sight over the circuit from morning. The GT500 class official qualifying that started from 2:33 in the afternoon. In the Q1 session, where the top eight qualifiers of the 15 starters would go on to Q2, it was a closely fought competition with only one second separating the top 13 cars. Of these the fastest time was run by the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra (Ryo Hirakawa), while the 2nd and 3rd fastest times also went to TOYOTA GR Supra GT500 cars, for a sweep of the top three places. All of the other three GR Supra cars also qualified to Q2, proving the car’s excellent performance. The fastest among the Honda NSX-GT cars was the No. 16 Red Bull MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (Toshiki Oyu) in 5th position, while the fastest among the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 cars was the No. 3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R (Katsumasa Chiyo), meaning that none of the Nissan cars qualified to Q2.
The eight cars that made it through Q1 then competed for pole position in Q2, but soon after the session started the No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra (Ritomo Miyata) returned to the pit and quit the qualifying in the day’s first upset. After that, the remaining seven machines entered the intense stage of the session as it entered the last three minutes. Just before the checkered flag was waved to signal the final lap, the No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra that had been fastest in Q1, emerged again, this time at the hands of Sena Sakaguchi to record a lap of 1’17.701 to take the top position. After that, another GR Supra, the No. 14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra (Kazuya Oshima) also dipped into the 1’17 sec. range to but fell just short of denying pole position to No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra (Ryo Hirakawa/Sena Sakaguchi). Qualifying in 3rd position was the No. 36 au TOM’S GR Supra (Sho Tsuboi) as the GR Supra teams swept the top five positions. The fastest among the NSX-GT teams was the No. 64 Modulo NSX-GT (Takuya Izawa) in 6th position.
The GT300 class Q1 session was divided into two groups, A and B, based on last season’s rankings, and the fastest in group A was the No. 244 TAKANOKONOYU GR Supra GT (Yuui Tsutsumi), while fastest in group B was the No. 60 SYNTIUM LMcorsa GR Supra GT (Hiroki Yoshimoto). In Q2, competed by the top eight qualifiers of the two groups, for a total of 16 cars, it was Hiranaka in the No. 11 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Katsuyuki Hiranaka/Hironobu Yasuda) that recorded the fastest time of 1’25.275 to claim the GT300 class pole position.
Pole Position winner comments
No. 37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra
“Last year I had to swallow my pride when our team’ substitute driver (Kenta Yamashita filling in for the absent regular driver) took all the glory (of pole position), and this year the same thing happened (laughs). Since Sasha (the team’s regular driver Fenestraz) couldn’t be here, Sakaguchi took his seat and did a great job in the official tests, and since the car had been set up in a condition that felt really good, I think everything went very well. Since the race isn’t until tomorrow, I can now be happy about our getting pole position and just think about driving hard tomorrow.”
“This time I want to thank everyone at TOM’S for calling me in as a substitute driver and at K-tunes for giving their approval. I was able to run in both of the official tests, so I felt like the car was really mine. The team and Hirakawa-san were so reliable and supportive that all I had to do was go out and push hard. Hirakawa-san kept giving me advice right up to the start of Q2, and I was able to get pole position by just following his advice, so I am very grateful.”
No. 11 GAINER TANAX GT-R
“I really didn’t think we were going to get pole position. During the official practice and in Q1, the GR Supra GT was very fast, so I went into (Q2) thinking that we would be doing OK to get perhaps 10th position, so when I made my time attacks and the times were so good, it really surprised me. Since we will be starting from the very front in tomorrow’s race, I want to work hard to keep that position so we will have a good race.”
“I also didn’t think we were going to get pole position, but Hiranaka-san ran fantastically well in Q2 and I am grateful for that. I am glad that I will be starting from the very front in tomorrow’s race. I want to do my best to run a race that will thrill the fans who will have gone through so much to come here and to everyone who will be watching on TV.”
Source. Super GT