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Analysis
Super GT Suzuka II

Why ARTA Honda’s troubles are far from over despite Suzuka win

On the face of it, the #16 ARTA Honda NSX-GT enjoyed a straightforward run to the team’s first SUPER GT victory of the season at Suzuka last weekend. But in reality, the team was fortunate that another pit error didn’t end up costing it dearly.

The first half of the 2023 campaign turned out to be a major disappointment for the two-car ARTA squad, which is in the first season of a new alliance with Team Mugen, with each of its cars having just a single third-place finish each to show for their efforts in the opening four races.

But at Suzuka, the team’s fortunes finally turned as Nirei Fukuzumi and Hiroki Otsu converted their pole position into victory, also giving Honda a first win of 2023.

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Fukuzumi and Otsu’s win was aided substantially by the timing of the first full-course yellow of the race, as Otsu was able to dive into the pits to complete his first stop at the end of lap 11 of 77 - moments before the FCY was called for the stricken Team LeMans Audi.

The #16 ARTA NSX-GT was the only GT500 car to make it into the pits before they closed under caution, and as such Otsu went into the second stint with a mammoth 42-second advantage over his nearest pursuer, Ronnie Quintarelli in the NISMO Nissan.

But the team was fortunate that was the case, because a shortage of fuel meant Otsu had to aggressively fuel save before he pitted on lap 44 to hand over to Nirei Fukuzumi.

“We had a lot of margin when we left the pits, but we didn’t put as much fuel in the car as we had planned,” Otsu revealed in the post-race press conference. “I had to save two laps’ worth of fuel over my stint, otherwise we risked not making the finish.”

Mugen boss Hirokatsu Tanaka clarified that the fuel shortage for the #16 crew was just a simple calculation error, and not related to the sister #8 car dramatically running out of fuel at the end of the second round of the season at Fuji, costing the team a third-place finish.

“Fortunately, the refuelling error was not fatal, and we were lucky to be able to pit just before the first FCY,” Tanaka told Motorsport.com’s Japanese edition. “Because we had that margin over the cars behind, we could focus on saving fuel. 

“At Fuji, the problem with the fuel [on car #8] was something fundamental with the car, there was an issue that meant the amount of fuel we planned wasn’t entering the car. We solved that, and this time, we just put in the wrong amount of fuel.”

 

While Quintarelli was closing in during the second stint, by as much as two seconds per lap at certain points, the Italian driver was also having to manage issues of his own.

“The pace was good, but we had some issues with front tyre wear,” Quintarelli told Motorsport.com. “I was having to take care of the front tyres, and we also had to manage an issue with the gearbox as it was overheating, which meant I had to short-shift.

“The team wasn’t telling me how quickly I was catching Otsu, but I was able to guess that my lap times were quite good. The car felt good, but I had to manage my pace as well.”

Quintarelli handed over to his team-mate in the #23 Nissan, Tsugio Matsuda, having cut the deficit to around 15 seconds, but Matsuda was only able to close to within 10 seconds of Fukuzumi in the ARTA Honda. Regardless, their efforts were rendered moot as the pair were stripped of second in the final results due to an overly worn skid block.

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ARTA’s #8 car title hopes recede after pick-up woes

On the other side of the ARTA garage, Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu’s horrific run of luck in the #8 NSX-GT continued as they failed to score points for the fourth race in succession.

By rights, the #8 car should have been on pole but for Oyu’s critical mistake in Q2, which not only denied him the top spot but also resulted in he and Nojiri being demoted to seventh on the grid. In the early stages, Nojiri was stuck in a train of cars behind the struggling Nakajima Racing Honda, and opted to try the undercut strategy with an early stop on lap eight.

This move should have put Nojiri in a position to move inside the top three, but instead the two-time Super Formula champion endured a woeful stint that left he and Oyu on the fringes of the top 10 heading into the final stint.

Speaking to Motorsport.com post-race, Nojiri said he suspected that a mistake with the tyre pressures was to blame for his uncharacteristic lack of performance.

“The pick-up was incredible, it felt almost as if one of the tyres weren’t attached properly,” he said. “The pace was bad for the whole stint. We used the same type of tyre in both the first and second stints, but it’s possible we made a mistake with the ride height while the tyre pressure was still low… even when the pressures increased, the ride height was still low.

 

“For the final stint, I advised the team to increase the pressures and Oyu was able to run normally, so maybe that was the cause.”

Any chances of salvaging a few points from a difficult situation for the #8 crew evaporated when Oyu made contact with the TOM’S Toyota GR Supra of Giuliano Alesi at the hairpin, giving him front-right damage that caused him to go off-track at 130R and pit for repairs.

To add further insult to injury, Oyu was penalised for pitting under the very full-course caution that he caused, leaving he and Nojiri a dismal 13th at the finish. It leaves them facing a daunting 38-point deficit to the points-leading NDDP Nissan crew with three races to go.

"Car #8 is fast, but it doesn’t lead to results… somehow something always goes wrong for one or other of the cars," summarised Tanaka. "We would be the strongest team if everything went well."

Motorsport.tv is showing all qualifying sessions and races for the 2023 SUPER GT season. For more information, click here.

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