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How Fuji 450km unravelled for Honda's 'superteam'

Honda’s two-car SUPER GT team ARTA was left to lick its wounds after both of its NSX-GT crews lost chances to score a podium in the Fuji 450km on Thursday.

The #16 ARTA car that had qualified third and ran second in the early stages in the hands of Nirei Fukuzumi was penalised for a second race in a row for an infraction at its first pitstop, with a drive-through demoting Fukuzumi and Hiroki Otsu to 10th place.

Then, with just two laps to run, the sister #8 machine of Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu dropped out of third place when Oyu ran out of fuel, necessitating an extra splash and dash that put the bright orange Honda out of the points.

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The outcome was all the more galling considering the effort that Oyu had made to rebuff the advances of a charging Koudai Tsukakoshi in the Real Racing Honda several laps earlier, as well as the NDDP Racing Nissan of Mitsunori Takaboshi.

Toshihiro Ichise, the chief engineer of the #8 Honda (who also oversees Nojiri’s car in Super Formula), explained that the team had only become aware it didn’t have the fuel needed to make the finish a lap before Oyu dramatically slowed exiting the final corner on lap 99.

“A lap before he slowed down, he called on the radio to say the alarm was on,” Ichise told Motorsport.com’s Japanese edition. “I couldn’t understand properly because he was flustered, but I knew it had to be because he was running out of fuel. 

“However, he was fighting for the podium, so if he pitted in [for a splash], we’d lose everything, so I told him that even though I don’t know if we have enough fuel, just to keep going as far as possible. 

“Then I heard from Oyu, ‘It’s no use! I can’t go any further’, and suddenly the symptoms [of running out of fuel] appeared.”

 

Honda SUPER GT project leader Masahiro Saiki added: “The team has started investigating to establish whether the problem occurred despite there being fuel left, or if there was really no fuel left.”

Saiki also clarified the penalty for the #16 ARTA car was awarded for attaching the refuelling hose before the tyre change had been fully completed at Fukuzumi’s first stop.

“It seems that, owing to a lack of communication, the refuelling hose was attached while a wheel nut hadn’t been tightened properly,” he said.

The penalty - which followed the #16 crew losing fifth at Okayama for an illegal stop under red flags - came on top of Fukuzumi dropping from second to fourth at the first round of stops owing to slightly tardy pitwork from the #16 crew.

“We must have lost about 10 seconds in the pits and then we had a penalty, so it was kind of a double blow,” Otsu told Motorsport.com. “But when I was in the car, the pace was good, and Nirei did a great job as well. 

“If nothing had happened, we could have been on the podium. It’s annoying that we couldn’t get a result even though the car felt so good.”

 

If there’s a silver lining for the #16 crew, it’s that they head to next month’s third round of the season at Suzuka with virtually no success ballast.

“We are missing just one piece of the puzzle, which is frustrating, but now we’ve shown our performance, we will do our best to convert it into a result next time,” said Otsu.

“Of course we have a strong desire to win at Suzuka, but I think the first step is to maximise our potential, and by doing that we’ll naturally get closer to winning.”

Ichise added he was also encouraged that Nojiri and Oyu were able to fight for a podium despite carrying 22kg of ballast from their surprise third-place finish at Okayama.

“It’s quite promising that we were able to perform so well even while we had a heavy car,” he said. “The season is still long, so if we can fight properly, I’m sure we can join the title fight.”

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