Fukuzumi had "nightmares" en route to first GT500 win
ARTA Honda driver Nirei Fukuzumi says he had "nightmares" during his stint on his way to an overdue first top-class SUPER GT victory.
Ex-Formula 2 racer Fukuzumi and his teammate in the #8 Honda NSX-GT, Tomoki Nojiri, took a dominant first win of 2020 from second on the grid in last weekend's penultimate round of the season at Motegi, leading an all-Honda top five.
Nojiri was at the wheel for the opening stint, passing the Nakajima Racing Honda of early leader Hiroki Otsu and building a 10-second lead before pitting to hand over Fukuzumi.
The safety car was called shortly after, which gave Fukuzumi and the Nakajima car, now in the hands of Takuya Izawa, a massive advantage as the rest of the GT500 field had to make their mandatory pitstops immediately after the caution period ended.
Fukuzumi finally ended up a massive 46s clear of Izawa - the driver he replaced in ARTA's GT500 line-up this year - to score a maiden win in SUPER GT's top class following a series of agonising near misses earlier this season (see details below).
"Up to now there have been so many races that it looked like we could win but we didn’t win," said Fukuzumi. "Even today when I led in my stint the second half of the race with the help of the gap that Nojiri-san created, various nightmares passed through my head.
"So, when I took the chequered flag and the race was over, I was happy and relieved."
#8 ARTA NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Fukuzumi was seen in tears during his post-race TV interview after bringing home the ARTA car for the team's first victory in more than 18 months.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Fukuzumi added: "This season it hasn’t gone well even when we’ve had a big gap to the car behind, and there were several cases when we didn’t stay on top when we pitted from the lead. Even in this situation, I was really worried.
"The second half of the race may have seemed easy, but I was thinking about a lot of things, and the last few laps felt very long. I’ve rarely cried in races, but honestly, I was so happy."
ARTA's troubled 2020 season:
|How ARTA's race unravelled|
|The team's choice of tyre was too soft for the conditions.|
|Nojiri spun on his out lap while under pressure from Koudai Tsukakoshi.|
|Fukuzumi hit the back of Yuichi Nakayama's Toyota in the battle for third.|
|Fukuzumi involved in another collision, this time with Jann Mardenborough.|
|Fuji III||Start: 1
|Fukuzumi led the first stint, but Nojiri's awful out lap cost the team the race.|
|Suzuka II||Start: 1
|A slow in lap for Nojiri allowed two Nissans to jump ahead in the pitstops.|
Nojiri argued that even without the safety car he and Fukuzumi would have won at Motegi, marking a turnaround from the previous two races in which poor pace during the crucial pitstop phase cost ARTA the chance of victory.
Now just three points away from the lead of the championship heading into the decisive Fuji season finale, he added he hopes the momentum the #8 crew has generated can carry them to a first title for the team since 2007.
"At Suzuka, it was not just the bad luck with the safety car [that allowed the #23 Nissan to win], but it was our responsibility that the #12 [Impul Nissan] was able to get ahead of us," said Nojiri. "This time there was some luck involved, but we had good enough pace to win.
"I think we have laid the foundation with the car to be able to fight strongly. With this victory, we have a chance to fight for the championship in the final round. I want to win the final race while maintaining this good momentum."
Additional reporting by Ryo Harada
Tomoki Nojiri, Nirei Fukuzumi, #8 ARTA NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
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