Honda SUPER GT podium at Okayama exceeded expectations

Honda says a second-place finish for the best of its updated NSX Type S-based machines in the opening race of the new SUPER GT season at Okayama exceeded its expectations.

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While Toyota squad Rookie Racing was able to repeat its 2021 victory during Sunday's 300km opener, Honda provided the main challenge as Team Kunimitsu pair Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino battled their way to second place aboard the #100 Honda NSX-GT.

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Makino had put the Kunimitsu car third on the grid behind a pair of Toyota GR Supras, but couldn't make progress in his stint, dropping a position to fourth before handing over to Yamamoto on lap 29 of 81.

Yamamoto was fifth when he took over, having been jumped in the pitstop phase by the Impul Nissan, but the #100 car had superior pace in the closing stages, allowing Yamamoto to gain three places.

Honda project leader Masahiro Saiki said that the Kunimitsu car's performance was a boost for Honda as it aims to make up for last year's dramatic title loss.

"Because qualifying was disappointing, it turned into a tough race, but with the #100 car finishing in second, we were able to confirm that we hadn't made a mistake with the development direction," commented Saiki.

"Just based on my feelings from the pre-season tests at Okayama, I was braced for an even tougher sequence of events, but we were able to fight better than I expected."

The highlight of Yamamoto's stint came on lap 72, when he passed both the Impul Nissan of Kazuki Hiramine and Cerumo Toyota of Hiroaki Ishiura in one fell swoop at the Turn 5 hairpin, aided by a double slipstream.

The two-time champion then came within 1.8 seconds of denying Rookie Toyota pair Kenta Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima, as the long-time leading car suffered a late scare after the final full-course yellow period.

"We planned to make up positions during the pitstop phase, but we couldn't increase the pace as we had hoped and we dropped positions," reflected Yamamoto.

"After that, while we were thinking of the best way to run, the conditions started changing a little and our pace increased, while on the other hand, the pace of the cars around us dropped and suddenly we could close the gap.

"Okayama is a tough track to pass on and we thought there would be few chances to make up positions, but because the two cars ahead of me were battling, I could get their slipstream and dive up the inside.

"The two cars drove fairly and we were able to have a good battle without contact. It was a proper battle between top drivers."


Makino on the other hand was left to regret the fact he was unable to clear the SARD Toyota of Yuhi Sekiguchi in his opening stint, instead dropping a position the attacking Cerumo Toyota of Yuji Tachikawa before pitting on lap 29 to hand over to Yamamoto.

"Even though our pace was better in the early stages, no matter what I did I couldn't pass Sekiguchi," reflected Makino.

"During my stint, while I was stuck behind the #39 [SARD Toyota] the #14 [Rookie Toyota] got away, so if I had been able to pass earlier, we might have ended up with an even better result."

Honda's two other Bridgestone-shod cars suffered disappointing races, with Real Racing pair Koudai Tsukakoshi and Nobuharu Matsushita only able to finish ninth from 12th on the grid, one place ahead of ARTA duo Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi, who finished where they started in 10th.

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