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Yamamoto: Fuji conclusion "cruel", but we deserved title

Naoki Yamamoto insists he and his Team Kunimitsu Honda teammate Tadasuke Makino earned this year's SUPER GT title despite the "cruel" conclusion to the Fuji Speedway decider.

Yamamoto: Fuji conclusion "cruel", but we deserved title

Yamamoto and Makino were crowned champions after a dramatic denouement to Sunday's race, as Ryo Hirakawa dramatically ran out of fuel within sight of the chequered flag.

Hirakawa and his teammate in the #37 TOM'S Toyota, Kenta Yamashita, had commanded the 65-lap contest up to that point, although Yamamoto had been able to whittle down what had been a 15-second advantage for Hirakawa to just two seconds with three laps remaining.

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Speaking in the post-race press conference, Yamamoto said: "In terms of speed alone, car 37 was faster in qualifying and even in the race their speed was worthy of the championship. 

"But, while discussing tyre and fuel consumption [with the team] on the radio, I was always trying to find out when to increase the pace. I think I was rewarded for that at the end. 

"Considering the state of mind of the #37 crew, I think the result was quite cruel, and when I think about them it’s hard to be openly overjoyed.

"But it was a straight fight and it was a race in which we put everything together until the chequered flag. I think it was our #100 car that won the race [rather than simply the 37 car losing it], and I think it was the final reward for fighting hard all season."

Naoki Yamamoto(#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT)

Naoki Yamamoto(#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT)

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Hirakawa had looked well-set for the crown after qualifying, as he scored the bonus point for pole on a day that Toyota GR Supras locked out the top four to give himself a one-point buffer at the head of the standings going into the final race.

Yamamoto and Makino had qualified seventh as the best of Honda's three title-contending crews, leading Yamamoto to declare that the marque's hopes of lifting the title in its first season with the new front-engined NSX-GT had been dealt a "heavy blow".

But a strong first stint from Makino, in which he moved up to second before coming in at the start of the pit window on lap 22 to hand over to Yamamoto, laid the foundations for Team Kunimitsu and Honda to snatch the title from Toyota.

"At the start I thought I would have trouble warming up the tyres, and indeed I was slower at first than those around me, I think I dropped a position," recalled Makino of the early laps.

"Also I was attacked from behind, but I managed to hang on. But in the latter half of the stint, I was stronger than the cars around me. In that sense, I think we were able to make a strong car for the end of the race with the tyre selection and set-up."

#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT

#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Having been jumped in the pitstop phase by the #14 Cerumo Toyota that didn't change tyres at all, Yamamoto briefly dropped to fourth behind the second TOM'S car of Yuhi Sekiguchi during his stint as he tried to save the fuel needed for his 43-lap stint.

Even after contact between Sekiguchi and Sho Tsuboi at Turn 1 at the start of the 31st lap allowed Yamamoto back up to second, the Honda driver said he still had to be mindful of not going on the attack against Hirakawa too early.

"I think each car entered the pits after the minimum number of laps, but I knew from the start how important the laps with a full tank would be," he said. "Around that time, when I was fighting car 36, I was trying to hold position while saving the tyres and fuel.  

"Car 36 had good pace and I couldn’t save enough fuel while staying ahead, and if I could have done that maybe I could have attacked one or two laps earlier, and I might have caught car 37 by myself. But if I had attacked a lap or two earlier, I might also have ran out of fuel.

"Actually, we only had enough fuel to make it halfway round the slowing-down lap, but I was able to get to the chequered flag properly, and it was the ideal race."

Additional reporting by Tomohiro Yoshita

Naoki Yamamoto, Tadasuke Makino(#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT)

Naoki Yamamoto, Tadasuke Makino(#100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT)

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

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About this article

Series Super GT
Event Fuji IV
Drivers Naoki Yamamoto , Tadasuke Makino
Teams Team Kunimitsu
Author Jamie Klein