Ex-Formula 1 champion Jenson Button says he took “a lot of happiness” from the Super GT season opener at Okayama, where he got to stand on a podium for the first time in six years.
Button’s proven tyre conservation skills came in handy in Okayama's cold conditions, saving the Team Kunimitsu Honda squad over 20 seconds as it didn't require a fresh set of Bridgestones.
The strategic gamble allowed Button to leapfrog four cars, which meant teammate Naoki Yamamoto emerged out of the pits in a net second position.
It secured the Englishman’s first podium result since the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, where he was promoted to third after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification.
The 2012 Brazilian GP was the last time Button actually stood on the podium after mastering tricky wet conditions to take his and McLaren’s most recent F1 win.
“A great experience. I take a lot of happiness from this race, confidence and learning. So next race should be even better,” Button told Motorsport.com.
“The first lap was a mess because of the new start procedure, so there were cars everywhere,” he said after the race on TV. “And the #8 car [ARTA Honda] was really struggling for tyres and I struggled to get past it.
“But anyway, it was a fun first stint of the race. And the pace was actually good once we got going. Then I obviously handed over to Naoki, who did an amazing job. Definitely the driver of the day here.
“It’s great to get podum here. First race of the podium. And it’s actually my first podium for [six] years.”
Honda off to a strong start
Button’s podium result secured a 1-2 finish for Honda, with the #17 Real Racing car of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure taking the win.
It marked Honda’s best start to a Super GT season since 2013, and Button says it bodes well for rest of the year.
“I think it’s the best start for Honda in many years in Okayama,” he said. “It’s not a circuit that suits the Honda normally. Fuji is also a difficult circuit.
“But in testing, we were quick. So with the weight penalty, 30kg, it makes it more difficult. But you know that’s the penalty you get for having a great race. I still think we can be competitive in Fuji.
“The car was good. It was enjoyable to drive. It’s great to see honda quick at the first race. You know it’s really important for the whole season.”
Interview by Tomohiro Yoshita