Matsushita: Staying relaxed after crash key to Autopolis win
Nobuharu Matsushita says he went into last weekend's Autopolis SUPER GT race "super-relaxed" despite his crash in practice, as he and Real Racing Honda teammate Koudai Tsukakoshi scored a crucial first win of the season.
The weekend started badly for the #17 Honda NSX-GT crew as Matsushita went off towards the end of Saturday morning's sole free practice session, hitting the barriers head-on and damaging the cooling system of the car.
However, the damage was repaired in time for that day's qualifying session, with Matsushita making it through Q1 safely before Tsukakoshi secured fourth place on the grid.
From there, Matsushita gained a place in his stint at a full-course yellow restart at the expense of the Racing Project Bandoh Toyota, and when he came in to hand over to Tsukakoshi, swifter pitwork from the Real Racing crew vaulted the #17 car into a net lead it wouldn't surrender for the rest of the race.
It marks ex-Formula 2 racer Matsushita's first SUPER GT win as a Honda driver, having made the switch from Nissan at the start of the year, and the team's first victory since the 2021 Fuji 500km.
"The weekend started with my crash, but the mechanics told me, ‘we can definitely fix that amount of damage [before qualifying], so just focus on driving and don’t worry about it’, so I was happy I could feel the bonds of trust," reflected Matsushita.
"So I wasn’t seized by anxiety, I was able to drive well and get through Q1, which I think was the main point of the weekend for me. Then Koudai did a great job in Q2 and we got P4 on the grid, which I think was the best position possible.
"This morning when I woke up, I was super-relaxed and I thought we could win. It was a race where everyone came together as one team."
Koudai Tsukakoshi, Nobuharu Matsushita, Katsutomo Kaneishi, #17 Astemo NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Tsukakoshi had to deal with pressure from both the Team Kunimitsu Honda of Naoki Yamamoto and Kondo Racing Nissan of Kohei Hirate early in his stint, but finally pulled away to win by a comfortable margin of 13 seconds.
"I could see during Nobu's stint that the car was working well, so I thought if I can drive properly in my stint the result will follow naturally," said Tsukakoshi.
"The warm-up of the Bridgestone tyre was good and I was able to push from the out lap. I was told that the #100 [Kunimitsu] and #24 [Kondo] cars were coming from behind with good pace, so I thought about my driving style and made sure they couldn’t catch, and finally I was able to escape.
"This weekend was a roller-coaster so I breathed a sigh of relief, and we knew we had to win to stay [realistically] in the championship fight, so I’m glad I secured the result that we all hoped for."
Matsushita and Tsukakoshi now head to Motegi next month with just four points separating them from the points-leading Nissan crew of Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi, who finished seventh at Autopolis.
It means that a win for the #17 Honda crew would be good enough to win the title regardless of what else happens.
"This time we won in a situation where we had nothing to lose, and now we just have to do it once more," said Matsushita. "We have to forget that we won here and put everything on the table as we prepare for Motegi.
"I think everyone competing for the championship has the potential to become champions, but I'm one of the most aggressive, so I want to control that and try and make it a plus for the team. We’re going there to win."
- Stream every qualifying session and race of the 2022 SUPER GT season only on Motorsport.tv.
#17 Astemo NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
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