Okayama Super GT: TOM'S on pole as Toyota Supras dominate
Sena Sakaguchi put the TOM’S Toyota team on pole position for the 2021 SUPER GT season opener at Okayama, as Toyota GR Supras locked out the top five spots on the grid.
Contesting only his second race in GT500 as a substitute for Sacha Fenestraz, Sakaguchi outqualified Rookie Racing’s Kazuya Oshima by just over a tenth of a second to claim pole position for the #37 GR Supra he shares with 2017 champion Ryo Hirakawa.
All six Toyota GR Supras progressed from the first leg of qualifying, facing the two Dunlop-shod Honda teams Mugen and Nakajima Racing in Q2.
Takuya Izawa set the early pace in the session in the #64 Nakajima Honda NSX-GT with a time of 1m19.474s, before being dislodged from the top spot by series veteran Yuji Tachikawa in the Cerumo Toyota.
However, Sakaguchi managed to find nearly a second over Tachikawa’s benchmark of 1m18.814s, putting the #37 TOM’S car team well clear of the rest of the field.
Oshima managed to close the deficit significantly in the closing minutes of the session, but ultimately fell short of Sakaguchi’s effort of 1m17.701s by just 0.107s.
Sho Tsuboi qualified third in the #36 TOM'S Supra he shares with Yuhi Sekiguchi, ahead of the SARD Toyota of Yuichi Nakayama and Tachikawa’s Cerumo entry.
The Red Bull-sponsored Mugen team originally finished as the top Honda squad in sixth following its switch from Yokohama to Dunlop rubber over the winter, but the car driven by Ukyo Sasahara was later demoted to seventh following a track limits infraction.
The Nakajima Honda of Izawa moves up to sixth, while the Racing Project Bandoh Toyota of Ritomo Miyata didn't set a time as the team instead opted to save tyres for the race.
None of the Nissans made it out of Q1, with the #3 B-Max/NDDP GT-R of Katsumasa Chiyo and Kohei Hirate the best of the manufacturer’s four runners in 10th behind the #17 Real Racing Honda of Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi.
Team Kunimitsu duo Naoki Yamamoto and Hideki Mutoh also failed to escape Q1, with Mutoh - replacing the ill Tadasuke Makino this weekend - only managing the 11th-fastest time in the first part of qualifying.
After setting the pace in practice, ARTA duo Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi wound up 14th with a time of 1m19.016s.
Nissan claims GT300 pole
Nissan enjoyed much better fortunes in the GT300 class, with the Gainer team securing pole position for the Yokohama-based manufacturer.
Driving the Dunlop-shod #11 Nissan GT-R, Katsuyuki Hiranaka lapped the Okayama circuit in 1m25.275s to beat the Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota Supra of Hiroki Yoshida by less than a tenth of a second.
Mercedes made it three different manufacturers in the top three, with Naoya Gamou finishing a further 0.014s behind in the #65 LEON AMG-GT3.
Last year’s champion Joao Paulo de Oliveira qualified fourth in the Kondo Racing Nissan, just under four tenths off the pace of Hiranaka, while the two remaining GT300 Supras - the #244 Max Racing and #60 LM Corsa entries - were fifth and sixth.
Subaru's new BRZ qualified 18th for its race debut, failing to make it out of Q1 despite topping practice earlier in the day.
Former Ferrari Academy driver Giuliano Alesi endured a tough start to his career in SUPER GT, qualifying last in his group in the Team Thailand Lexus RC F he shares with Sean Walkinshaw.
GT500 qualifying results:
|8||19||Toyota||Racing Project Bandoh||
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