April 11, 2018
The new season started with Completion of the race with gaining a point on the same lap of the top vehicle
Series name: 2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT SERIES Round 1
Round name: OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
Course: 3.703 km × 82 laps (303.646 km)
Qualifying: April 7 (Saturday) / Rain after cloudy / Attendance: 10,700 (announcement from the organizer)
Race: April 8 (Sunday) / Fine after cloudy / Attendance: 17,700 (announcement from the organizer)
#16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (driver team of Hideki Mutoh, Daisuke Nakajima) participated in the GT500 class at Round 1 of the Super GT Series on April 7 and 8 at Okayama International Circuit (Okayama Prefecture).This year would be the second season for TEAM MUGEN to join the GT500 class of the Super GT Series with NSX-GT following previous year’s participation.
NSX-GT this year has been modified dramatically based on 2018 race regulations to have lower center gravity and its front and rear weight balance has been optimized, so called 2018 version Honda NSX-GT. The same engine, Honda HR-417E as last year’s is adopted, but its performance is improved so much. Tires are Yokohama again.
April 7 (Sat)
Official practice: 13th place in the GT500 class, Hideki Mutoh: 1:32.207 / Daisuke Nakajima: 1:21.426
The Saturday official practice day started under the cloudy sky and the ambient temperature remained lower.It was Daisuke Nakajima who took the wheel of #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT first. He took several laps, but, could not make better time. Daisuke Nakajima came in and out the pit repeatedly to adjust setting of the vehicle.
The official practice continued while the red flag appeared twice. Daisuke Nakajima continued to take the wheel of #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT to adjust its setting. Then Hideki Mutoh took over the steering to get accustomed to the vehicle. Daisuke Nakajima made 26 laps and Hideki Mutoh did 8. #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT was in the third place among other Honda NSX-GTs, and 13th of all the 15 participants.
Qualifying session: 12th place in the GT500 class (Q1: 12th place, 1:18.992 / Q2: DNS)
The qualifying sessions was held under a 2-stage knockout formula with all 15 racing vehicles driving in Q1 and then only the top 8 GT500 class vehicles advancing to Q2 where the starting grid was decided. The positions in the starting grid for the final race were decided in order of the Q2 times for the 8 vehicles that advanced to Q2, and in order of the Q1 times for the other vehicles. Q1 and Q2 must be raced by different drivers, and one set of tires could be used for Q1 and another set for Q2.
Daisuke Nakajima was chosen for Q1 and Hideki Mutoh was for Q2. It was very cold and the ambient temperature was less than 10℃. When 12 minutes remained before the end of the session, each vehicle started to appear on the course and warm up the tires. Daisuke Nakajima made 4 laps to warm up the tires and speeded up from the 5th lap.
1:19.396 at 5th lap, 1:18.932 at 6th lap, and 1:18.992 at 7th lap. Daisuke Nakajima was concerned that the tires were all worn out and made a decision to come back to the pit. As the result, he finished the session in 12th position and could not advance to Q2.
April 8 (Sun)
Race: 9th place in the class (82 laps: 2:13:19.821/ best time: 1:21.011)
Hideki Mutoh took over the steering the first, and at 2:40 PM the 82-lap race began. The weather was cloudy and the ambient temperature was 11℃, too cold for warming up the tires. The team prepared several strategies including one “no change tires” for the race and depending on the situation one among them was to be chosen.
Hideki Mutoh lost two positions down to 14th position and kept it for a while. In the beginning Hideki Mutoh was to run the course as long distance as possible, however, he found out that there were so many tire debris and the vehicle started to catch them. Due to it, the vehicle could not speed up.
Hideki Mutoh had no choice but to keep on going because he was assigned to go as long distance as possible. He lost his position down to 15th one at the 11th lap, however, gradually the tires condition got better and at the 28th lap he went up to 14th position.
From this point other teams started to prepare for the pit work. On the other hand Hideki Mutoh kept on going and tried not to pit in as much as possible, and get better position. But the left front tire started to get worn out and Hideki Mutoh faced a difficulty to maneuver the vehicle.
Meanwhile the position as it appeared went up, and #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT lead the race at the 45th lap. As planned Hideki Mutoh drove the longest stint and made a pit stop at the 47th lap.
The team dared to make a strategy to change only left front tire. Avoiding tire change can save time. At the time when Daisuke Nakajima took over Hideki Mutoh, he was in 9th position.
The issue was that the remaining tire was worn out so heavily that Daisuke Nakajima had to pay so much attention to control of the vehicle. At the 57th lap in the 10th place, and the 60th lap, went down to 11th position, but Daisuke Nakajima tenaciously caught up the pace and at the 79th lap he went up in 10th position, and finished the race with 82 laps on the same lap of a top vehicle.
As a result, the team of Mutoh/Nakajima driver team received 1 point, placing them the 10th in the team point ranking. TEAM MUGEN received 3 points for completing the race at the same lap of a top vehicle. TEAM MUGEN welcomed the new season with receiving totally 4 points. A 2 kg weight handicap will be applied at Round 2 on the Fuji Speedway.
Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka
On this weekend it was so cold that all the teams started new season with a difficulty to maneuver the tires. During the practice session we wanted to compare two kinds of tires, however, due to rain in a previous day, we could not check dry one well enough. At the qualifying session we had confidence to gain certain amount of gripping, but could not advance to the Q1 session. Judging from the time at the qualifying session, Daisuke Nakajima tried his best to warm up the tires to get the utmost gripping, however, seemed not to be able to, and which remained as an assignment for the next race. At the race Hideki Mutoh tried hard especially during earlier stage.
Due to tire debris, Hideki Mutoh slowed down but he kept on going and as the result he could catch up the pace. We could adhere to our strategy. We found degradation of the left front area of the vehicle at the test ride. Then we set up the setting for improving it, but it did not work enough. At the race we made a setting to take care of the left front degradation to let Hideki Mutoh go as far distance as possible, and in reality he could go far to 47 laps. We also made a decision to change only left front tire to save time. It was quite challenging race, but we believe we could do our best. NSX this year goes quite good. In fact at this race other Honda teams won 1 - 2 finish, however our result was as it was. We have to work harder and win the race.
Comments from driver Hideki Mutoh
I am so happy that we could gain a point at the opening race. We knew that Okayama International Circuit was the most difficult course among all. Tire matching is quite difficult at this circuit. So then I decided to compete for the race here tenaciously. As the result we could gain a point. I was happy to get a result, one point, though. But I could get confidence somehow for the rest of the races.
Comments from driver Daisuke Nakajima
Not perfect race, but at least we could compete with other participants. Our strategy worked well. In the middle of the race I faced quite painful moment, but in the end since we could gain a point, I am so happy. But at the same time, I found some shortage points. I need work harder. During off-season NSX has been improved a lot enough for drivers to even feel it. In fact at this race Honda NSX won 1-2 finish, which proves that potential of NSX is high enough. We also have to work hard. Judging from test drive, Okayama is the most difficult course, but at least we could compete for the race and gain a point. This is good for us.