August 31, 2017
TEAM MUGEN completed the long-distance race with Jenson Button
Series name: 2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT SERIES ROUND 6
Round name: The 46th International SUZUKA 1000km "SUZUKA 1000km THE FINAL"
Course : 5.807 km × 173 laps (1004.611 km)
Qualifying: August 26 (Saturday) / Fine / Attendance: 27,500 (announcement from the organizer)
Race:August 27 (Sunday) / Fine / Attendance: 45,000 (announcement from the organizer)
#16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (driver team of Hideki Mutoh, Daisuke Nakajima, and Jenson Button) participated in the GT500 class at Round 6 of the Super GT Series on August 26 and 27 at Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture). Due to quite long course, 1000km TEAM MUGEN assigned a driver Jenson Button as the third driver and prepared for the race. Jenson Button has been a Honda Formula One driver and became the world champion in 2009. TEAM MUGEN softened the suspension roll stiffness as one of vehicle settings to take care of the tires’durability.
August 26 (Sat)
Official practice: 5th place in the GT500 class, Hideki Mutoh: 1:49.284 / Daisuke Nakajima: 1:56.951 / Jenson Button: 1:50.097
On 26 the official practice session began at 9:20 AM under totally wet condition due to the rain in the morning. All the participating vehicles were installed with the wet tires and drove on the course splashing the water. As the time went by, the sun came out to shine and the road surface was getting drier and drier.
It was Daisuke Nakajima who took the wheel of #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT first. He drove 10 laps with rain tires and a lap time 1:56.951 was recorded when the vehicle condition turned to be good. Daisuke Nakajima then came back to the pit and Jenson Button tool over the steering.
The course was partially wet but driving line was almost dry and Jenson Button came back to the course with dry tires. After finishing 7 laps a time was shortened to 1:50.097. When Jenson Button had a steering, the red flag was raised in order to remove the stopped vehicle, and then Hideki Mutoh finished 12 laps and the time lap was shortened to 1:49.284. In the end #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT finished the official practice in 5th place.
Qualifying session: 13th place in the GT500 class (Q1: 9th place, 1:48.588 / Q2: - )
The qualifying sessions was held under a 2-stage knockout formula with all 15 racing vehicles driving in Q1 and then the 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.The 15-minute Q1 session began at 2:35 PM. The weather in Suzuka changed and blue sky spread out and the sun started to shine. The road surface was completely dry and the ambient temperature rose up to 31℃.
A strategy to let Jenson Button be in charge of Q1 and Hideki Mutoh of Q2 was taken for the official qualifying sessions. Jenson Button driving in Q1 waited at the pit till 8 minutes before the end of the session and made a time attack. His pace was good since the tires were warmed up enough, however, he lost his pace to overtake a vehicle going slow at the Digner curve and he ended up with a time, 1:48.683.
At the time when Jenson Button recorded the mentioned time, MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT was in the 8th position and could have advanced to Q2. But just before the session ended, there appeared a vehicle which recorded a better time by 0.089 faster. MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT went down to 9th place and could not advance to Q2
August 27 (Sun)
Race: 12th place in the class (169 laps 2 laps behind / best time: 1:52.532)
On August 27, the race day began with bright and clear morning. Strong sun shined on the Suzuka Circuit course. At 0:30 PM when the parade run started, it was 30℃ and the road surface temperature was 47℃, typical summer scorching condition. The total lap173 race began. It was Daisuke Nakajima who took the wheel of #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT as a starting driver.
Daisuke Nakajima starting off at the 9th position competed for the vehicles around and went up to 8th position. After 24 laps, he came back to the pit. Pit crews changed tires and fueled the vehicle and let Jenson Button go out to the course. But when Jenson Button came out of the pit, he almost hit the vehicle coming back from the behind, and was imposed on the drive-through penalty.
The apparent position of the MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT went up to 3rd at that point, however, due to the drive-through penalty, Jenson Button had no choice but to carry out a drive-through and the position of the MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT went down dramatically. After such an accident, SC car came into the course to remove the stopped vehicle, which was a chance for TEAM MUGN to recover the race. Jenson Button restarted the race and went for 51 laps and came back to the pit with the 11th position, and Hideki Mutoh took over the vehicle.
Hideki Mutoh speeded up to try to overtake other competitors, but barely made it. At 83rd lap, When Hideki Mutoh was about to give his seat to Daisuke Nakajima in charge of the 4th stint, a left rear tire burst. Hideki Mutoh maneuvered the vehicle and slowly came back to the pit without any crushes.
Then here came to Daisuke Nakajima. He came back to the course after tire change and fueling. But the position dramatically went down. Daisuke Nakajima tried to overtake other vehicles, but at 115th lap, Jenson Button took over his role. Jenson Button just starting to ride in his second stint was imposed on another drive-through penalty because he overtook the SC car at his previous stint. Then at the 135th lap Jenson Button faced a trouble, another tire burst, this time a right front tire.
Jenson Button then came back to the pit and Hideki Mutoh the last driver took over the vehicle. Considering two times burst, TEAM MUGEN chose a strategy to adjust the pace to complete the race and relied on Hideki Mutoh. Due to two times SC car appearances, the race was assumed to end before completing 173 laps at the scheduled closing time 6:28 PM.
20 minutes before the end of the race Hideki Mutoh noticed some vibrations on the vehicle and had a discussion with the team and made a decision to come back to the pit just in case. He went back to the course after changing the tires. In the end MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT completed the long distance course finishing 169 laps with 12th place. As a result, the team of Mutoh/Nakajima driver team did not receive any points, placing them 18th in the season point rankings. TEAM MUGEN received 1 point for completing the race and was ranked down to 15th in the team point rankings in the lead up to Round 7 at the CHANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT.
Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka
We adjusted the vehicle setting gentle for the tires at the race. Daisuke Nakajima did a good job, however, when the driver changed from Daisuke Nakajima to Jenson Button and while he was going out to the course, was imposed on the drive-through penalty. I am the one who to be blamed. I felt so sorry for the team and Button as well. I was so astonished at another drive-through penalty for Button, but moreover deeply impressed by his drive. I also freshly learned a lot from Jenson Button. I am so regrettable about unexpected tire bursts when Hideki Mutoh and Jenson Button were driving the vehicle. Currently we are making haste to figure out the reasons why. Due to these unexpected accidents, we had no choice but to slow our pace to complete the race. Communication among three drivers, Hideki Mutoh, Daisuke Nakajima, and Jenson Button, was quite good. Also since Jenson Button joined our team to win the race, I feel bad about the result. Hideki Mutoh, Daisuke Nakajima, and team members did a quite good job then I feel so sorry for them. I have to win the rest of the two races and need to respond to expectations of our sponsors and fans as well.
Comments from driver Hideki Mutoh
We could go further if we could have advanced to the Q2. Due to the long distance course, 1000km as the team’s strategy we did not pay so much attention to the qualifying. Because of such a strategy we could keep fast enough pace even to be able to get on a podium in the race, however, since we had such accidents as the twice tire bursts. The first burst occurred when I drove the vehicle just before the spoon curve, I believe in the 6th gear and the speed was about 230km, so scaring. But at least I could come back to the pit without any contacts with other vehicles or walls. I was so lucky. Then it was Jenson Button who faced the second disaster. We had no choice but to select conservative drive to complete the race then. I was confident that the vehicle had potentials to get on a podium but because of the bursting tires, the tide turned against us and we were forced to slow down the pace. Anyway, I could learn a lot from JB especially how to shorten a time. Since I could compare the time logger of the world champion with that of mine, which is quite rare and excellent experience.
Comments from driver Daisuke Nakajima
So many things happened in this weekend. I did not driver in the qualifying but noticed that the speed was unexpectedly fast even the tires were selected focusing on the race. Due to “traffic”, Jenson had no choice but to slow down, and as a result we could not advance to Q2, which was so disappointing for us but I believe the vehicle itself was built up properly enough to compete the race. I was in charge of the first stint of the race and could shorten the distance between our vehicle and competitors even the condition of the vehicle was not outstandingly great. At the second stint Jenson Button took over the vehicle and overtook the #12 and went up to 3rd position from the 4th. So far, so good the race was controlled under our strategy, however, a drive-through penalty was imposed and which bothered our race. When the SC car came out, the distance between our vehicle and other vehicles was shortened so then I felt I would be able to overtake them, but could not make it since they also ran so fast. But at least I felt satisfied with how I worked at this race. Anyway, I would like to work closely with team members to win the next race. I envy #64 but at the same time would like to celebrate them since I used to be a member among them.
Comments from driver Jenson Button
I was told to drive at Q1 on Friday. It had been a long since I drove the vehicle last time at the test drive event. I was afraid if I remember the feeling of the vehicle. On Saturday morning at the free practice due to dry condition I barely drove. I was pressured and also nervous. When in the time attack, I went well on the first half course, but lost some time, some split-seconds I assume at the Degner corner due to the “traffic.” Without the accident, I am sure that we could advance to the Q1 and Hideki Mutoh would record a better time. I concentrated so much on how to overtake GT300s and compete for GT500s. I felt rather difficult to overtake GT300s since they were so fast on the straight course. I was frustrated with the first penalty but that’s how the race goes, and I experienced such accidents in my driver’s career, and coped smartly with it. The race on Sunday was so tough to me. But I was so happy to see Honda NSX-GT win the race and got the third place, and at the same time to be able to meet so many Honda and TEAM MUGEN fans.