April 17, 2017

NSX-GT machine finishes in 9th place – the highest ever!
Gained driver points at the opening race of the series.

Round name: OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
Course : 3.703 km × 81 laps (299.943 km)
Qualifying: April 8 (Sat) / Overcast/rain / Attendance: 9,700 (announcement from the organizer)
Race: April 9 (Sun) / Overcast/fair / Attendance: 17,300 (announcement from the organizer)

#16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (driver team of Hideki Mutoh and Daisuke Nakajima) raced in the GT500 class at Round 1 of the SUPER GT Series that was held at the Okayama International Circuit in Okayama Prefecture on April 8 and 9. This was the first time that TEAM MUGEN raced in the SUPER GT Series since racing the MUGEN CR-Z GT in the GT300 class in 2014.

The vehicle body used in this race was a Honda NSX-GT that was newly developed based on the new vehicle regulations for the 2017 racing year. To this body the team added a newly developed Honda HR-417E engine, and raced using Yokohama tires for the first time on a NSX-GT.


April 8 (Sat)

■ Official practice: 6th place in the GT500 class / Hideki Mutoh: 00:01:19.269 /
Daisuke Nakajima: 00:01:21.994

Although the rain had stopped, the Saturday official practice began with a wet course. #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT with Hideki Mutoh at the wheel was running well, and shortened its lap times to finish in the upper positions. After warming up the machine, Hideki Mutoh turned it over to Daisuke Nakajima, who drove for 12 laps while continuing to steadily shorten the lap times. On lap 8, he recorded a time of 00:01:21.994 before returning to the pit. At this point, the top time was 00:01:19.382.


The two GT500 class exclusive sessions were separated by a GT300 class exclusive session. Hideki Mutoh climbed back into the machine and entered the course. By this time, the course conditions began showing signs of improvement. Hideki Mutoh recorded a time of 00:01:19.269, placing him in 3rd position. He ended the official practice after driving a total of 18 laps. Subsequent machines beat this time, and #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT finished top among the Honda NSX-GT teams, and 6th out of 15 participating teams.

■ Qualifying session: 7th place in the GT500 class(Q1: 7th position (00:01:18.846), Q2: No time)

The qualifying session that determined the starting grid is conducted in a two-stage knockout format, with all 15 participating vehicles racing in Q1, and only the top 8 GT500 class vehicles racing in Q2. The starting grid for the final race is decided by the Q2 times of the top 8 vehicles that advanced to Q2, and by the Q1 times for the remaining vehicles. Q1 and Q2 must be driven by a different driver. One set of tires can be used for Q1, and one set for Q2.


The team readied for the qualifying session with Hideki Mutoh to drive in Q1, and Daisuke Nakajima to drive in Q2. Because a mist-like rain was occasionally falling and the coarse surface was wet, a wet track was declared prior to the start of the session. However the line remained dry, and all of the racing vehicles installed dry tires before entering the course. Hideki Mutoh drove well and steadily shortened his time. After a time that put him in 3rd position on the third lap, he slowed his pace and allowed the tires to cool before beginning another full time attack.

On lap 5, he recorded a time of 00:01:21.975, putting him in 4th position. On lap 6, he moved up to 3rd position with a time of 00.01:18.846, and ended the session after driving eight laps. Other machines later beat that time, and when the session ended, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT was in 7th position and advanced to Q2.


Daisuke Nakajima entered the course when the Q2 session began at 16:15. On lap 4, he recorded a time of 00:01:23.478, putting him in 4th position. He then began preparing for a full time attack. However the session was interrupted by a red flag while a vehicle that had left the course was recovered, and Daisuke Nakajima returned to the pit, planning to make a time attack in the remaining three minutes. However when the session resumed and Daisuke Nakajima returned to the course, electrical trouble occurred on the entry side of Atwood Corner. The machine became undriveable and he stopped it on the side of the course. As a result, the session was again interrupted by a red flag.

Although #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT finished the qualifying session, Daisuke Nakajima's time was canceled because his machine was identified as causing the red flag. The team ended in 7th position in the qualifying session results. (8th position was also a red flag vehicle.)


April 9 (Sun)

■ Warm-up session: Hideki Mutoh: 00:01:21.163 / Daisuke Nakajima: 00:01:21.213

The racing rules were changed this season. The exclusive drive session that was previously held on Sunday morning was abolished, and the warm-up session before the start of the race was extended by 20 minutes. During this session, Hideki Mutoh drove six laps and recorded a time of 00:01:21.163. Daisuke Nakajima also drove six laps and recorded a time of 00:01:21.213. These times placed them in 8th position out of the 15 racing vehicles.


■ Race: 9th place (81 laps / 02:13:19.821 / Best lap 00:01:21.011)

82 laps were planned for the final race at the start. Hideki Mutoh was selected as the starting driver. However because a vehicle experienced trouble and became undriveable during the parade lap and the formation lap which followed it, a red flag was raised before the start of the race. The race start was repeated beginning from the formation lap.


The race made its second start at 14:54, with the length now reduced by one lap to 81 laps. Hideki Mutoh began the race well and ended the first lap in 5th position. On lap 6, the race was interrupted when the safety car entered the course to recover a stalled vehicle, and was then resumed from lap 11. At this time, Hideki Mutoh was still protecting his 5th position.

However beginning from lap 15, Hideki Mutoh's pace began to slow and his position gradually fell. It appeared that this was due to the tires picking up tire scraps on the course surface that temporarily caused them to lose their grip (a phenomenon called "pick-up"). As the car ahead pulled away, Hideki Mutoh ended lap 20 in 7th position, and began to be threatened from the rear. Somehow he held on and drove 32 laps before returning to the pit.

At the pit stop, all four tires were changed, the machine was refueled, and Daisuke Nakajima took over in the driver's seat. When he returned to the course, Daisuke Nakajima resumed the race in 10th position, later moving up to 9th position on lap 34. However thereafter large intervals opened up before and after the vehicles, and the race remained stuck in place with no large change in positions for several laps.


On lap 53, the race entered its final stage. The safety car entered twice to clear accidents on the course. After restarting, Daisuke Nakajima's pace improved, but he was unable to break out from his position. In the end, Daisuke Nakajima drove for 49 laps and finished in 9th place, 40.195 seconds behind the winning machine.

As a result, the Mutoh/Nakajima driver team gained 2 points (9th place), and TEAM MUGEN gained 2 points in the team rankings (9th place) and 3 lap points (completing the same number of laps as the top vehicle) for a total of 5 points to start the season. A 4 kg weight handicap will be applied at Round 2 on the Fuji Speedway.


■ Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka

This was the first time using Yokohama tires on a NSX-GT, and we faced the opening round without sufficient data. Although we had electrical trouble during the qualifying session, we were able to replace the part that caused the trouble on Saturday, and our machine was able to complete the final race from start to finish with no problems. Although we are not at all satisfied with the 9th place finish, I think the fact that we finished the race has given us a great harvest of information both good and bad. Driver Hideki Mutoh during the first stint and Daisuke Nakajima during the second stint came back with much information about matters such as the tire conditions and how the machine performed. We will analyze this information and examine it carefully for use in the next race. We will endeavor to deliver a higher finish in Round 2. Although there were some difficult developments during the race, I think that both drivers did an extremely good job. I would like to thank everyone at Yokohama Tire, and also all of the team staff for fighting for victory even among much uncertainty. We gained points at this race, so now we just have to start moving up.
All of us will work hard together so that all of the sponsors and fans who support us can see us fight for the top positions.


■ Comments from driver Hideki Mutoh

This was our first time racing with the combination of the NSX-GT and Yokohama tires. Our first objective was to break out of Q1. We accomplished this and expected to do a little better in Q2, however machine trouble occurred and we ended up in that position. Nonetheless there was quite a good feel to the machine in the qualifying sessions. The concern was the final race. In fact, we had been unable to perform even one full simulation of the race distance prior to the start of the season, and had yet to experience driving for 40 or more laps with a single set of tires. As a result, we were not fully prepared for the final race. As expected, it was difficult to pinpoint the adjustments all at once just before the race. Whether or not the reason that we were unable to improve the pace was entirely due to pick-up is something we will not know until we have analyzed a variety of data. The fact that my pace improved near the end of my stint suggests that there may be another cause. We discovered a number of new issues today, and it appears that we will be analyzing each of them as we fight our way through the season.


■ Comments from driver Daisuke Nakajima

Although there was trouble during the Q2 qualifying session while I was driving, the Q1 times were good and the machine felt solid. On one sense, we were lucky that the trouble occurred in the qualifying session and we were able to fix it and complete the final race without problems. Immediately after I started in the final race, there was a lot of pick-up and I was not really able to improve my times. Then after the safety car entered and I was able to drive a clear line, my times suddenly improved. The feeling at that time was extremely good, and we confirmed that as long as all the right conditions are in place, we can drive fast. However this range of good conditions is quite narrow, and we must consider how to align ourselves in it. Because we were unable to try a long run before the start of the season, the fact that we were able to complete this race and gain some hints from it makes it very significant for us.