Baguette and his teammate in the #17 Real Racing Honda NSX-GT, Koudai Tsukakoshi, took a comfortable win in the second round of the 2020 season at Fuji Speedway on Sunday after a critical mistake from ARTA Honda rival Tomoki Nojiri.
It marked Baguette’s first victory in SUPER GT since the 2017 Suzuka 1000km, as well as the team’s first triumph since the 2018 Okayama season-opener.
After missing June’s pre-season test at Fuji due to travel restrictions, Baguette gained a last-minute reprieve from Japan’s immigration authorities to be present for the season-opener last month; under current rules he could not leave again and gain re-entry.
It means the 34-year-old faces the prospect of having to stay in Japan until either the end of the season in November, unless the rules regarding travel change.
“It was really difficult for me to get back to Japan, and it’s still tough for me now because I have a wife and a little boy in Belgium that I don’t see anymore except online, and I don’t know when I can see them again,” Baguette told Motorsport.com.
“The first race was tough as well; we had a great car but we had to retire, and it gave me a lot of motivation to win today.
“It’s super-tough to be stuck in Japan and not able to see my family but it’s my job, I have to be here racing for Honda. I love racing but I don’t enjoy being stuck in Japan, but it’s like this.”
Koudai Tsukakoshi, Bertrand Baguette (#17 KEIHIN NSX-GT)
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Baguette led for the bulk of the first stint before handing over to Tsukakoshi after passing poleman Nirei Fukuzumi’s ARTA Honda at Turn 1 on lap 15 of 66.
But ARTA regained the advantage in the pitstops, with Nojiri emerging ahead of Tsukakoshi when he took over the #8 NSX-GT from Fukuzumi, only to spin on his outlap at Turn 12.
“We had kind of a slow pitstop for some reason, and I was afraid because Koudai’s pace at the beginning of the stint was not fantastic,” Baguette recalled.
“They got back in front but we had warmer tyres, so Koudai’s job was to put pressure on Nojiri and it worked. Maybe he pushed too hard on cold tyres, but it definitely played into our hands. We had a strong car anyway and it would have been a nice fight.”
He added: “Obviously Toyota had some weight which helped us, but they still had a straight line speed advantage, the #36 [TOM’S car] especially was really quick in a straight line.
“Definitely we still have some points to improve, but the team is much stronger than last year. We need to find more speed to fight for the championship but everybody is going in the right way and that feels very important.”
Baguette now returns to the scene of his previous SUPER GT win at Suzuka, but he and Tsukakoshi will be carrying 40kg of success ballast as a result of their Fuji triumph.
“It’s a track that suits our NSX much better than here,” said Baguette of his prospects for Suzuka. “Now we have weight, but I am pretty confident we can do a good result.
“Winning will be difficult but I think we can be in the top five. A podium would be great, but if we are not in the top five it would be a disappointment.”
#17 KEIHIN NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio