Halfway through its first season with the new front-engined NSX-GT, Honda leads the drivers’ championship thanks to Real Racing pair Bertrand Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi.
Baguette and Tsukakoshi delivered a first win for the FR NSX in the second round of the season at Fuji Speedway in August, and despite carrying 46kg of success ballast aboard the #17 car, they scored a second triumph in three races last month at Motegi.
It means the pair lead TOM’S Toyota duo Sacha Fenestraz and Yuhi Sekiguchi by two points as the campaign enters its second half, starting with a third Fuji race this weekend.
However, Honda’s SUPER GT project leader Masahiro Saiki is fully expecting Toyota, which has four of its six crews in the top six of the points, to come on strong once again as the season nears its conclusion.
“We were in a position of being extremely late [to adopt FR], so I thought that we would have a hard time making a FR car using a common monocoque for the first time,” said Saiki.
“After the first half of the season, we have had a car on the front row in all the races and we have won twice. With that in mind, I feel that we all worked hard to make a good car.
“However, considering the future in terms of the championship, I think the GR Supras, which are always strong in the race, will come back.”
After the Real Racing duo, the next-best placed Honda crew in the standings is the Team Kunimitsu pairing of Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino, who have finished in the top six consistently and scored a best finish of second at Suzuka.
However, the remaining three Honda cars – those of ARTA, Nakajima Racing and Team Mugen – have suffered inconsistent form and appear unlikely to figure in the title debate.
Saiki fears that Toyota’s numerical strength, as well as the pace it showed in the first race of the season, where the GR Supra locked out the top five places, are cause for concern.
“Although we have moved up to first place in the ranking now, Toyota crews are second, third, fifth and sixth,” said Saiki. “That’s why I think it’s tough to get there, and I still feel like we are the challengers. I feel that it will be difficult for us to win the title.
“I think the result of the first half is good, but since it is a handicap race [in the middle of the season], where cars with a light weight have an advantage.
“But looking towards the final race where everything will be equal again, I think the Supras will again show their strength. So we have to consider that point also as we move forward.”
#17 KEIHIN NSX-GT, #100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT, #8 ARTA NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio