Fukuzumi returned to racing in Japan full-time last year to contest dual campaigns in Super Formula and SUPER GT’s GT300 division, in which he shared a Honda NSX GT3 with series veteran Shinichi Takagi and won the title for the ARTA team.
Now the ex-GP3 and Formula 2 racer steps up to the senior division this year, replacing Takuya Izawa alongside Tomoki Nojiri in the #8 ARTA Honda.
During last month’s official Fuji pre-season test, Fukuzumi set the fastest time on the second day to go fifth-quickest overall, 0.189s off the pace of fellow Honda youngster Tadasuke Makino in the #100 Team Kunimitsu NSX-GT.
But the 23-year-old still feels he has a lot learn when it comes to extracting the most from GT500 machinery and needs more seat time before he can feel confident.
“On the first day it seemed like we were having a tough time, including my driving, but on the second day, we were able to do well,” Fukuzumi told Motorsport.com.
“It was a little cold, so it’s hard to make a judgement [about the real performance level]. But I was able to increase my experience and I think I did a good job for the team.
“In the Malaysia test earlier this year, I drove the GT500 car for the first time. I’ve done a few tests since then, but there are still many things I don’t understand about the car.
“Even if the car is handling well, I often think I can’t get the best out of it. I know that in this industry there is pressure to get results right away, but honestly I really want more time to drive the car and get used to it.
#55 Autobacs Racing Team Aguri Honda NSX GT3 Evo: Nirei Fukuzumi
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
“I’m pretty worried. People around me say, ‘It will be fine,’ but I don’t think they understand 100 percent. I don’t know if it’s possible to go to the opening race with confidence.
“I’m often asked about our rivals, but I feel like I have to focus on myself. If you do what you can without worrying about your surroundings, I think the results will come naturally.”
Honda goes into the new SUPER GT season having topped both official tests at Okayama in March and Fuji, having also introduced a new aero package for the latter test.
But Fukuzumi’s teammate Nojiri doesn’t feel Honda has any particular advantage over rival manufacturers Nissan and Toyota, even if he expects the NSX-GT to be stronger at Fuji than it has been in recent years.
“I think we have to improve our performance and for our rivals it’s the same,” Nojiri told Motorsport.com. “I think we still have a lot of potential to grow, and our opponents are in the same situation.
“I think it will be a battle of who can progress most throughout the season. We need to think carefully about how to set up the car and how to attack the season. I feel it will be a harder season than usual.
“I feel I can’t be optimistic at all. However, Honda has a reputation for often struggling at Fuji, but after this test my feelings weren’t consistent with that reputation.”
#8 ARTA NSX-GT
Photo by: GTA