In the first year of the team’s tie-up with Red Bull, Mugen pair Sasahara and Hideki Mutoh ended up 12th out of 15 GT500 crews in the standings, six points shy of the next-worst Honda NSX-GT pairing, Nakajima Racing’s Takuya Izawa and Hiroki Otsu.
However, a third place in the first Motegi race in September and two other top-six finishes left Sasahara and Mutoh well ahead of the other two Yokohama-shod cars in the top class, the Bandoh Toyota GR Supra and the Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R.
GT500 rookie Sasahara said Mugen ending up as the best Yokohama runner was a strong achievement for a team that had finished bottom of the rankings in two of the previous three seasons, but said the tyre’s limitations placed a ceiling on what it could achieve.
“I knew that Mugen was often last in the championship since they came back to SUPER GT [in 2017], so we should be proud to be the best Yokohama car, and because we got a podium,” Sasahara told Motorsport.com. “But it’s disappointing we couldn’t show more.
“The tyre is a difficult factor. Even now Dunlop is mega on a single lap, which is impressive because they were slower [than Yokohama] at the beginning of the year and now they are sometimes stronger than Bridgestone. We need to work on one-lap pace.
“I know the cold track is a weakness for Yokohama so we need to work on that, also the peak performance. Then we can see what we can do for the long distance.”
Sasahara said a second podium finish would have been possible in the second Motegi race had he and Mutoh not just been caught out by the timing of the safety car, which gave fellow Honda teams ARTA and Nakajima Racing a major advantage over the field.
“We went from P11 to P4 with the strategy, but we were also unlucky because we were supposed to stop before the safety car like cars #8 and #64,” he said. “If we had stopped at that point, we could have finished P2, because the Dunlop car was really slow. But we couldn’t because the pitlane closed, so that was unfortunate.”
Single-seater specialist Sasahara, who also represented Mugen in Super Formula this year, added he was satisfied with his first year in SUPER GT.
“It’s my rookie season, so I should be proud of myself to get a podium, and also all year I was doing Q1,” he said. ”I made it to Q2 five times [out of eight], which is good for our package.
“That showed the team’s performance and I think I [personally] showed something.”
#16 Team Mugen Honda NSX-GT: Hideki Mutoh, Ukyo Sasahara
Photo by: Masahide Kamio