Nissan’s new-for-2018 GT-R NISMO GT3 claimed its maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia pole positions at Fuji this morning thanks to Edoardo Liberati and Alexandre Imperatori. There was also Japanese success in the GT4 class where BMW Team Studie’s Sunako Jukuchou and Takayuki Kinoshita both topped their respective qualifying sessions.
Q1: NISSAN LEADS TOP FIVE FEATURING AS MANY DIFFERENT MANUFACTURERS
Nissan, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Audi will start this afternoon’s race from the first five positions following a competitive opening qualifying session at Fuji. However, it’ll be Edoardo Liberati up front after the Italian claimed Nissan’s maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia pole by 0.601s from HubAuto Corsa’s debutant, Jono Lester.
KCMG’s #23 GT-R was the first to set a representative time, and one that would have ultimately been good enough for second. However, Liberati improved again on his second run to post a best of 1m37.279s.
Lester’s Ferrari came closest to toppling Liberati, but the New Zealander was ultimately forced to settle for second ahead of championship leader Dennis Lind whose FFF Racing Team Lamborghini must serve the full 15s pitstop success penalty later today for winning at Suzuka. The Dane was 0.247s behind Lester and one tenth clear of Sandy Stuvik’s Craft-Bamboo Porsche, which vaulted from 10th to fourth on its final run.
Martin Rump ran second at the start of the session but dropped to fifth in the final reckoning after opting to pit his Absolute Racing Audi early. The Estonian finished one place ahead of leading amateur Yuke Taniguchi in the second of KCMG’s Nissans, and Shaun Thong who also picked up places with a late flying lap.
Hiroshi Hamaguchi (FFF Racing Lamborghini), Nico Bastian (GruppeM Mercedes-AMG) and Hiroaki Nagai (ARN Racing Ferrari) completed the top-10, while KCMG’s Naoto Takeda was fastest of the Am Cup entries in 20th overall.
Elsewhere, BMW Team Studie’s #81 M4 GT4 maintained the form that helped it top all three practice sessions by claiming class pole for this afternoon’s race. Sunako Jukuchou’s 1m47.057s was eight tenths quicker than the sister car driven by Ken Urata and another half-second clear of Brian Lee’s TTR Team SARD Porsche.
Ringo Chong finished fourth in the Team iRace.Win Mercedes-AMG but starts last after the car failed a post-qualifying ride height test. Richard Wee’s Clearwater McLaren and George Chou’s Taiwan Top Speed Porsche therefore line up fourth and fifth.
Q2: JUST 0.023S SEPARATES IMPERATORI AND RIGON; SECOND POLE FOR BMW TEAM STUDIE
Alex Imperatori claimed an incredibly narrow pole position for Blancpain GT Series Asia’s second race at Fuji after Davide Rigon’s efforts to overhaul the KCMG Nissan fell agonisingly short.
A frenetic 15-minute session saw the top-six places change repeatedly after Rigon’s HubAuto Corsa Ferrari had set the early pace with consecutive fastest times.
By contrast Imperatori initially slotted into third behind the leading 488 and Raffaele Marciello’s GruppeM Mercedes-AMG before unleashing a 1m36.672s, which was enough to beat Rigon’s provisional pole time by 0.088s.
The Italian looked to respond but, despite improving twice more during the final minutes, the Ferrari couldn’t quite beat the Nissan, which ended up 0.023s ahead in the final result.
While Marciello’s third place was never under threat, the fight for the remaining top-six positons went down to the final moments. Marco Mapelli’s FFF Racing Lamborghini eventually grabbed fourth with a last gasp effort that unseated HubAuto’s second Ferrari driven by Nick Foster, whose late lap was still sufficient to push Florian Strauss down to sixth.
Kota Sasaki’s ARN Racing Ferrari looked like a top-three contender early in the session but ultimately slipped to seventh amongst a late shake-up that also demoted Patric Niederhauser (GruppeM Mercedes-AMG) and championship leader Martin Kodric (FFF Racing Lamborghini). Shae Davies’ Craft-Bamboo Porsche completed the top-10.
Just 0.065s separated Am Cup’s top-two, but it was once again KCMG’s Audi that prevailed over the Arrows Racing Honda thanks to Takuya Shirasaka.
Meanwhile, BMW Team Studie completed its qualifying clean sweep by claiming a second GT4 pole position. This time it was Takayuki Kinoshita who proved unstoppable en route to the class’ fastest time – 1m46.870s – which was 0.462s clear of Team iRace.Win’s Gilles Vannelet.
However, the Mercedes-AMG’s subsequent exclusion means both BMW Team Studie BMWs – the second driven by Max Chen – line up on the front row ahead of Keo Chang’s Taiwan Top Speed Porsche, Tony Fong’s TTR Team SARD Cayman and Daniel Au’s Clearwater McLaren.
The first of this weekend’s two 60-minute races gets underway at 15:10 JST. Watch it live on the championship’s website and Facebook page.