Yamamoto still beatable despite poor qualifying, says Baguette
Bertrand Baguette is adamant that beating fellow Honda driver Naoki Yamamoto to the SUPER GT title remains possible despite a poor qualifying showing for the Real Racing squad at Fuji Speedway.
Real duo Baguette and Koudai Tsukakoshi face an eight-point deficit to Team Kunimitsu driver Yamamoto, meaning a victory for the #17 NSX-GT in this weekend's final round of the season would earn them the title if Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino finish third or lower.
However, while Yamamoto qualified second and only narrowly lost out on the bonus point for pole to Rookie Racing Toyota driver Kenta Yamashita, Tsukakoshi was the only one of the three Bridgestone-equipped Honda drivers to fail to clear Q1, ending up 10th on the grid.
"We have been struggling all day," Baguette told Motorsport.com. "We came with a similar set-up philosophy as the previous race and we thought it would work this weekend, but it has been the opposite.
"We have struggled with a lot with rear instability, it's been really difficult to drive the car. We couldn’t find a solution for that and in qualifying we were not on the pace at all.
"We still believe we have a chance. We’ll give it everything to recover from our poor qualifying but it’s definitely not the best way to start the weekend. We are not where we should be."
Baguette felt the colder-than-usual temperatures on Saturday may also not have helped he and Tsukakoshi's case.
"Our set-up works well when it’s hotter and we are struggling more when it’s cold," explained the Belgian. "It was the case last year and this year it’s the same again. We need to understand why and find a solution, but it’s a bit late now."
Real Racing won SUPER GT's first visit of the year to Fuji back in May, but only after a well-timed Full Course Yellow period served to vault the #17 Honda up the order into contention.
Baguette quipped that "I don’t know if we can be so lucky again!" but suggested an alternative strategy may be on the cards for he and Tsukakoshi in a bid to recover the lost ground.
"Last year I started P12 [in the final race at Fuji] and I was P4 within four or five laps, so if I can do that again on Sunday that would be nice! But if we see we have no chance to come back through the field, we might have to try something different on the strategy.
"I’m sure all the leaders will pit early, so if we are lower down, we might have to try going long and hope for a full-course yellow at the right point. If we do the same as everybody else, it will be hard to come back."
In the event that Yamamoto doesn't score, third would be the minimum result needed for Baguette and Tsukakoshi to take the crown, but with ARTA pair Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi - who qualified sixth - finishing no better than fifth.
"You never know what can happen," said Baguette. "Naoki is surrounded by Toyotas at the start, you just need one contact and he could be at the back of the field.
"It’s a SUPER GT race, we’ve seen crazy things happen in the past. Nothing is done. For sure Naoki is in the best position, but the race is long and a lot can still happen."
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