How an 'easy' win escaped Nissan's flagship car at Suzuka

Nissan may have extended its streak of SUPER GT wins at Suzuka last weekend, but it was yet another race to forget for the marque's flagship #23 NISMO crew.


It all looked so good for Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda on Saturday. Quintarelli had just earned a first pole position for Nissan's flagship car since 2019, and was understandably bullish about the chances of he and Matsuda making it four wins in five starts at Suzuka.

But in the end, the NISMO duo had to be content with a distant fifth place at the flag, only third among the Nissan crews, while Impul pair Kazuki Hiramine and Bertrand Baguette snatched away the victory.

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The early part of the 450km race had been promising, as Quintarelli resisted the early advances of Nobuharu Matsushita's Real Racing Honda to lead throughout the opening stint until pitting on lap 17 of 77.

The second stint was when things started to go awry. Suddenly, Quintarelli began suffering a major drop in pace and found himself under pressure from the Mugen Honda of Toshiki Oyu. The lead was conceded on lap 31, and six laps later the NISMO car had been shuffled out of the top three.

"We had an issue with the front tyres," Quintarelli said afterwards, revealing that things were so bad that NISMO at one stage contemplated making three stops instead of the mandatory two.

"We knew that we might face this trouble from Saturday, but we didn’t have any choice [to avoid it]. We just tried to clear the minimum number of laps [until the second stop] to make sure Tsugio had enough fuel to finish the race.

"For the last stint we changed to another type of tyre and it was working better."

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A look at the numbers shows just how much Quintarelli was struggling on his Michelins during this phase of the race. In his opening stint, he only dropped outside of the 1m52s bracket for two laps. But in the second stint, barely a third of his laps breached the 1m53s mark, and he even dropped into the 1m56s for one lap.

One small consolation was that the likewise Michelin-shod #3 NDDP Racing Nissan was also going backwards during this phase of the race, but Oyu's pace on his Dunlops was consistently in the 1m52s once he had passed Quintarelli.

At this stage, Quintarelli and Matsuda were looking on course for fourth place at best, but NISMO was among the teams to get lucky with the timing of the safety car. Matsuda took over from Quintarelli at the end of lap 41 and was promoted to third when the caution came out for the Max Racing Toyota GT300 car crashing at 130R, and second of those on fresh tyres.

But Matsuda found himself passed for second at the restart by the charging Impul Nissan of Kazuki Hiramine before he could clear the SARD Toyota of Yuichi Nakayama for what was now third place.

Matsuda was handed a get-out-of-jail free card when Hiramine ran wide at 130R on lap 57 while trying to put a lap on the Rookie Racing Toyota, putting him back up to second place and not far behind the leading Real Racing Honda, now in the hands of Koudai Tsukakoshi.

And yet, Hiramine was soon crawling all over the back of the #23 car again, and as the duo cleared a GT300 Lamborghini at Degner Curve on lap 65, Hiramine drew alongside under the bridge heading up towards the hairpin, only to be crowded off the track and very nearly in the barriers by Matsuda.

Predictably, Matsuda was hit with a drive-through penalty for the blocking move - his second in two races at Suzuka, as he had rear-ended a GT300 car, incidentally also a Lamborghini, in the May race.

"What you saw is the same as what I saw," sighed Quintarelli. "It was bad timing with a GT300 car... it’s a pity. Without the incident, we still had a chance to win again, as the pace was good again.

"Tsukakoshi had a huge drop at the end of the race, so what Hiramine did [pass for the lead in the closing stages], Tsugio could have done if he was in the same position. It was not a last-lap battle, Hiramine was able to pull away a lot.

"Even then, it would still have been good for the championship to finish second, considering the drop we had in the second stint."


A troubled May Suzuka race and a gearshift issue at Fuji have left Quintarelli and Matsuda with just seven points to show for their efforts in the last three races, leaving them 22.5 points adrift of new championship leaders Hiramine and Baguette with another three races still to come.

To make matters worse, Matsuda had already earned five penalty points for his offence in the previous Suzuka race, and with his latest penalty he is all but certain to reach the six-point threshold for a six-place grid penalty for the next race at Sugo in September. He even runs the risk of reaching eight points, which would trigger an eight-place drop.

Combined with 42kg of success ballast while several other competitive-looking cars, notably the Cerumo Toyota (16kg) and Mugen Honda (11kg) remain considerably lighter, a win at Sugo is likely to be a tall order.

It's too early to declare Quintarelli and Matsuda out of the title fight just yet. After all, the #23 crew is still in a better position than ARTA Honda pair Tomoki Nojiri and Nirei Fukuzumi were at the same stage of the season last year, and they won the next two races and very nearly the championship.

But with both the Impul and NDDP Racing Nissans now some way clear in the standings, it's clear that Quintarelli and Matsuda can ill-afford to leave any more points on the table to keep their hopes of a third title together alive.

"Until about lap 13 or 14, it was going very well… almost easy," reflected Quintarelli. "Anyway, this is SUPER GT, it’s so dramatic. When you can have the kind of race the [Impul Nissan] had this time, the feeling is unbelievable, and when it’s the opposite like it was for us, it’s frustrating.

"We need to change this kind of situation. After problems for three races in a row… we can't miss any more opportunities."



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