Both top-class debutant Kimura in the #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda and Ota in the #64 Nakajima Racing NSX-GT were singled out for praise by Saiki in his post-race press conference following the penultimate round of the season.
Kimura was drafted in to join the Kunimitsu squad alongside Tadasuke Makino for Autopolis and the season finale at Motegi after Naoki Yamamoto was sidelined for the final two races of 2023 in the wake of his huge accident at Sugo last month.
While Kimura struggled in qualifying, the Russian-Japanese was able to hang on to ninth throughout a mammoth 45-lap stint, holding off the three-stopping NISMO Nissan driven in the closing stages by Tsugio Matsuda all the way to the finish.
“In the latter half of his stint, he was caught by Tsugio, but he was running laptimes that were similar to the leading group,” said Saiki of Kimura.
“I’m sure that was great practice and experience for him. On top of that, he managed to defend from Tsugio’s attacks all the way to the finish, so I think he will have grown a lot as a result of that experience.
“It was a great drive and one that he can build upon for the last race of the season and next year.”
Although the Nakajima car of Ota and Izawa failed to score in 11th place, Saiki said he was impressed by Ota’s pace in the closing stages.
“The #64 car was running similar lap times to the top three towards the end, so I wonder if Dunlop has seen some light at the end of the tunnel,” noted Saiki.
“Ota was really consistent for the final 25 or 30 laps. It feels like the young drivers are really coming along leaps and bounds.”
Author’s view: Kimura and Ota well-placed for 2024
As the SUPER GT silly season hots up, Honda’s young guns look like they could be in line for promotions should the marque perform another GT500 reshuffle.
Ota has hit form at the right time, both in SUPER GT and Super Formula, and there have been suggestions that he could be headed for a seat in one of the Bridgestone-shod cars after serving a one-year apprenticeship on Dunlops.
Such a move would not be unprecedented: Makino was plucked from Nakajima Racing after only one full season of GT500s when a vacancy at Team Kunimitsu arose in 2020 following the departure of Jenson Button from the series after only two seasons.
Meanwhile, Kimura’s unexpected opportunity to deputise for Yamamoto has suddenly thrust his name into the mix of Honda GT500 candidates for 2024.
While the Russian-Japanese driver suggested at Autopolis that his fate depends on how he performs in the final round of his Super Formula Lights campaign next month, it’s easy to imagine him getting a berth somewhere amid persistent paddock rumours that one or more of the current Honda GT500 contingent may not be around next year.