Real pair Koudai Tsukakoshi and Nobuharu Matsushita took the win on the road after a thrilling battle with the #8 ARTA Honda shared by Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu, only to be disqualified following post-race inspection for a worn skid block.
Nojiri and Oyu arrived at Sugo carrying only 22kg of success ballast, having failed to score since the opening round of the season at Okayama, while Tsukakoshi and Matsushita had a nominal 58kg, including a stage one fuel flow restrictor.
The two-time Super Formula champion conceded that losing out to a car with a heavier handicap was a source of frustration even if he and Oyu ended up inheriting victory.
“When the official results showed us as the winners, I had mixed feelings,” Nojiri told the official SUPER GT website. “That’s because we have to admit that we lost on-track to the #17 car, which was carrying a fuel flow restrictor, while we were light on success ballast.
“The fact we won in this situation is something that will continue to haunt us, so we have no choice but to build on this for the next race at Autopolis and try and win with our own power.”
Nojiri added that he was satisfied with his own stint after building a gap of 12 seconds in the opening part of the race, although his cushion was below 10 seconds by the time he stopped on lap 32 of 84 to hand over to Oyu.
“We started from the top, and considering the race distance [300km] the strategy was simply to go flat out. I was able to build a gap, so I think I did my job properly [as the starting driver],” he said.
The #8 crew was jumped during the pitstop phase by the Real Racing Honda as Matsushita reeled off a series of quick laps before pitting on lap 33, with a quick stop – eight seconds faster than ARTA – put Tsukakoshi ahead on track.
Oyu was able to get back ahead of Tsukakoshi after the red flag interruption that followed Naoki Yamamoto’s huge crash, but couldn’t pull away and finally lost the lead again at the end of lap 76.
However, Oyu said that he knew early on that the ARTA crew had made a mistake on tyre choice, but managed to hold off the attacking NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda until the chequered flag.
“When I passed [Tsukakoshi], the pace was good, but then I realised, ‘we chose that kind of tyre’, and it was hard to keep up the pace,” reflected Oyu. “Of course, I was managing the tyre, but that wasn’t the issue.
“We chose a tyre that we hadn’t used much up to that point, and on top of that it didn’t hold up as well as we expected. I think everyone was struggling with pick-up, but even then our tyres definitely didn’t match the conditions.”
Following news of the #17 car’s disqualification, Oyu added: “Of course, I wanted to win [on the road], but what matters most is the result. Whether or not we could win this time will have a big impact on the championship.
“While the #16 car [sister ARTA Honda] was able to win [at Suzuka], we were having a run of bad and unsatisfying races, so I’m really glad we could finally put an end to that run.”
Nojiri and Oyu go into the final two races of the season at Autopolis and Motegi with a deficit of 19 points to the championship leaders, NDDP Nissan duo Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi.
Additional reporting by Kenichiro Ebii