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Alesi: Suzuka Win “Proves” Car Had Been Letting Us Down

Giuliano Alesi reflects on first SUPER GT win after two seasons of struggles at flagship Toyota squad TOM’S…


Giuliano Alesi says his first SUPER GT victory at Suzuka “proves” that the No. 37 TOM’S Toyota had not been capable of allowing he and teammate Ukyo Sasahara to show their real potential until last weekend.

Having taken pole on Saturday, Alesi and Sasahara led home a Toyota 1-2 at the wheel of the No. 37 GR Supra in Sunday’s three-hour race, putting an end to a difficult period in which the pair had failed to finish higher than sixth since the start of last year.

Alesi in particular had come under increasing scrutiny after a dismal 2023 campaign, during which he was also benched by TOM’S in Super Formula.

Looking back on his breakthrough performance after taking the No. 37 car to the checkered flag, the son of Formula 1 icon Jean Alesi argued that the result stands as evidence of what he and Sasahara can do when their car is working well, which he feels hadn’t been the case since the two were paired up by Toyota last year.

“It’s not one particular thing that led us to having this pole position and victory,” said Alesi. “It’s many different things, like a puzzle, and every piece has to go in the right place.

“We were able to put all the pieces together, regarding the setup, the tire choice in the conditions, the strategy, no mistakes, both from the team and us drivers.

“At this level, the smallest detail makes a difference. So when you are a little bit out of the window with the car, immediately there’s nothing the drivers can do. If you make a mistake regarding the [selection of] tires, you are nowhere in terms of pace. 

“It’s really important to have a team that knows how to put the car in the right window using the data and the drivers’ comments, and selecting the right tires. The team was not capable of doing that last year. 

“We had a difficult car to drive, and not to be too arrogant, we both proved today that when we have a fast car, we are able to win. 

“The results that were not there at the beginning of the year, and the whole of last year, and not just in SUPER GT but also Super Formula, it proves that the car was not fast compared to how it looks from the outside. 

“It was important this weekend to get all of this aligned because until now the team was not capable of doing that for us.”

A drive-through penalty for the No. 14 Rookie Racing Toyota, awarded for an unsafe release, cleared the way for Alesi and Sasahara’s victory after Alesi had been jumped at the final round of pitstops by Nirei Fukuzumi.

But the French driver believes the fact he was able to maintain a gap of around 10 seconds even after Fukuzumi served the penalty shows the win was deserved.

“Even though when I took over the car, we had a very fine margin with the No. 14 car, I knew we had a chance because the pace was there,” said Alesi.

“We were overtaken in the pits, and there’s not much we could have done, but it’s unfortunate that the Rookie Racing team had the drive-through penalty. After that we kept the same gap that we had when they came out of the pits.

“I think this proves that this is a win on merit, so it’s really good to be here, and we want to keep the championship going on like this.”

Sasahara: No. 36 Car Reference Helped For “Big Step”

Sasahara was at the wheel of the No. 37 car for the opening two stints, maintaining the advantage throughout despite coming under heavy pressure from Kazuya Oshima in the Rookie Toyota immediately before handing over to Alesi at the final stop.

Reflecting on the victory, Sasahara admitted it had taken him time to get used to the GR Supra and Bridgestone tires after spending three seasons as a Honda GT500 driver, during which time he used both Yokohama and Dunlop rubber, pointing to January’s Sepang test as an important opportunity to make steps in his own driving.

But he also said that taking elements of the set-up from the sister No. 36 TOM’S car, which won last year’s title and leads the standings after three rounds, was also crucial in helping he and Alesi become more competitive.

“Last year was my first year after moving from Honda to Toyota, which are very different, and it was my first season on Bridgestone tires,” said Sasahara.

“Giuliano hasn’t been racing in SUPER GT that long either, so neither of us are veteran drivers in the No. 37 car, so we have to find our own way.

“Last year I tried many things and worked on my driving style, and TOM’S and TGR supported me in working through things one by one. The Sepang test was really helpful for me, a turning point in that sense, not only that but also [the previous race at] Fuji.

“We have car No. 36, which has such a strong package, as a reference, so we have a lot to learn from them. There are some things we implemented from them and other things we have done in our own original way, and we put this all together at Suzuka.

“That said, I honestly didn’t think we could make such a big step up all of a sudden. I think it was a combination of using all the things we learned and things fitting together.”

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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