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Honda “Off to Good Start” With Debut Civic Podium

Honda’s SUPER GT project leader expresses satisfaction with Okayama result, but warns there’s “still a long way to go”…

Photo: SUPER GT

Honda SUPER GT project leader Masahiro Saiki says he feels the marque has got its 2024 season “off to a good start” with a podium finish on the new Civic Type R-GT’s debut.

Last weekend’s season opener at Okayama marked the first race for the new Civic-based challenger that replaces the NSX-GT this season, with Team Kunimitsu pair Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino leading the Honda charge in third place.

Although the No. 100 car shared by Yamamoto and Makino lost a place to the Cerumo Toyota GR Supra in the opening stint, swifter pit work by Team Kunimitsu during the mandatory pitstops got the Civic back out in front, with Yamamoto only missing out on beating the second-placed SARD Toyota by just over a second.

Saiki admitted he thought the Civic’s first race would be tougher than it turned out to be, adding that the performance of not only the Team Kunimitsu car but also the two ARTA machines that finished eighth and ninth was cause for encouragement.

“I thought it would be a tougher race than it was in the end, but the No. 100 car was able to get on the podium immediately and maintain its start position, so it feels like we’re off to a good start,” Saiki told reporters post-race.

“One thing is that we were able to start from a higher position than we anticipated, and we saw with the No. 8 and No. 16 [ARTA] cars that we had good pace in clean air. 

“They could have done with starting higher up, but they weren’t lacking much in terms of race pace, so that’s something we need to work on from now with the set-up.

“There’s still a way for us to go. With this car, the drivers and engineers are still at the stage of trying various things, so I think that will take some time. 

“The same goes for tire selection, and it’s hard for us to know what problems were down to the car itself and what was down to tire selection at this stage.”

Key to Honda’s podium was a strong qualifying performance from Yamamoto and Makino, whose collective efforts put the No. 100 car third on the grid – five places higher than the next-best Civic, the No. 16 ARTA car of Hiroki Otsu and Ren Sato.

Honda’s head of body development Toshihiro Onishi expressed confidence that the brand’s other teams will be able to match Team Kunimitsu as they gain more experience.

“In terms of the driver line-ups, only the No. 100 car is the same as last year, and in the other crews there are some GT500 rookies and some drivers that never experienced Bridgestone tires,” said Onishi. 

“With the new aggregate qualifying format, the No. 100 crew, which has had the same driver line-up and same engineering system for several seasons, made no mistakes and got the best out of the car.

“The teams that didn’t do so well in qualifying, we can already clearly understand the reasons why they struggled. So if we can solve some of those issues, there’s no reason why they can’t fight with the other manufacturers as well.”

Looking ahead to the next two rounds of the season at Fuji Speedway and Suzuka, Onishi said that the data taken from Okayama will help teams to be more accurate with determining their base set-ups for the event.

“It should get easier to prepare for each race because we can use the data taken from real-life running to improve the accuracy of the simulator,” he explained. 

“We haven’t done much running with the car in its final [homologation] specification yet, so the preparations for Okayama were based on data that may not have been accurate.

“Looking ahead to Fuji and Suzuka, it will get easier for each team to prepare properly, and I think that will be reflected in the results.”

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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