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Matsushita: Honda “Can Fight” at Fuji With New Civic

Nobuharu Matsushita feels Fuji a well-suited track to new Civic, but says Toyota and Nissan still have the edge…

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Nobuharu Matsushita believes that Honda “can fight” its rival SUPER GT manufacturers with the new Civic Type R-GT at least at Fuji Speedway after topping last weekend’s final test of the pre-season at the same track.

For the first time this off-season, Honda ended up at the head of the timesheets as Matsushita set the fastest time of a rain-affected weekend in the No. 8 ARTA Honda during the morning on Sunday, during the only session to feature dry running.

He led a one-two for the Team Mugen-run ARTA squad, as the sister No. 16 machine was second-fastest in the hands of Hiroki Otsu.

Saturday’s qualifying simulation, held in full wet conditions, was also topped by ARTA with Otsu and Ren Sato setting the fastest combined times under the new-for-2024 aggregate times system.

While Matsushita, who partners Tomoki Nojiri in the No. 8 ARTA car, feels that the timesheets did not show potential of Honda’s GT500 rivals Toyota and Nissan, he said the Civic appears to be better suited to Fuji than other tracks.

“With the GT300 cars, everyone has an excuse about traffic, but to be honest I felt quite OK at Fuji,” Matsushita told Sportscar365.

“I believe that No. 36 [TOM’S Toyota], No. 14 [Rookie Racing Toyota] and No. 23 [NISMO Nissan] are still quicker than us, but I think we have a good performance at Fuji, also in wet conditions, which is the positive thing.

“It was a kind of a surprise. Of course I was pushing, but not like pushing like hell, the lap time could have been better. But everyone was struggling a bit with the grip, the track was kind of green [after the rain].

“I think at Fuji we can fight. That’s my hope, let’s say. But at Okayama, I think we would be happy to be in the top five. Let’s see.”

Matsushita however conceded that Honda’s best chances of beating Toyota and Nissan this year are likely to come in wet conditions, especially now 12 of the 15-strong GT500 field are now using the same tire supplier in Bridgestone.

“Wet conditions are better for us, because it means the speed is lower and so the downforce is lower for everyone,” he said. “It’s more about mechanical grip, which is about the same for everyone as everyone is using the same chassis.

“In dry conditions, more than 250km/h, I think we have a bit of an issue with the downforce, but in wet conditions it’s not the case.”

On whether he feels Honda can genuinely be involved in the title battle this year, Matsushita replied: “It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

I think Toyota is the manufacturer to beat, as the No. 36 and No. 14 are fast in every session, although Nissan is also looking strong with three cars on Bridgestones.”

Otsu Not Getting Carried Away by ‘Mock’ Pole

On the other side of the ARTA garage, Otsu says he is setting modest goals for his first race together with new partner Sato, who makes his GT500 debut this year.

But the new lead driver of the No. 16 car says he felt the Fuji test at least showed that Honda has been able to close the gap compared to Toyota and Nissan having lagged further behind in previous tests.

“In mock qualifying it’s hard to know what everyone is doing with the tires, and so I don’t think P1 is our true position,” Otsu told Sportscar365. “But the feeling wasn’t bad, and especially among the Honda users I felt we were in good shape.

“In the dry, it felt like we were lagging behind the other manufacturers in the last few tests, but since then the team has been doing various things to try and close the gap, and it feels like we have increased our potential and the gap is closer now.”

Otsu added that he would be satisfied with a points finish when the season starts at Okayama next month, given Sato’s lack of experience in the top class.

“Ren doesn’t have experience of passing [GT300s] while fighting for position in GT500, so I don’t think we can go to Okayama saying we are aiming to win,” admitted Otsu.

“Rather, I want Ren to learn how to battle properly, and for us to score points. I think it’s best not to set our goals too high for the opening race.”

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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