Brilliant Season Start for Honda NSX
TI Circuit Aida was the site of the opening race of the 2001 JGTC season, welcoming a huge crowd of 50,500 spectators. To the disappointment of driver pair Marco Apicella and Naohiro Furuya, as well as many fans, the JLOC team had to pull the No.88 Lamborghini Diablo out of the race following the morning warm-up session due to lack of preparation.
The green light for the 82-lap race was given under fine blue skies, and a smooth start by polesitter Mitsusada in the No.1 Loctite MUGEN NSX kept him at the front of the pack. Kurosawa in the No.36 Castrol TOM's Supra and Ito in the No.100 RAYBRIG NSX bumped hard on the first lap, giving a sign of things to come throughout the day. (Both were able to return to the race.) After starting the No.23 Pennzoil Zexel Skyline GT-R from 4th on the grid, Comas made quick progress through the field and was sitting in second by the end of the first lap, followed by Schwager in the No. 64 Mobil 1 Honda NSX and Krumm in the No.22 Xanavi HIROTO Skyline GT-R. The No.23 Skyline GT-R ran successively quicker laps putting immense pressure on Mitsusada in the No. 1 NSX, and the Frenchman finally overtook him on lap 10 capitalizing on backmarker traffic.
"I couldn't do anything due to the backmarker," said Mitsusada afterward. "Then all that I could do was wait for the same chance."
Comas in the Pennzoil Zexel Skyline GT-R worked hard to pull away from Mitsusada, but a problem with the grip of the left rear tire interfered and he began dropping position with each passing lap. Finally, the NISMO team called him into the pit to change tires.
Other accidents during the day included a spin by Wakisaka in the No.6 Esso Ultraflo Supra on lap 6, contact between Wakisaka and the No.18 TAKATA DOME NSX driven by Kato on lap 33 (both cars rejoined the race further back in position), and with the top runners on lap 38. Takeuchi flipped the No.38 au CERUMO Supra onto its top requiring the Safety Car to be introduced. Takeuchi managed to escape from the car on his own.
In the second half of the race, Michigami kept the No.1 Honda NSX in the lead. In the pack behind him were Tsuchiya in the No.8 ARTA NSX, Tanaka in the No.22 Skyline GT-R and Matsuda in the No.64 NSX. The highlight of the latter stages was a severe battle between Tanaka and Matsuda. Tanaka tried everything to hold him off for many laps, but his tires began to lose grip and he could no longer hold off charge of the persistent young driver and had to settle for a fourth place finish in the end.
Newcomer Dufour experienced a communications problem with the team and ended up passing through the pit during the race when a stop wasn't required. Even so, he finished a promising seventh, with another newcomer, Andre Couto in the No.30 McLaren F1 GTR, immediately behind in eighth.
"The timing of our routine stop was excellent, with the Safety Car being introduced into the track," commented Michigami after the race. "I warmed the tires with the Safety Car out, and then pushed hard after the restart of the race."