Ryo Hirakawa says there was no way he could have matched the Honda drivers in qualifying for Super Formula's season opener at Fuji Speedway, as Toyota continues to struggle with a top speed deficit.
Impul man Hirakawa will start Sunday's curtain-raiser from seventh on the grid after qualifying 0.631s down on poleman Tomoki Nojiri, as Honda drivers locked out the top four on the grid.
He had been the fastest Toyota-powered driver in Q2, but slipped behind rookies Sena Sakaguchi (Inging) and Ritomo Miyata (TOM'S) in the pole shootout.
Second-placed Toshiki Oyu, who topped pre-season testing at Fuji last week, achieved a best speed of 290.3km/h (180.4mph) during Q3, versus 288.8km/h (179.5mph) for Hirakawa, who said that he was forced to run with less downforce in testing in order to remain competitive.
Revealing he lost time in Q3 with a gear shift issue, Hirakawa admitted that even with a clean run he couldn't have realistically threatened Nojiri.
"It was as expected," Hirakawa told Motorsport.com. "The Honda guys led every session, even in testing, so I was just aiming to be the top Toyota driver.
"After Q2 I was confident, the car felt ok, then unfortunately, I don’t know why, there was an issue with the upshift for Q3. I lost a few tenths there.
"I wouldn’t have challenged the top times but at least I could have been top Toyota… so it sucks."