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Baguette: SUPER GT title "means everything" after family sacrifices

Impul Nissan driver Bertrand Baguette says his SUPER GT title success “means everything” to him after spending so long away from his family to race in the series in recent years.

Kazuki Hiramine, Bertrand Baguette, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Kazuki Hoshino, #12 Calsonic IMPUL Z

Kazuki Hiramine, Bertrand Baguette, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Kazuki Hoshino, #12 Calsonic IMPUL Z

Masahide Kamio

Together with teammate Kazuki Hiramine, Baguette finally achieved the prize that had eluded him since he first became a SUPER GT driver back in 2014 as the drivers of the Calsonic-liveried Z sealed the title with second place in Sunday’s Motegi finale.

It marked Nissan’s first championship title in the GT500 class since 2015, and a first for Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s legendary Impul squad since 1995.

For Baguette, the achievement had extra significance given Japan’s tight COVID-19 travel restrictions meant he was unable to see his family in Belgium for much of the past two seasons, with travel only becoming easier at the start of this year.

“Since I came to Japan in 2014 it has always been the target to win the title,” said Baguette, who joined Nissan after eight seasons of racing for rival marque Honda. “I won titles in single-seaters, in WEC, but since then I didn’t win anything. 

“To finally achieve the title this year means a lot for me and my family, because I have to make a lot of sacrifices on that side as well. 

“I have a wife and two sons in Belgium, and they see their father away all the time… when I come back I can tell them, ‘Papa is SUPER GT champion’, and that means everything.”

Baguette started the race third, and had to deal with the pressure of keeping title rival Katsumasa Chiyo in the NDDP Racing Nissan at bay on the opening lap.

After Chiyo dropped down the field with a drive-through penalty for making contact with Tomoki Nojiri’s ARTA Honda, Baguette then found himself engaged in a duel with the third-placed car in the standings, the Real Racing Honda of Nobuharu Matsushita.

But the Belgian driver was able to hang on to the position before handing over to Hiramine, who then managed to hold position behind the race-winning Team Kunimitsu Honda all the way to the chequered flag.

“Today was super-tough,” recalled Baguette. “The pressure was super-high all weekend long. I knew I couldn’t lose a position to the #3 [NDDP Nissan], or to the #17 [Real Honda].

“I tried to pass the #19 [Racing Project Bandoh of Yuji Kunimoto] at the start because I knew I would be quicker, but he was really aggressive in Turn 3. I was really scared because I had made my move, he moved under braking and there was no way to pull out of it. 

“We made contact, fortunately the car was ok. Then I got stuck behind him. I was faster than him but never got another chance to overtake him.

“After the safety car I was struggling a lot with tyre pick-up, my first lap [after the restart] was super-difficult, it took me a long time to clean the tyres. 

“I went a bit wide in Turn 9 and #17 [Matsushita] had a go at me. But I didn’t panic because I knew I was faster. He passed me at the hairpin and I passed him again in a straight line.

“The team did a fantastic pitstop once again, then Kazuki did an amazing job - 40 laps with this pressure, no mistakes, really good laptimes, and we are champions.”

 

Hiramine also picked up a maiden SUPER GT title in his third season as a Nissan GT500 driver and with Team Impul, and admitted to shedding tears once he had crossed the finish line to wrap up the title for himself and Baguette.

“I’d known since yesterday that I would have to run 40 laps, but it felt so long,” said Hiramine. “I’ve never known such a long 40 laps! 

“I knew our title rivals were coming from behind, but I also knew if we stayed ahead, we would be champions. I knew that I just had to keep a strong mindset and fight until the end. 

“I cried after I took the chequered flag… I had some bad years earlier in my career, and I was able to see all the faces of those that helped me recover and reach this point. I’m grateful to them. 

“It’s my third year since I joined the team and we scored Impul’s first title for 27 years. I’m so happy I was able to do that together with Baguette.”

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