Kovalainen explains SARD's first-to-last qualifying drop

Ex-Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen says he was powerless to challenge for SUPER GT pole position at Sugo after struggling with the harder compound Bridgestone tyre on his SARD Toyota.

Kovalainen ended up eighth and slowest of the cars that made it through to the Q2 pole shootout on Saturday at the wheel of the #39 Toyota GR Supra, more than seven tenths away from the pole time set by Nirei Fukuzumi in the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT.

That was despite Yuichi Nakayama topping the opening segment on a 1m10.275s, a time that would have put the SARD machine fourth on the grid had it been replicated in Q2.

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However, Kovalainen revealed that Nakayama had been the only Toyota driver in Q1 to use the softer Bridgestone tyre compound, which left him with no option but to use the slower hard tyre in Q2.

"There was no chance for pole with the harder tyre," Kovalainen told Motorsport.com. "The lap didn’t feel too bad, it was clean, but of course it’s disappointing. 

"Yuichi was the only guy in Toyota on the soft tyre [for Q1], all the others took the hard, and then we had nothing but hard tyres left for Q2. We’ll start the race on the hard, but probably they are both ok. Maybe we could have got through Q1 with the hards, but we don’t know."

Kovalainen and Nakayama have had a difficult first half of the season, currently sitting ninth in the drivers' standings having taken a best finish of fourth in the Okayama season opener.

Their success handicap of 28kg is the second-lowest within the Toyota camp, with only the #38 Cerumo GR Supra that qualified seventh at Sugo being lighter (22kg).

"It won’t be easy, we’ll just join the battle and see what happens," Kovalainen said of SARD's race prospects. "The car doesn’t feel too bad, I’ve been happy with the balance all day, but the laptime wasn’t there.

"We need to win a race to get back into the [championship] fight. We’ll obviously fight tomorrow, we won’t give up, but I was really hoping at least to start inside the top four. We’ll just have to see what we get."

Kovalainen added he has been having difficulties all season with Bridgestone's latest products, which he feels are less suited to his driving style.

"I was struggling [at Suzuka] with the tyres," admitted the Finn. "I am struggling a little bit with the softer ‘family’ of Bridgestone tyres.

"This year the tyre doesn’t seem as stable as before, they are moving a bit more and it’s a struggle for me to get the best out of them. I’ve done a lot of stuff since Suzuka, I tried to get my driving correct for these tyres, and here is probably a step forward, but it’s still not enough."

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