Honda squad Dandelion scored its first victory in two years in last month’s season finale at Suzuka, as rookie Kakunoshin Ota beat Liam Lawson to round off his first season on the top step of the podium.
But the first part of the season proved tough for the Kyoto-based outfit, as Makino failed to crack the top five until he scored a podium in the fifth round at Sugo, while Ota finished his first five races out of the points.
The in-season test at Fuji in June proved the turning point for Dandelion, as Makino scored pole and finished second behind Lawson when the series returned to the track the following month, while Ota scored his first points after qualifying third.
Ota’s strong form continued through to the end of the year, as he became only the fourth different race winner of the season at Suzuka and the only one from outside Team Mugen and TOM’S.Read Also:
Dandelion boss Kiyoshi Muraoka admits that he was worried that the team’s early struggles could consign his team to a period in the wilderness, and put its turnaround down to Makino’s efforts to lead the team out of its early-season slump.
“At first, we didn’t get it right with the new car, and we were the only top team that was struggling,” said Muraoka. “I thought it might take us two or three years to get back on top.
“At that time, Makino led the team and contributed to its rebuilding. That really took shape when he got pole at Fuji, and suddenly the team was going in the right direction again.
“Normally if you get it wrong with a new car, getting back to the top within a year is pretty good, but I was so resigned to struggling that I told the sponsors, ‘please be patient for two or three years’.
“The fact we were able to get back to the top so quickly is down to Makino leading the team. Then in the in-season test, Ota was able to understand the car properly, which is what allowed him to get this win.
“Since then [the Fuji test] it has been a close battle between Makino and Ota, and we’ve been able to use the data from both cars. So Makino’s contribution was really big.”
While Ota won the final race of the season, Makino struggled in the season-closing Suzuka double-header as he was forced to take a new chassis after the Motegi crash.
Looking back on the in-season test that turned around Dandelion’s fortunes, the 26-year-old admitted that he was concerned the team’s poor form would continue until finding a breakthrough that allowed him to set the second-fastest time on the first day.
“I went into the test with the intention of trying absolutely everything possible,” reflected Makino.
“Honestly, after the morning session of the first day, I was almost ready to give up. We couldn’t find anything that worked, and I was thinking, ‘this is hopeless’.
“But after that, by trying a lot of things, including some we had never done before, finally we found something that made us think, ‘ah, maybe this could work’.”
Ota’s victory in the final round at Suzuka allowed Dandelion to beat Inging to third place in the teams’ standings by 1.5 points.