After 3 days of testing prior to the Super GT testing a lot more light has been shed on the competitiveness of various different cars for the upcoming season.
In the end testing was cut a day short. The final day of testing on Sunday was cancelled due to a culmination of snow and fog descending over Fuji Speedway and mount Fuji which stands imposingly above the circuit. Of course this will benefit some cars in relation to some of the new entries, and it may leave newer teams unsure of where they stand. Ultimately, teams were clearly given the message that they shouldn’t expect Sunday’s session to run on Saturday morning, so many of them tweaked there programmes to ensure their data from testing left nothing to be desired. However, some performances weren’t particularly positive, and needless too say, some were very promising indeed!
Saturday’s session at Fuji was held beneath sunny skies, a big contrast to Sunday’s adverse weather. The impending threat of snow prompted the GT association to extend the day by an hour so the teams could fit in extra running.
There were multiple absentees from the test with other commitments. Notable examples include Sven Muller, Naoya Gamou, Takamitsu Matsui and Jorg Muller who were all participating in the opening round of the VLN series at the Nurburgring Nordschleife. Kaz Nakajima was, as expected, busy testing the Toyota TS050 LMP1 car. The bigger surprise lies in the absence of Yuji Kunimoto, who was also testing the Toyota LMP1 car. Rumours have suggested that maybe Toyota have decided that he will take the wheel of the TS050 at Le Mans this year, as supposed to Hirakawa who was the expected Japanese driver to take part.
Interestingly, these absences gave us some idea on who was to replace the various absentees should they have to miss a Super GT race. Kunimoto was replaced by VivaC driver Kenta Yamashita, who was in turn replaced by VivaC team owner and now part time driver Takeshi Tsuchiya, after retiring from full time duties at the end of last year. If Kunimoto is to miss a race this is likely what would happen. Former Taisan SARD driver Tsubasa Kondo will stand in for Matsui, although this appears to be a short term deal.
Nakajima was replaced by Daisuke Ito (who also retired from full time duties last year), although this had already been planned. Ito will Stand in for Nakajima when he is racing for Toyota in LMP1.
At D’Station racing, Sven Muller will be replaced by the equally capable GT300 champion Andre Couto. Muller will miss at least 1 Super GT race, so expect the Macanese driver tostand in for those events, and possibly join in for the Fuji 500km and and the Suzuka 1000km. Ultimately, there are few better back-up drivers on the market than Couto!
Gamou wasn’t replaced at all, his LEON team elected to just run Haruki Kurosawa for the test. BMW team Studie did the same with Jorg Muller, suggesting that neither team expect either driver to miss a race this season.
In GT500 it was a session largely dominated by the Bridgestone Clad Lexi at their own circuit, with the WedsSport car on Yokohama rubber struggling to set lap times which were as quick. In the end the au Lexus prevailed in the hands of James Rossiter, but since the top 5 Lexi were separated by less than a quarter of a second don’t expect any dejected faces in the Lexus pit.
Nissan finally had a decent lap time to cheer about as Jann Mardenborough managed to set a lap within half a second of the leading Lexus in the Calsonic Nissan GT-R, the only Bridgestone shod Nissan. The duo of Nissans on Michelin tires struggled again in the cool conditions, but this should’t be an issue with warmer weather for the season.
GT300 was dominated by the GT3 cars, utilising the long pit straight where. the Japanese designed cars were simply unable to keep up. Mitsunori Takaboshi continued his impressive pre-season form with an impressive lap time of 1:36.221. No-one else set a time within half a second of Takaboshi-san’s stormer. The EIcars Bentley impressed as well, with Ryohei Sakaguchi setting a time which put the Bentley 7th in the standings. The R&D sport Subaru was the only JAF or mother chassis car in the Top 10.
So what have we learned from three days of teams toiling away for Data? The most obvious one is that Lexus are in a very comfortable position in GT500. They have topped every session dominantly and it seems that they have interpreted the new aerodynamic regulations most successfully with their brand new LC500s.
It appears that Nissan and Honda’s evolutions of their 2016 cars simply weren’t as much of an improvement as Toyota’s new GT500 machine. Thankfully though, both marques are still very much in the fight. Most notably, Honda are competitive again, and their 2017 package will surely propel them to multiple race wins unless Lexus have been doing some serious sandbagging, which is uncommon in Japan.
It is great to see Honda do well in any form of Motorsport again. The past years have looked torrid, and apart from this improvement the pattern looks like it will continue. Honda have struggled in every form of motorsport. They have been comprehensively beaten, and almost embarrassed in MotoGP, IndyCar and of course F1. None of these look like improving so hopefully for them Super GT may inject a little positivity into the goings on at Honda’s motorsport division.
Overall, the GT500 battle is close and although Lexus enter the season as favourites, it won’t be a walkover in a series like Super GT that is all about parity.
GT300 is also very close. So close infact that there is only 1 conclusion worth remembering; Basically every car has a chance of running at the front of the field this season, and there is no point in counting anyone out – at least until Sugo. After that the series will have visited every type of track on the calendar.
The other thing we have learned is that Super GT just keeps on growing. The series has now become over-saturated with people wanting to race, to such an extent the seeding system had to be revamped. Nismo TV and Radio Le Mans have a big opportunity to carry on growing the sport by broadcasting races live! Sadly there has been no news on whether or not races will be broadcasted live and free throughout the world, but let’s hope that come the opening round of the season at Okayama two weeks from now, the answer is yes.
In the meantime, make sure you’re doing something fun over the next two weeks, because it will be an agonising wait for the beginning of the season!
Pictures courtesy of AutosportWeb