While the first “official” pre-season test for the Autobacs Super GT Series won’t be for another three weeks, nine GT500 teams and three GT300 teams took to Okayama International Circuit for a private manufacturer test.
Nissan and NISMO held their 2018 Motorsports Fan Forum event from their global headquarters in Yokohama, and five more GT300 teams confirmed their driver lineups for the 2018 season, it’s all covered in our latest Super GT Notebook.
Lexus leads the way in both days of Okayama test
Two days and four sessions of testing at Okayama were held under cold, yet clear conditions as four teams from Lexus, three from Honda, and two from Nissan took part, including the newly-promoted NDDP Racing with B-Max team.
Thursday’s tests saw the #1 KeePer TOM’s Lexus LC500 lead a Lexus 1-2-3, with defending champions Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy joined at the test by Yuhi Sekiguchi, who will drive the sister #36 au TOM’s LC500 this season. In the afternoon, the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 of Yuji Tachikawa & Hiroaki Ishiura set a best lap of a 1:17.735 to lead the way.
On Friday, though, it was the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 of Kazuya Oshima and Felix Rosenqvist which led both sessions, and set the fastest outright time of the test courtesy of a 1:17.592 from Oshima in the morning session, an unofficial GT500 lap record!
“It’s been a good couple of days here in Japan,” said Rosenqvist, who set the fastest time in the Friday afternoon session. “The car is so, so impressive, especially in traction and acceleration. It’s been pretty cold this week so tyre graining has been a bit of an issue, but other than that we’ve been running reliably and completed our programme. So far, so good.”
Nissan drivers meet the fans at Fan Forum in Yokohama
Two weeks after Nissan and NISMO announced their teams and drivers for the 2018 Super GT season, those same drivers and their team leaders were gathered at the Nissan Gallery at Yokohama, to be formally introduced to the public and their supporters.
At the event, the team directors and drivers took part in several talk shows, answering questions from the fans and talking about testing as well as the upcoming season.
The 2018 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3’s redevelopment was also detailed, including a revised drivetrain layout and a lowered centre of gravity, while also focusing on improved cooling, aerodynamics, and driver comfort.
K2 R&D LEON Racing retain Kurosawa & Gamou, lead GT300 trio in Okayama
Back to the two-day manufacturer tests at Okayama, where K2 R&D LEON Racing, winners of two of the last three races in 2017, announced they would retain Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou as their drivers for 2018.
The combination of their capable Mercedes-AMG GT3, Bridgestone tyres, and a breakout season from the ultra-rapid 28-year-old Gamou, led K2 R&D LEON Racing to their best-ever campaign in 2017, where they finished 2nd in the championships to Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO.
They followed it up by setting the fastest GT300 time of three of the four sessions, including the overall best time of 1:25.556.
The #34 Modulo Kenwood Honda NSX GT3 of Ryo Michigami & Hiroki Otsu took to the track for the first time in its black & scarlet livery, and led the fourth and final session for Modulo Drago Corse.
Subaru and Panther Team Thailand test at Fuji
A few teams opted instead to shake their cars down at Fuji Speedway while the manufacturer test went on at Okayama. One of those teams was R&D Sport, with their updated #61 Subaru BRZ.
Attention has been paid to improve the straight-line speed of the car in 2018, as well as to improve traction, particularly, in colder conditions such as the ones they tested in.
At the same circuit, Panther Team Thailand took to the track for the first time in their new #35 Arto Lexus RC F GT3, which replaces their previous Toyota 86 MC.
Takashi Kobayashi joins new-look Team UpGarage
Former Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) driver Takashi Kobayashi will partner 2013 GT300 champion Yuhki Nakayama at Team UpGarage, who are parting ways from Racing Project Bandoh after a three year collaboration.
Along with a new identity, and a new gold and blue livery, the team also confirmed it will race in this August’s Suzuka 10 Hours.
During Kobayashi’s four-year run in GT300 with ARTA from 2013-16, he won at least one race in every season. With a capable car and two very fast and experienced drivers, Team UpGarage will be one to watch in 2018.
Audi Team Hitotsuyama, Team Taisan announce their drivers
Audi Sport’s two customer teams will seek to rebound from a difficult 2017 season, their efforts being led by WRT-backed Audi Team Hitotsuyama, and the most successful GT300 team in history, Team Taisan.
Team Hitotsuyama have added former Gainer driver and Suzuka 1000km class winner, Ryuichiro Tomita, who will partner 2004 GT500 champion Richard Lyons in their #21 Audi R8 LMS, running on Dunlop tyres.
“Last year shall we say was… ‘character building’ after the highs and successes of 2016,” Lyons said in a press release this past Monday. “2017 however, didn’t go at all to plan, but we feel we have identified a lot of the issues we faced and now have a much more positive look for the 2018 season.”
Audi Team Hitotsuyama also announced a third driver, 23-year-old Takuro Shinohara, who graduates from the FIA F4 Japanese Championship. Shinohara is expected to drive the longer-distance rounds at Fuji with Lyons and Tomita.
In addition, WRT engineer Pierre Arnaud will return to the team as their chief engineer, and Audi Team Hitotsuyama will compete in the Suzuka 10 Hours this August.
Team Taisan, winners of four GT300 Drivers’ Championships and seven GT300 Teams’ Championships, also announced their entry into the 2018 season, ending a two-year collaborative effort with SARD Racing.
Shintaro Kawabata moves over from Team UpGarage to partner the returning Shinnosuke Yamada in their #26 Audi R8 LMS. Shinji Nakano re-joins the team as their sporting supervisor, working with team owner & director, Yasutsune Chiba.
Arnage Racing bring back Kano & Yasuoka, return to Mercedes-AMG
Arnage Racing are also going back to independent status following their one-year partnership with INGING Motorsport – and are also switching vehicles, from the Ferrari 488 GT3 to the Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The team are also bringing back a familiar driver lineup, with Masaki Kano and Hideto Yasuoka who are both returning after a year out of the series. Kano raced in Super Taikyu last season, while Yasuoka, an undefeated Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion in 2011, focused on driver coaching while doing one-off cameos in GT300 and Blancpain GT Asia.
Yanagida joins four-driver crew at Tomei Sports
Nissan customer team Tomei Sports will continue to use the previous-generation GT-R GT3 this season, and the team announced their driver lineup on Saturday for their #360 RunUp GT-R.
Returning from last season are gymkhana ace Yusaku Shibata, gentleman driver Atsushi Tanaka, and 2001 GT300 Drivers’ Champion, Takayuki Aoki. Joining the team this year is longtime Nissan factory racer Masataka Yanagida, who left Audi Team Hitotsuyama after last season.
Yanagida is the only driver to win two championships in both GT500 (2011, 2012) and GT300 (2003, 2010) classes.
Image Credits: Toshikazu Moriyama and Ryuji Hirano for auto sport Magazine, Subaru, WedsSport, Team UpGarage, Audi MediaCentre, NISMO, and the GT Association