On Saturday, 40 cars took to the track at Fuji Speedway for the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series’ pre-season test day, which was split into three daytime test sessions, and a night practice in preparation for the Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours, which will be held on 2-3 June.
This was also the first time that the teams were able to drive at speed on their new Pirelli P Zero tyres, with the Italian tyremaker replacing long-time supplier Yokohama from 2018. The drivers had nothing but praise for the performance and durability of the new Pirelli rubber.
While reigning ST-X (FIA GT3) class champions ARN Racing are no longer in the series, following an announcement that they would instead defect to Blancpain GT Series Asia, the premier class does have a renewed vigour with the announcement that Phoenix Racing Asia will field two Audi R8 LMS GT3s full-time in 2018.
“Entering the Super Taikyu Series in Japan is another important step for Phoenix Racing Asia in the Asian market,” says Phoenix Racing Team Principal, Ernst Moser. “I can’t wait to get started and I’m sure that we have a great chance of success with our two-car team.”
Both the #82 (Alex Au/Shawn Thong/Alex Yoong) and #83 (Keong Wee Lim/Marchy Lee/Melvin Moh) Phoenix Racing Audis were among the cars to watch, as were fellow newcomers MAX Racing, with their new Lexus RC F GT3 and support from Super GT stalwarts Tsuchiya Engineering, plus their experienced driver lineup of Tetsuya Tanaka, Kimiya Sato, and their gentleman driver known only as “Go Max”.
ST-TCR saw only three Audi RS3 LMS take part in the test, two from returning campaigners Birth Racing Project (BRP) and Audi Team DreamDrive, plus a new car entered from Audi Team DreamDrive Noah.
Two thinning categories received a much needed boost in numbers, with the news that 2016 ST-1 champions D’station Racing would field a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of their own to battle against 2017 champions Nissoku apr Racing. ST-2 also saw Team Nopro move up from ST-3 with their Mazda Axela (Mazda3) turbo diesel, now with all-wheel drive to match the Mitsubishi Lancers and Subaru Imprezas.
For the three daytime sessions, the #24 Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 of Yuudai Uchida, Tomonobu Fujii, and Kazuki Hiramine turned in the fastest time of a 1:39.365 in the third session. They were followed by the #99 GTNET Motor Sports GT-R (Teruhiko Hamano/Kazuki Hiramine/Kiyoto Fujinami/Hironobu Yasuda) in 2nd, and the #82 Phoenix Racing Audi of Au, Thong & Yoong in 3rd.
4th fastest was the #3 Endless Sports GT-R (Yukinori Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi), which led the first session, and then the #777 D’station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo), which led the second session, with the 5th fastest overall time.
D’station Racing won the battle in ST-1 with their #47 Porsche driven by Tatsuya Hoshino, Manabu Orido, and Kenji Hama. ST-TCR saw a big surprise in its own right, with the new #75 Audi Team DreamDrive Noah RS3 (Toshiro Tsukada/Yoshikazu Sobu/Yuji Kiyotaki) putting in the fastest time in its category.
Reigning ST-2 champions TOWAINTEC Racing had Super GT star Takuto Iguchi aboard their #59 Subaru WRX STI to join regulars Manabu Osawa & Hitoshi Goto, and led the ST-2 category. In ST-3, the #38 Tracy Sports Lexus IS 350 (Makoto Hotta/Ryohei Sakaguchi/Morio Nitta) went fastest.
ST-4 saw something of an upset on top of the leaderboards, with the fastest time coming from the #58 Kobayashi Motor Honda Integra Type-R (Koichi Kobayashi/Resshu Shioya/Takayuki Yamada) and not from one of the Toyota 86es that won last year’s title. ST-5 was led by the #4 Bride Honda Fit (Hidefumi Minami/Yuya Ota/Toshiya Ito/Karurosu Honda).
After a few hours, the night practice commenced. Cars were fitted in advance with new high-visibility number plates, and the sub-compact ST-5 cars also carried an LED light strip for easy identification. The circuit also got to trial its LED lights at the marshals’ posts throughout the circuit.
It wasn’t an easy start to the running, after the #78 Love Drive Racing Mazda Roadster crashed at the 300R corner in the first hour of the session. The driver was uninjured, but this did cause the first of two red flags, the second caused by a spinning TCR car at the same part of the track.
Leading this session was the #82 Phoenix Racing Audi, with Yoong, Thong, and Au making a very strong impression on their very first day on the Super Taikyu circuit.
It should be pointed out as well, that the 40 cars entered for this test will not make up the entire grid that will be present for the season-opening round at Suzuka Circuit on April 1. Sato/Yamashita-SS with Rn-sports elected to test their new Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Suzuka on the same weekend, which will compete in ST-X this season. There is also expected to be entries into the ST-Z (FIA GT4) category this year, which was left vacant in 2017.