Thursday was set to be a roaring preamble to the Suzuka 10 Hours weekend, that was to kick off with a city centre parade and motorsports fan festival where the 35 cars and their drivers would greet the fans in a route from Suzuka Circuit to the AEON Mall shopping centre.
But then Mother Nature intervened. Heavy rain that would persist throughout most of the day resulted in the Suzuka city centre parade being cancelled as a safety precaution.
The first official Suzuka 10 Hours Free Practice happens on Friday, but Thursday afternoon saw the first of two “paid practice” sessions – essentially a pre-event test session, where 31 of the 35 teams entered took part – less the #2 Cars Tokai Dream28 Lotus Evora MC, the #8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, and the two Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3s.
A brief but torrential shower resulted in a red flag during this two-hour session, and the conditions remained wet enough to prevent any significant dry-weather running.
Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing ended the first paid practice session on top, with Tristan Vautier recording the fastest time of 2’10.535 in the Mobile Suit Gundam-themed #888 Mercedes-AMG GT3 (with Raffaele Marciello & Maro Engel)
Making up the second half of a Mercedes 1-2 was the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Maximillian Götz (with Lewis Williamson & Alvaro Parente), with a 2’11.017. Strakka Racing also saw their #44 Mercedes (Adrien Tambay/Oliver Rowland/Maximillian Buhk) finish 4th in the practice session.
The best of the Pro-Am Cup cars was the #28 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, with David Perel setting a 2’11.595 (with Nick Foster & Hiroki Yoshida). In fifth was the #6 Audi Sport Team Absolute Racing R8 LMS GT3 (Markus Winkelhock/Christopher Haase/Kelvin van der Linde).
Best of the Japanese teams was the #77 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Tsubasa Kondo/Jono Lester) in sixth. The #77 D’station team are experimenting with removing the 2018 EVO package from the car and reverting to 2017-spec aero this weekend.
A second two-hour “paid practice” will take place starting at 9:40 AM JST. Conditions are expected to be much better throughout Friday, encompassing the two official Free Practice sessions in the afternoon and evening.
Feature image courtesy of SRO Motorsports Group