After the heavy rain showers of Thursday, fans at Suzuka Circuit were greeted to much kinder conditions on Friday in anticipation for the first official Free Practice session for the Suzuka 10 Hours.
Before that, there was a second Paid Practice test from 9:40 to 11:40 JST, and the surprise leader of the session was Australian Nick Foster, driving the Pro-Am Cup class #28 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE (with David Perel & Hiroki Yoshida) to a best lap of 2’03.525.
Edoardo Liberati in the #23 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (with Richard Bradley & Oliver Jarvis) was second in the paid practice, and Sheldon van der Linde was third, in the #17 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS GT3 (with Stuart Leonard & Jake Dennis).
Just over two hours later, the first official practice session would take place.
The #991 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Laurens Vanthoor, Kévin Estre, and Mathieu Jaminet established an early pace, with young Frenchman Jaminet recording the fastest time of the weekend with a 2’03.444 on just his third lap of the session.
That benchmark would hold up throughout the session as the top time in the first official Free Practice, despite a few late attempts to dismount the Craft-Bamboo Porsche from the top spot.
The #888 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing GT3 of Raffaele Marciello (with Tristan Vautier & Maro Engel) kept up the team’s strong form from the Paid Practices, with a final flying lap of 2’03.745 good enough to put the “GruppeM Gundam” in second place.
Alessio Picariello was third-quickest in the #21 Audi Team Hitotsuyama R8 LMS GT3 (with Richard Lyons & Ryuichiro Tomita), just a tenth off Marciello with a 2’03.883. Two Audis made the top five, with the #17 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 LMS of Leonard, Dennis, and the younger Van der Linde in fifth, just two-tenths back of Picariello’s time.
The #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 (Davide Rigon/Matt Griffin/Miguel Molina) was the best of the non-IGTC runners in fourth, and the best of the Pro-Am Cup teams was the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Kenny Habul/Mikaël Grenier/Luca Stolz) in sixth place.
Eight different manufacturers were represented within the top 14 places, which were covered by just 1.024 sessions in a very competitive practice session.
The first Free Practice saw only two red flags. The first for the #7 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R of Tomonobu Fujii spinning in the S-Curves and having minor contact with the sponge barriers, the second to recover the stopped #37 Callaway Competition with Bingo Racing Corvette C7 GT3-R.
The second Free Practice commences at 18:30 JST and will run into darkness over the following 90 minutes.
Feature image courtesy of SRO Motorsports Group