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Okayama Test Report

RJ O'Connell brings details of developments on and off track behind the closed doors of the pre-season test

Fan engagement is part of the core of the Autobacs Super GT Series, but much like the rest of the sporting world, there was no audience on hand to watch the weekend’s first official test days at Okayama International Circuit, such is the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic as it evolves in real-time.

GT Association (GTA) Chairman Masaaki Bandoh gave a statement, apologizing to the Super GT fans who’d hoped to be able to see their favourite teams and drivers in person and up close this weekend. “We wanted to hold this test, not to cancel,” said Chairman Bandoh. “For that reason, we will test with no spectators. Based on the results of this test, we will then take the next steps.”

“Instead of cancelling it, we thought about how we could proceed with the event. And for this reason, we apologize for the inconvenience of banning spectators, but we will strive to create an environment for you to come and watch the opening round in April. We want to take things one step at a time and do what we can to hold the opening race as scheduled. That meant holding the Okayama test with no spectators.”

It’s a candid, optimistic view from Chairman Bandoh, whose organisation announced they would conduct the Okayama test behind closed doors two weeks ago. It is not yet confirmed if the next test session at Fuji Speedway will also be held with no spectators, in two weeks’ time, nor if the scheduled season opener at Okayama will indeed take place on 12 April. It should be said, neither look likely

Red Bull officially announces Team Mugen sponsorship and unveils special White Edition test livery!

Among the worst-kept secrets in Super GT is finally made official, as Friday saw the announcement of Red Bull as the new title sponsor for Team Mugen and their number 16 Honda NSX-GT of Hideki Mutoh and rookie Ukyo Sasahara.

Red Bull and Team Mugen have had a successful partnership in the Super Formula Championship since 2017, which now extends to Mugen’s Super GT operation.

Debuting at Okayama was a special Red Bull “White Edition” livery that will be used in testing before a more traditional Red Bull-coloured livery appears for the start of the 2020 season.

Paddock Snapshots

Super GT’s official Twitter account was snapping photos in the paddock as the teams loaded in for the test.

Change is in the air for 2020, starting with the new Super GT Safety Car, the Toyota GR Supra, replacing the previous Honda NSX.

Speaking of Supras, we got our first look at the ZENT Cerumo Supra of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura. The car’s asymmetrical red and silver livery is a throwback to the last championship-winning Toyota Supra, the 2005 ZENT Supra of Tachikawa and Toranosuke Takagi.

Speaking of Takagi, the former F1 and IndyCar star, and a past champion of GT500 & Super Formula, is back in a managerial role as Team Director for Cerumo’s second car, the new TGR Team Wako’s Rookie entry.

The familiar blue and pink colours of Wako’s are on display here, as is the new number 14 plate.

TOM’s have their two Supras ready, each with a new look for this season. Without Red Bull, Sunoco has stepped up to an associate sponsor role on the rear quarter panels of the #37 KeePer TOM’s Supra of Ryo Hirakawa & Nick Cassidy.

Hirakawa appears to be healthy after a broken collarbone sustained in a January training accident.

The new front-engined NSX-GTs are here, such as the number 8 ARTA NSX of Tomoki Nojiri & Nirei Fukuzumi.

This shot of the #64 Modulo NSX-GT of Takuya Izawa & Hiroki Otsu puts Super GT’s new Lumirank LED panels upfront. As seen in the GT World Challenge, Super GT will use the Lumirank system to identify running positions and drivers onboard.

The driver display will be displayed as their first and last initial, for example, Kazuya Oshima will be listed as “K_O”, Sho Tsuboi will be listed as “S_T”, and so forth.

The revamped Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500s, first the white #3 CraftSports Motul GT-R of Kohei Hirate & Katsumasa Chiyo, and the #24 Realize Corporation Advan GT-R of Mitsunori Takaboshi & Jann Mardenborough.

Over in GT300, the defending champion #55 ARTA Honda NSX GT3 (Shinichi Takagi/Toshiki Oyu) is here.

It’s great to have BMW Team Studie back in the GT300 paddock. Their new gunmetal grey and BMW M tricolour look is accompanied by a new title sponsor, PLUS Performance Parts.

The white and pink #25 Hoppy Porsche 911 GT3-R of Hoppy Team Tsuchiya finally appears in its full livery. Team director (and test driver) Takeshi Tsuchiya will be responsible for maintaining this car…

…as well as the new Max Racing Lexus RC F GT3, making its Super GT debut after two seasons in Super Taikyu.

Privateers Arnage Racing are rolling out their orange Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO. Masaki Kano, Ryosei Yamashita, and new third driver Kizuku Hirota will test this weekend.

In the garage to the right, you can see the previous-spec AMG GT3 of R’Qs Motor Sports.

Audi Team Hitotsuyama’s new red livery is a homage to Hitotsuyama Racing’s past, it’s been 30 years since they first fielded a red BMW M3 in the All-Japan Touring Car Championship.

The official entry list (in Japanese) can be found here, a quick glance at the entry confirms some interesting names.

OKAYAMA TEST ENTRY LIST >>

Such as the full-season lineups for Team JLOC, Yuya Motojima and Lamborghini Squadra Corse factory driver Dennis Lind in the red #87 T-Dash Huracán GT3, and past champions Takashi Kogure and André Couto in the white #88 JLOC Huracán.

Takumi Takahashi and Yuya Tezuka are listed as the third drivers for the 87 and 88 cars respectively.

Another intriguing name on the list is a familiar face to prototype racing, Swiss driver Mathias Beche is listed alongside Sean Walkinshaw in the number 35 Panther Arto Team Thailand Lexus RC F GT3. Nattapong Horthongkum has been scratched for this test.

There is also GT World Challenge Asia young gun Yuta Kamimura, the third driver in the #30 Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV apr GT alongside his GTWC & Suzuka 10 Hours running mates Hiroaki Nagai and Manabu Orido.

DAY ONE – Baguette, Real Racing Fastest On First Day of Super GT Tests

Mies, Audi Team Hitotsuyama set GT300 pace at Okayama

Amidst the almost eerie atmosphere of empty grandstands that would have, under normal circumstances, been packed with avid Super GT fans eager to see their favourite teams and drivers for the first time, the first official test session for the 2020 Autobacs Super GT Series began today at Okayama International Circuit.

Those essential personnel who were at the track were greeted with light rain showers, and the track was still wet when the first of four official test sessions got underway at 10:00 local time. Teams spared no expense taking to the track, running laps to gather valuable data for their tyre manufacturers in the wet conditions. As the track dried, the top times in Session 1 continued to change hands at a brisk pace over the two-hour session – at least a dozen times.

With the wet conditions meant a number of drivers pushing their cars over the limit. The first red flag happened just before the one-hour mark, when the #48 Shokumou/K’s Frontier Nissan GT-R GT3 of Yuki (formerly Masaki) Tanaka spun off into the gravel at the first corner.

By the second hour, there was a dry line, but Toyota Gazoo Racing young driver Kazuto Kotaka was having trouble keeping his black and gold #6 Advics muta MC86 out of trouble. He spun at the first corner to bring out the second red flag, then with less than 15 minutes left, went off course at the Hairpin Curve to bring out a third red flag. This set up a 7-minute dash to record the fastest time, with the track now dry enough for teams to start using slick tyres.

Tomoki Nojiri, in the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT, recorded the fastest GT500 class lap time in Session 1, with a time of 1’19.202. Bertrand Baguette was second-fastest in the #17 Keihin NSX-GT, four-tenths off the baseline for Nojiri. In third was the #12 Calsonic Impul Nissan GT-R of Kazuki Hiramine, with the #39 Denso Kobelco SARD Toyota GR Supra of Heikki Kovalainen in fourth. On the GT300 side, Takashi Kogure was fastest in the #88 JLOC Lamborghini Huracán GT3, with a time of 1’27.086 – two-tenths up on Shintaro Kawabata in the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS GT3.

The time between sessions would have been for the fans to get autographs and pictures with their favourite cars and drivers, but not this weekend. Instead, the potential audiences were watching from home.

Session 2 began in the afternoon at 14:00 local time. Sure enough, it rained again during the interval, though not heavily, so the track would again continue to evolve and teams would have a chance to test both wet and dry compounds.

At the 30 minute mark, the “FCY” boards were displayed and Super GT conducted a successful first test of the Full Course Yellow protocol that will be introduced this season. Tweaks to the Lumirank LED panels in the windshield were made, still displaying the equipped drivers’ initials, but without the space in-between.

As the second hour started, the #33 EVA RT X Works R8 (Shaun Thong) came to a stop. 20 minutes later, another red flag, as Kotaka again found trouble in the #6 Advics MC86, and crashed exiting Piper Corner, suffering no serious injury, but enough damage to end their day. Then the #12 Calsonic GT-R, with Daiki Sasaki on board, stopped at Revolver Corner with a driveshaft failure.

All three red flags led the session to be extended until 16:40. With the track now dry, there would be extended periods of 15 minutes of exclusive running for GT300 and GT500 classes respectively.

With his final flying lap, Belgium’s Bertrand Baguette set the fastest GT500 class lap of Saturday in his #17 Keihin NSX, with a best time of 1’17.850, 1.2 seconds off the outright GT500 lap record at Okayama. Baguette and co-driver Tsukakoshi completed a total of 100 laps today, one of three cars across both classes to hit triple digits in spite of the rain and red flags.

It was a good day for the Bridgestone-clad Honda runners in particular: The #8 ARTA NSX was second-quickest in the afternoon session with GT500 newcomer Nirei Fukuzumi just 0.297 seconds off. Fukuzumi’s friend Tadasuke Makino was fourth-fastest in the #100 Raybrig NSX for Team Kunimitsu.

Fastest among the Toyota crews was the fleet French-Argentine newcomer Sacha Fenestraz, third-fastest in the #36 au TOM’s Supra and just 0.386 off the best time from Baguette. Reigning GT500 Champion Kazuya Oshima ended the day in 5th aboard his #14 Wako’s 4CR Supra.

Best of the Nissan crews, in 8th, was the #3 CraftSports Motul GT-R of Kohei Hirate, with Hirate and Katsumasa Chiyo completing a class-high 101 laps.

In GT300, the fastest time went to German “super rookie” Christopher Mies in the red #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8, setting his best lap with a 1’25.649. It’s a strong showing for Audi Team Hitotsuyama, in their new partnership with Team Le Mans. Second fastest was Super GT iron man Morio Nitta in the #96 K-Tunes Lexus RC F GT3, the locally-owned team now on Dunlop tyres this year.

Hiroki Katoh was third fastest for Cars Tokai Dream28 in the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC, followed by Ryo Michigami in the #34 Modulo Kenwood Honda NSX GT3 in fourth, and Kiyoto Fujinami in the #56 Realize/Nissan Gakuen GT-R NISMO GT3 in fifth.

Completing the most laps was the #60 Syntium LM Corsa RC F GT3 (Hiroki Yoshimoto/Shunsuke Kohno) with a combined 104 laps as they come to grips with their new Michelin tyres.

There were at least a dozen GT300 rookie drivers that took part – from Mies to Mathias Beche and last-minute entry Weiron Tan, but two names from Denmark were not able to attend: Nicki Thiim of Pacific-D’station Racing, and Dennis Lind of Team JLOC. Lind was replaced by Super Formula alumni Tom Dillmann in the #87 T-Dash Huracán GT3, while Thiim’s teammate Tomonobu Fujii will run the entire test by himself – as will K2 R&D LEON Racing’s Togo Suganami, with ace driver Naoya Gamou scratched from the test.

Sessions 3 and 4 would take place on Sunday

SESSION 1 TIMES >>

SESSION 2 TIMES >>

COMBINED DAY 1 TIMES >>

DAY 2: Toyota GR Supras On Top

Sho Tsuboi quickest in morning session for TGR Team Wako’s Rookie;

Cars Tokai Dream28 Lotus fastest in GT300

The second day of official Super GT testing at Okayama International Circuit saw two very different sessions – each run in cold conditions with the air temperature hovering around the single digits (centigrade).

The third session of the official test began at 9:00 local time, with early morning showers resulting in a damp, drying track just like Saturday’s Sessions 1 & 2. Thirty minutes into the session, there was a second Full Course Yellow (FCY) training that transitioned into a full Safety Car training.

Session 3 was marred by five red flags, the most serious of which came when Yuji Kunimoto crashed heavily into the Moss S-Curves just past the one-hour mark of the session. Kunimoto was rushed to the circuit’s medical centre, where he was cleared with no significant injuries, and walked back to the garage. The impact, however, meant that his and Ritomo Miyata’s #19 WedsSport Toyota GR Supra would take no further part in the test.

The other four red flags were for innocuous stoppages, three of them in the second hour alone, so the two hours, the thirty-minute session was extended by a further ten minutes. Track conditions were now good by this point, as teams transitioned from wet to dry tyres.

With his final flying lap, Sho Tsuboi set the fastest time in the GT500 class aboard his #14 Wako’s 4CR GR Supra for TGR Team Wako’s Rookie, his time of 1’18.123 would be the fastest of the day. Yuhi Sekiguchi was second-fastest in the #36 au TOM’s Supra, while Saturday pacesetter Bertrand Baguette was third-fastest in the #17 Keihin Honda NSX-GT.

In the GT300 class, the ageless Hiroki Katoh posted the fastest time of the day in his #2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC, a 1’25.595, beating Christopher Mies’ fastest time from Saturday by a tenth of a second. Ryo Michigami had the second-fastest time in the #34 Modulo Kenwood Honda NSX GT3, and Hiroki Yoshida brought the metallic green #52 Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave GR Supra up to third in the standings.

Session 4 commenced at 13:30 JST and began with a practice start with parade and formation laps, before going green at 13:45. A third FCY practice took place a half-hour later.

Thankfully, unlike the morning session, the fourth and final session of the Okayama test was free of red flags. Teams used this session to practice long runs and race simulations. However, the cold conditions meant that drivers were struggling to put heat into their tyres, and if the scheduled season opener at Okayama takes place on 12 April, the temperatures will be higher, which could prove challenging to the teams.

The #38 ZENT GR Supra of Yuji Tachikawa & Hiroaki Ishiura ended the day with the fastest time in Session 4 – a 1’18.193 set by Ishiura during the first hour, the second-fastest time between both sessions. The #23 Motul Autech GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli) finished in 2nd, as Quintarelli’s best time of 1’18.409 was the fastest from the Nissan camp (and fifth-fastest overall) on Sunday.

The #36 au TOM’s Supra of Sekiguchi and Sacha Fenestraz was third, the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Tadasuke Makino) fourth, and the #14 Wako’s Supra of Kazuya Oshima and Tsuboi was fifth in Session 4.

On the GT300 side, Session 4 brought the JAF-GT300 platform cars to the forefront. The #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi) led the session, courtesy of a 1’25.773 from Iguchi, the second-fastest GT300 time of the day.

The #31 Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV apr GT (Koki Saga/Yuhki Nakayama) was second-fastest, a very encouraging sign after a miserable debut campaign for the front-engined Prius in 2019, while the #2 Syntium Lotus of Katoh and Masataka Yanagida ended the day third.

The lap leaders in GT500 were the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Daiki Sasaki/Kazuki Hiramine) with a combined 140 laps on Sunday, and the #37 KeePer TOM’s Supra (Ryo Hirakawa/Nick Cassidy) with 135 laps. In GT300, the #56 Realize/Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R (Kiyoto Fujinami/João Paulo de Oliveira) logged 120 laps, ahead of the #25 Hoppy Porsche 911 GT3-R (Takamitsu Matsui/Kimiya Sato) with 117.

The second official pre-season test is currently scheduled for 28-29 March, at Fuji Speedway. No determination has been made as of yet on how the test will proceed if it does indeed go ahead as scheduled.

SESSION 3 TIMES >>

SESSION 4 TIMES >>

COMBINED DAY 2 TIMES >>

Images courtesy of the GT Association (GTA)