It’s been over three months since the last full-metal on-track action took place in the Autobacs Super GT Series, but next weekend will finally see the series return to full-metal action with the second official pre-season test at Fuji Speedway on 27/28 June.
43 cars are registered for the test, which was postponed from its original date of 28/29 March due to a provincial State of Emergency, one of many postponements and cancellations brought on by the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
As such, one of the other big stories going into the test will be the many faces who will not be in attendance, due to an extensive travel ban that currently sees residents of 111 countries unable to enter Japan without serving a mandatory two-week quarantine period.
While currently listed on the entry list, TGR Team SARD’s Heikki Kovalainen and Keihin Real Racing’s Bertrand Baguette, who both reside in their home countries of Finland and Belgium respectively, are not expected to be able to attend the first test unless an exception is made, such as it was for high-calibre athletes competing in the United States, for instance.
So TGR Team SARD has appointed reigning GT500 Drivers’ Champion Kenta Yamashita as a third driver for the two-day test, likely to replace 2016 GT500 Champion Kovalainen alongside regular co-driver Yuichi Nakayama.
Yamashita has been in Japan since the cancellation of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s 1000 Miles of Sebring – he was set to forego the 2020 Super GT Series to focus on his new LMP2 role with High Class Racing, but the extraordinary circumstances have landed him back in the series – and if Kovalainen is unable to partake in the first race of the 2020 season on 19 July, the 24-year-old Yamashita is more than a capable replacement.
Meanwhile, a potential replacement for Baguette in the Keihin Honda NSX-GT hasn’t been determined. Koudai Tsukakoshi would be more than capable of carrying out the two-day test on his own, but the picture is less clear if the 2017 Suzuka 1000km winner will be forced to miss races.
In GT300, two teams will forego the test, R’Qs Motor Sports and Panther arto Team Thailand, the latter almost certainly due to travel restrictions for most of their personnel – including drivers Sean Walkinshaw, Nattapong Horthongkum, and Okayama tester Mathias Beche.
Drivers André Couto, Dennis Lind, and Christopher Mies have been scratched from the test at Team JLOC and Audi Team Hitotsuyama respectively, and it’s highly likely that Nicki Thiim will also be unable to take part despite being on the entry list for Pacific-D’station Racing. Shintaro Kawabata will handle all testing duties for Audi Team Hitotsuyama, while Tsubasa Takahashi and Yuya Tezuka will replace Couto and Lind.
In fact, both Danish drivers Thiim and Lind missed the first test and thus haven’t been able to take the compulsory GT300 Rookie Test. But given their international track records, Thiim and Lind could certainly warrant a waiver of the test requirement – if they can eventually travel to Japan to race.
Good news seems to be that, for the time being, Hong Kong’s X Works Racing are on the entry list and set to take part with drivers Shaun Thong and Alex Au.
Former Audi Team Hitotsuyama driver Ryuichiro Tomita has been appointed as the third driver for NILZZ Racing, and rookie third drivers Yuui Tsutsumi (INGING Motorsport) and Kizuku Hiroto (Arnage Racing) will also get additional seat time.
Images courtesy of Toyota