The GT Association (GTA) has published the entry list for the first official preseason test of the 2021 Autobacs Super GT Series, to be held at Okayama International Circuit on 6-7 March.
All 44 registered full-season entries – 15 from the GT500 class, 29 from GT300 – will take part in the test in two weeks’ time. Okayama International Circuit is expected to welcome a very limited number of spectators to the event, and ticket sales have been withheld until just prior to the test as a result.
The biggest news in GT500 heading into the Okayama test is the absence of Sacha Fenestraz, driver of the #37 KeePer TOM’s Toyota GR Supra, who will not take part in the test due to travel restrictions that are still in place as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sam Smith of The Race Media Ltd. has reported that Fenestraz will be serving as the Jaguar Formula E Team’s reserve driver at the season-opening Diriyah ePrix in Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Meanwhile, at the upcoming Super GT test in Okayama, Fenestraz will be replaced by K-Tunes Racing driver Sena Sakaguchi, who already has racing experience in GT500. In August 2020, Sakaguchi replaced Heikki Kovalainen in a spot start at Fuji Speedway, driving TGR Team SARD’s #39 Denso GR Supra to a 6th-place finish.
It is understood that Sakaguchi, who is already preparing to step up to Super Formula in 2021 with Cerumo-INGING Motorsports, is being prepared by TOM’s to race in GT500 place of Fenestraz – in the event that the Franco-Argentine driver is unable to enter Japan by the start of the 2021 Super GT season on 11 April at Okayama.
To replace Sakaguchi for the test at Okayama, K-Tunes Racing have called on the reigning FIA F4 Japanese Champion, 20-year-old Hibiki Taira, to test their #96 Lexus RC F GT3. Taira won ten consecutive F4 races last season en route to the 2020 Championship, and has secured a place in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Driver Challenge (TGR-DC) academy for 2021.
If he successfully passes the GTA’s compulsory rookie test at Okayama, by completing twelve clean, consecutive laps above a minimum speed, Taira will be certified to race in GT300 if called upon.
Also in the GT300 field, former FIA Formula 2 Championship driver and Ferrari Driver Academy alumnus Giuliano Alesi will make his Super GT debut by testing the #35 arto RC F GT3 for arto Ping An Team Thailand.
Giuliano Alesi, who is half-Japanese (his mother is actress/singer Kumiko Goto, and his father, of course, is F1 cult hero Jean Alesi), will be filling in for Thai racer Nattapong Hortongkum, who hasn’t been able to race in Japan since 2019 due to COVID-related travel restrictions.
While Alesi was left off the 18 February entry list, the 21-year-old rookie was signed by Team Thailand as their third driver – and is expected to race alongside Sean Walkinshaw if Hortongkum still cannot race during the 2021 season, which is looking like a probable outcome – especially if Alesi clears the rookie test.
Takeshi Kimura is absent from the entry list, so Kei Cozzolino will handle sole testing duties in Pacific-CarGuy Racing’s new Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo. Taiyou Iida has been replaced on the entry list at NILZZ Racing by Ryuichiro Tomita, who made a one-off appearance with the team in 2020 as he shifted focus to the SRO GT World Challenge Europe.
Tomei Sports’ third driver Yuudai Uchida will attempt the rookie test in the #360 RunUp Rivaux Nissan GT-R GT3, while 2016 GT300 Champion Takeshi Tsuchiya is also entered as a third driver in Max Racing’s new #244 Takanoko-no-Yu Toyota GR Supra.
And then there are three more teams that have yet to confirm their 2021 driver lineups, but are well on their way to doing so, if the entry list is an indicator.
JLOC (Japan Lamborghini Owner’s Club) will bring their two cars to the test: 2010 GT500 Champion Takashi Kogure, and Yuya Motojima, will drive their flagship #88 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo.
Their second car, the #87 Granseed Lamborghini, will be driven at the test by former Honda works driver Kosuke Matsuura, formerly of Team UPGarage – and Natsu Sakaguchi, who is set to move on from his hometown squad Team Mach after four seasons.
Team Mach, meanwhile, will test their Toyota MC86 with third-year driver Yuya Hiraki, and his younger brother Reiji Hiraki, last year’s Japanese F4 runner-up. The Hiraki brothers are co-founders of HELM Motor Sports, a team they established in 2020.
Finally, Team Red Bull Mugen have not officially named their tyre supplier for 2021, listed as “TBN” on the entry list.