The brilliant Honda CR-Z GT is sadly no more, but it does hold the official GT300 class lap record around Sportsland Sugo with a benchmark of 1:19.107 – at least, for now.
We take you on a guided lap around Sugo, in the legendary ARTA CR-Z, with track record holder Shinichi Takagi. This layout was first opened in 1987, remains unchanged after nearly thirty years – and still remains one of the most challenging and rewarding circuits to drive in all of Japanese motorsport.
Turns 1, 2, and 3
Drivers will approach speeds near or in excess of 250 kilometers per hour down the uphill and downhill front straightaway before braking downhill for the first of two third-gear right-hand corners. Turn 1 is a prime overtaking spot on the circuit, and perhaps the easiest corner to misjudge. It is possible to overtake on the outside groove, but still very risky.
The exit to turn 2, another third-gear corner, overlaps with a fairly tricky pit exit for those merging back onto the track.
One thing that will be different this year as opposed to last, is the addition of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Bridge, installed just before the entrance to Turn 1.
Drivers will grab fourth gear going into the first left-hand corner, turn 3, which has just enough camber in it to allow the cars to carry a little extra speed as they use all the kerbing available on exit.
Hairpin and S-Curves
From there, it’s an uphill run through turn four, known as the hairpin – the only second-gear corner on the circuit, and a decent overtaking point if you can decisively get past the other car on the run up to the S-Curves. Drivers will prefer a wide line out of the hairpin to get the car planted for the left-right S-Curves sequence.
The S-Curves are taken in third gear, but it is crucial not to clip too much of the kerbing, as they raise dramatically the further the cars attack the kerbs. This will, of course, severely unsettle the car.
Hi-Point and Rainbow Curves
The seventh corner is Hi-Point, a tricky corner to judge correctly as the apex comes just after a blind uphill crest.
Upon exit, the gradient starts to fall away into the downhill Rainbow Curve. Both Hi-Point and Rainbow are third-gear corners that cannot be taken flat-out. The exit to Rainbow is crucial, ideally drivers will want to get back on the throttle just past the apex marker to get a good run of momentum down the backstretch, which goes downhill, past a slight right-hand kink (Backstretch Curve), and into the next heavy braking area.
Horseback and SP Curves
Horseback Curve is another potential overtaking zone, a third-gear corner that has just enough camber in it to allow the cars to carry additional speed. Out of Horseback, cars will continue to point the car to the right to set up for the first of two left-hand, fourth-gear corners known as SP-In and SP-Out.
There’s another small crest on the approach to SP-In, and Takagi taps the brake right after the top of that crest. Just a little bit of braking is needed to roll the car safely through SP-In, and then SP-Out can be taken with just a slight lift of the throttle, as the track once again falls downhill before the final crucial corner – the famous 110R.
110R is Sugo’s signature right-hand corner that is taken in fifth gear. It starts going downhill, then drastically climbs uphill. It is heavily-cambered, and puts a lot of stress on the left-front tyre. Getting this corner right is extremely crucial, as the exit to 110R can become a prime passing opportunity if done correctly. Get it wrong, and there is very little run-off area before the car ends up planted in a tyre barrier.
Takagi lifts off just enough on entry to roll the car gently into the apex, then smoothly gets back on the throttle as the corner starts to go uphill. There’s a visible reference marker: A seldom-used right-left-right chicane used for other categories, that sits just off to the side – as does the karting circuit
Carrying as much momentum as possible is critical to finishing the lap strong, as the track climbs further uphill, and the drivers power their way underneath the famous Dunlop bridge at the crest of the front straightaway.
Though it has quite a degree of elevation changes throughout the lap, Sugo is not a very bumpy circuit.
We can expect the new lap record for GT300 cars to fall somewhere in the high 1:17s range or the low 1:18s range, as seen in testing this June. GT500 cars will threaten to set the first sub-1:10s lap time after getting down to the low 1:10s range in testing.
For another vantage point of Sugo, here is Hiroki Katoh’s 2010 pole lap (with narration), aboard the infamous Mooncraft Shiden RT-16 that would win the GT300 category the next day.