Saturday’s opening practice session for the Autobacs Super GT Series Sugo GT 300km Race was led by last year’s race winners, the Raybrig Honda NSX-GT of Team Kunimitsu, and drivers Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa.
Yamamoto set the fastest time in the morning session with a 1:11.057 lap around the 3.7 kilometer circuit. The Raybrig NSX was one of eleven cars in GT500 to eclipse the existing track record from last year’s qualifying.
In second place was the S Road MOLA Nissan GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama / Katsumasa Chiyo), with Chiyo setting the car’s best time with a 1:11.189. Just seven one-thousandths of a second slower, in third place, was the ARTA NSX (Kosuke Matsuura / Tomoki Nojiri) – Nojiri set the car’s quickest time of a 1:11.196.
Yuji Kunimoto was fourth-quickest aboard the WedsSport Advan Lexus RC-F (shared with Yuhi Sekiguchi) with a 1:11.209, with Hironobu Yasuda in fifth aboard the Calsonic Impul GT-R (with Joao Paulo de Oliveira) – his best time a 1:11.223.
The Keihin Real Racing NSX (Tsukakoshi / Kogure) was sixth, followed by the Wako’s RC-F (Oshima / Caldarelli) in seventh, the Forum Engineering Advan GT-R (Sasaki / Yanagida) in eighth with a session high 51 laps completed, ninth was the ZENT Cerumo RC-F (Tachikawa / Ishiura), with the KeePer TOM’s RC-F (Rossiter / Hirakawa) tenth. Rossiter sat out the first forty-five minutes of this session due to penalty points accrued.
Just 0.826 seconds covered the first through fourteenth placed cars in GT500. The lone straggler was the Epson Nakajima Racing NSX (Daisuke Nakajima / Bertrand Baguette), with a best lap of 1:13.253 – nearly a second and a half slower than the fastest car.
The Subaru R&D Sport BRZ of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi paced the GT300 class, but a late crash by Iguchi at the SP-Out curve may have rendered their benchmark little more than a pyrrhic victory.
Yamauchi turned in the car’s fastest lap of a 1:18.592 before turning the car over to Iguchi. As he continued to put the newly-upgraded Subaru BRZ through its paces, Iguchi clipped too much of the kerb at the left-hand SP-Out curve and crashed into the foam barriers at the edge of the track. The impact was enough to leave Iguchi shaken, though he was unhurt.
However, the car suffered significant front and rear damage, leaving its status doubtful for qualifying.
JAF-GT300 spec cars swept the top three places, with the BRZ’s similar looking cousins taking second and third. The VivaC Toyota 86 MC of defending Sugo winners, Takeshi Tsuchiya and Takamitsu Matsui, was second quickest with a 1:18.638, followed by the Upgarage 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama / Shinnosuke Yamada) in third, just 0.053 seconds adrift of the sister 86.
Fastest of the FIA GT3 spec cars was the Leon Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Haruki Kurosawa / Naoya Gamou) in fourth, ahead of the Gainer Tanax AMG (Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Bjorn Wirdheim). Tim Bergmeister’s return to Super GT has gone well so far, as his Excellence Porsche 911 GT3-R (shared with Naoya Yamano) was sixth-fastest – by far Porsche’s best showing of the year.
The #31 apr Toyota Prius GT (Saga / Yuichi Nakayama) was seventh, the ARTA BMW M6 (Takagi / Kobayashi) was a solid eighth-fastest, with the Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Fujii / Lyons) ninth and the JMS LM Corsa Ferrari 488 (Nitta / Tsuzuki) tenth fastest, despite going into the gravel at turn 1 early in the session. The Gulf NAC Porsche (Yoshida / Sakaguchi) set a session-high 46 laps.
One of the pre-race favorites, the Syntium Apple Lotus Evora (Hiroki Katoh / Kazuho Takahashi), did only seven timed laps, spending most of the session in the garage with a yet to be determined issue.