The first day of official pre-season testing for the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series was held under clear skies at Okayama International Circuit, for the first leg of the first pre-season test for all the cars of the series.
It was a banner day for the debuting Lexus LC500, which was fastest in both sessions on Saturday. Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s led the way in the morning session courtesy of Ryo Hirakawa, while defending GT500 champions Lexus Team SARD were fastest in the afternoon session thanks to a best lap from Heikki Kovalainen.
The AM session got underway just before 10:00 AM JST, with all the teams eager to run their cars out onto the newly-resurfaced Okayama International Circuit. Observers would be keen to see how the GT500 manufacturers would stack up, and how the GT3 versus GT300 battle in the GT300 class would shake out.
Within a half hour, it was clear that Lexus Gazoo Racing’s fleet of six LC500s were in attack mode.
Before the end of the first hour, Hirakawa set the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500’s fastest lap of the day, a time of 1:18.149 – just 0.023 seconds slower than the lap record Hirakawa set to take pole position for last year’s Okayama race.
Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy would remain at the top of the scoring sheets the rest of the way in the KeePer TOM’s LC500, and Lexus LC500s would lead a lockout of the top six places on the leader board.
The #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen*/Kohei Hirate) was second, ahead of the #36 au TOM’s LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima*/James Rossiter), the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa*/Hiroaki Ishiura), the #6 Wako’s LC500 (Kazuya Oshima*/Andrea Caldarelli), and the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Yuji Kunimoto*/Kamui Kobayashi) completed the rest of the top six Lexus lockout.
The #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda*/Jann Mardenborough) appeared to break that Lexus stranglehold, but they could only settle for “best of the rest” in seventh, leading the Nissan fleet. The #8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri*/Takashi Kobayashi) in ninth was the fastest of the Hondas in the morning session.
In the afternoon session that started at 2:00 PM JST, Lexus would once again show their muscle around the 3.7 kilometer Okayama circuit.
The Denso SARD LC500 with the champion’s number 1 would go straight to the top of the leader board in the first half hour, with Kovalainen’s best lap time of 1:18.309 good enough to remain P1 throughout the session, but not enough to beat Hirakawa’s best time from the AM session.
A red flag was issued just after the one hour mark for two separate incidents – one including the Calsonic GT-R of Mardenborough which tangled with the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT of Koki Saga. The Calsonic team did not run the rest of the afternoon after the incident.
This time out, however, Lexus would not take all of the top six places on the leaderboard. At the very end of the session, during the ten-minute GT500 “rush hour”, the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) went to P2 thanks to a hot lap from Tsukakoshi of 1:18.387 – just 0.081 seconds away from spoiling the Lexus party at the top.
The #6 Wako’s LC500 was third, the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 fourth, and then the second-quickest of the Hondas, the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa*) in fifth to bust up the Lexus monopoly – they could “only” settle for six of the top eight places in the order.
Best of the Nissan GT-Rs was the #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R (Daiki Sasaki/João Paulo de Oliveira*) in ninth, whose best time of 1:18.705 was the best for Nissan all day.
GT300 saw some pleasant surprises to kick off the AM session, led by Super GT rookie Shintaro Kawabata, who put the #18 Upgarage Bandoh Toyota 86 MC (with Yuhki Nakayama) on top in the morning session with a time of 1:25.693.
The #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga*/Rintaro Kubo) was second-quickest, and the #50 Ferrari 488 GT3 of INGING & Arnage Racing (Akihiro Tsuzuki/Morio Nitta*) led the GT300 contingent with the third-fastest time of the morning.
The #5 Mach Syaken 86MC GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami) brought out the only red flag of the AM session.
In the afternoon, Nissan struck back from their underwhelming GT500 results, as the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi) went to the top. Takaboshi rattled off two hot laps in succession in the second hour, and set a new unofficial GT300 lap record with his best time of 1:25.568 – 0.018 seconds faster than the official lap record held by Takeshi Tsuchiya and the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC.
Speaking of the defending champions at VivaC Team Tsuchiya, they rebounded from doing just eight laps in the morning session due to mechanical issues, to 60 laps and the second-fastest time of the afternoon, Takamitsu Matsui going fastest for he and co-drivers Kenta Yamashita and the aforementioned Tsuchiya.
The #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons*/Masataka Yanagida) was third-fastest, the #33 D’Station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tomonobu Fujii*/Sven Müller) fourth, then the defending Okayama race winners in the #65 LEON Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou*) in fifth and the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport (Takuto Iguchi/Hideki Yamauchi*) giving six different cars and manufacturers in the top six.
The red flag for the aforementioned incident with Saga and Mardenborough in the PM session was initially for the #35 Arto Toyota 86 MC (Nattavude Charoensukhawatana/Nattapong Horthongkum) stopping at Attwood Curve.
Of the new GT300 models, the #51 JMS P.MU Lexus RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi*) was quickest, ninth in the PM session, and twelfth in combined results from the first day.