Musical chairs at this weekend’s Fuji tests

The life of a sports car endurance racer is a busy one. Ideally, it involves thousands of miles worth of racing, and even more miles in transit from one race track to another, often in different parts of the world. For some of the drivers in the Autobacs Super GT Series, this is no different.

Six notable drivers will be absent from this weekend’s final pre-season test at Fuji Speedway on March 25-26 due to racing commitments elsewhere: Kazuki Nakajima (Lexus Team au TOM’s), Yuji Kunimoto (Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh), Takamitsu Matsui (VivaC Team Tsuchiya), Naoya Gamou (K2 R&D LEON Racing), Jörg Müller (BMW Team Studie), and Sven Müller (D’Station Racing).

Here’s what they’ll be up to this weekend while their Super GT colleagues test at Fuji.

In Germany, the first round of the VLN Endurance Series takes place at the fabled Nürburgring Nordschliefe in Germany, this one a four-hour enduro around the “Green Hell”.

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© Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing will run a Lexus RC in the SP3T category for cars carrying 2000cc of endgine capacity or lower in this opening VLN round, as a tune-up race for the Nürburgring 24 Hours on May 27-28.

Reigning GT300 champion Takamitsu Matsui and Naoya Gamou will race for TGR in the Lexus RC this weekend, to be joined by Takuto Iguchi and a Toyota factory driver to be determined for the 24 hour race later on. Iguchi will stay in Japan this weekend to test for Subaru R&D Sport.

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© BMW

Also driving at this weekend’s opening VLN event is Jörg Müller, who has a great record of success at the Nürburgring as a two-time winner of the 24 hour race in 2004 and 2010.

The long-time BMW factory ace will be in Germany this weekend, piloting Schubert Motorsport’s #20 BMW M6 GT3 with Canadian co-drivers Kumo Wittmer and Bruno Spengler.

Matsui, Gamou, and Müller will race this weekend with a cast of notable Super GT alumni including Tom Coronel, Romain Dumas, Frédéric Makowiecki, Jörg Bergmeister, Alexandre Imperatori, and Christian Mamerow.

We want to wish all of the drivers, team members, and spectators attending and participating in this weekend’s VLN event a safe and successful weekend. Live coverage will be provided on vln.de and radiolemans.com.

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© Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota’s involvement in the FIA World Endurance Championship will also affect their Super GT programme in 2017.

It has been known for months that Kazuki Nakajima, who returns to Super GT this season for the first time since 2014, will not be able to attend this year’s Fuji GT 500km Race on May 4, as he will participate in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 6 for the Toyota LMP1 team.

Newly-appointed team director at Lexus Team au TOM’s, Daisuke Ito, will test in Nakajima’s place this weekend, and will come off the pit box to race in the Fuji 500km with regular co-driver James Rossiter. It is expected to be Ito’s final Super GT race as a driver, the 2007 GT500 champion withholding plans on his racing future until after this season.

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© Toyota Gazoo Racing

Also missing from the Fuji test entry list is defending Super Formula champion, Yuji Kunimoto of Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh.

While no announcement has been made yet, the expectation is that he will be appointed as one of the drivers of a third Toyota TS050 Hybrid that will compete in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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© Toshikazu Moriyama / AUTOSPORTweb

Reigning All-Japan Formula Three champion Kenta Yamashita has already tested for the WedsSport team in a private test this off-season, and the 21-year-old will take Kunimoto’s place in the WedsSport Advan LC500 this weekend.

Should Kunimoto’s talents be required at Spa-Francorchamps on May 6, Yamashita, who regularly drives for VivaC Team Tsuchiya this year, will be the likeliest candidate to fill in for Bandoh at the Fuji 500km alongside Yuhi Sekiguchi.

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© Porsche Japan

With Yamashita testing the #19 WedsSport LC500, and Matsui in Germany, VivaC Team Tsuchiya have nominated former Team Taisan SARD driver Tsubasa Kondo to drive the #25 VivaC Toyota 86 MC this weekend, partnering Takeshi Tsuchiya, who will focus on his chief engineer role and only race part-time (if at all) in 2017.

In the event that Yamashita is needed to replace Kunimoto at the Fuji 500km, Kondo, the 27-year-old Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion, is likely to join the VivaC 86 team alongside last year’s regular driving duo of Matsui and Tsuchiya for the Golden Week race.

One last note – it was expected that Sven Müller would be at this weekend’s VLN race as a Porsche driver, but his name did not appear on the first draft of the entry list. Nonetheless, he is still absent from this weekend’s test at Fuji, replaced by André Couto in the D’Station Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R. Updates on Müller’s alternate plans will be made available as soon as possible.

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