Yuji Tachikawa may be the “Fuji-meister” with his seven career victories at Fuji International Speedway, but it was his Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo co-driver, Hiroaki Ishiura, who put their #38 ZENT Cerumo Lexus LC500 on top of Wednesday’s free practice session for the Fuji GT 500km Race.
Lexus LC500s took another 1-2 on the leaderboard in GT500, but with Nissan and Honda putting three and two of their cars in the top ten respectively, the balance of power between the GT500 manufacturers seems a little bit closer – if only in the final minutes of a practice session marred by a long red flag for a crash involving Tomei Sports’ #360 RunUp Nissan GT-R GT3.
Ishiura set his fastest lap with just two minutes left in the one hour, 45 minute long practice session, a time of 1:28.691 – just 0.070 seconds faster than the fastest lap from last year’s first practice session, despite the GT500 cars reaching top speeds in excess of 305 kilometers per hour on the front stretch.
The #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli*) led most of the session, but finished the practice in second place, by a scant margin of 0.021 seconds. They’re one of the heavier cars in the field, carrying 30 kilograms of Success Ballast for finishing 2nd at Okayama in April.
After a difficult weekend at Okayama, the #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Katsumasa Chiyo*) got their Fuji 500km preparations underway by going third-fastest, less than a half-second off the leaders.
With the #23 Motul Autech GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli*) seventh and the #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R (Daiki Sasaki/João Paulo de Oliveira*) eighth, the GT-R fleet has found improved speed at a track where they’ve won five of the last six races since 2014.
Best of the Honda NSX-GTs was the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto*/Takuya Izawa), which was sixth fastest, behind the #36 au TOM’s LC500 (James Rossiter/Daisuke Ito*) in fourth and the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 (Heikki Kovalainen/Kohei Hirate*) in fifth.
Okayama race winners Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy were 9th-fastest in the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500, carrying 40 kilograms of ballast on board this weekend at Fuji.
In GT300, the #33 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Tomonobu Fujii*/Sven Müller was quickest of an ultra-competitive field in which the top eighteen cars were separated by less than a second, and the top ten were separated by less than three-tenths of a second.
Fujii, coming off his second straight win to open the 2017 Super Taikyu season just days ago, set his fastest lap of 1:37.057 in the final ten minutes for GT300 cars. The 911 GT3-R seems to have a strong top-end speed advantage, particularly on the 1.475 kilometer front straight.
Second-fastest was the #51 JMS P.MU LM Corsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama/Sho Tsuboi*), one of the favourite cars at Toyota Motor Corporation’s “home circuit” finishing just 0.058 seconds adrift of the best time from the D’station Porsche.
Third-fastest, and best of the JAF-GT300/MC cars, was the #18 Upgarage 86 MC (Yuhki Nakayama*/Shintaro Kawabata). The only other Mother Chassis cars to crack the top 18 were the #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui*/Tsubasa Kondo) in ninth, and the #5 Mach Syaken 86 GTNET (Natsu Sakaguchi/Kiyoto Fujinami in fourteenth.
The #65 Leon Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa*/Naoya Gamou) and the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka*) finished fourth and sixth respectively despite carrying over 30 kilograms of ballast aboard this weekend, after the Miku AMG won and the Leon AMG finished second at Okayama. They sandwiched the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi*) in fifth.
In the second hour, Atsushi Tanaka in the #360 RunUp GT-R (with Yusaku Shibata/Takayuki Aoki) suffered a left rear tyre blowout at the end of the front stretch, spinning from 260 km/h and sustaining a hard rear impact with the inside armco barrier, which brought out a lengthy red flag.
56-year-old Tanaka, making his first race appearance of the season, got out of his car unassisted. However, the damage of the car appears serious enough to knock them out for the rest of the meeting, certainly for the rest of Wednesday’s running.
If the #360 GT-R withdraws due to the crash damage, they would join INGING & Arnage Racing, who withdrew prior to the start of practice – and would leave 28 cars to take the start tomorrow. For what it’s worth, they were sixteenth-quickest in GT300 practice.