The first round of testing in the lead up to the 46th International Suzuka 1000km: The Final commenced with two days and four sessions of tyre manufacturer tests at Suzuka Circuit on Tuesday June 6 and Wednesday June 7.
Though the star attraction of the tests was the debuting 2009 Formula 1 World Champion, Jenson Button, it was the NISMO team and the #23 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R which set the fastest time of both days of testing, and the fastest time in all three dry-weather test sessions on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning.
Regular NISMO drivers Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli joined Satoshi Motoyama and Katsumasa Chiyo of the #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R crew, and it was Quintarelli who set the fastest time of the session – a 1:47.501 on Day 2 – getting to within 0.045 seconds of the GT500 lap record at Suzuka.
Day 1 of the test centered around Button’s first competitive Super GT test aboard the #16 Motul Mugen Honda NSX-GT, and the former Japanese GP winner and World Drivers’ Champion immediately set out to get as much track time as possible.
On the first day alone, Button drove 30+ laps, and set a personal best lap time of 1:51.785. He then improved to a 1:49.706, the fifth fastest overall time of the day, during the Wednesday morning test – just before rainfall interrupted the running for the rest of the second and final day. Knowing of the inclement conditions to come for Wednesday, Button would not take part in the fourth and final test – but was still very much encouraged by the results of his first test.
“I got a very good impression of the NSX-GT,” Button said during a press conference on Tuesday morning. “The GT500 machines have a lot of down-force and are very fast. It felt like a small F1 car. From here on, I want to quickly get a good grasp of the machine’s characteristics so I can contribute to the team.”
Button’s best lap of 1:49.706 was also good enough for seventh overall during the cumulative test, with all eight GT500 teams clearing the sub-1 minute 50 second barrier during the week.
Up front, the NISMO team and their Michelin-clad GT-R were quick and competitive all week long. Motoyama and Chiyo set the fastest time of Tuesday morning’s opening test, with a 1:48.502. Matsuda and Quintarelli took over and were fastest on Tuesday afternoon, improving to a 1:48.204.
Finally, on Wednesday morning, they set a best lap of 1:47.501, fastest of all during the week, the only car to break the sub-1:48 barrier, and just 0.045 seconds away from Hideki Mutoh’s lap record set during qualifying for last year’s Suzuka 1000km, a 1:47.456.
Quintarelli told Ryuji Hirano of AUTOSPORTweb that “the feeling of the car was the best it had been since we started running the 2017-spec car.”
Second-fastest was the Dunlop-clad #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette/Kosuke Matsuura), with a 1:48.438. They seemed to have a distinct straight-line speed advantage, topping out at speeds over 326 km/h (202 miles per hour) during both days of testing.
Third-fastest was the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura), which set its best time of a 1:48.647 on Tuesday morning. Fourth was the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure), which also led the fourth and final test under wet conditions with a 1:56.164. The #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Jann Mardenborough) was sixth, then the three Yokohama Advan cars: The #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R (Daiki Sasaki/João Paulo de Oliveira) sixth, and the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 (Yuhi Sekiguchi) eighth, sandwiching the Mugen NSX of Button, Mutoh, and Daisuke Nakajima.
In GT300, the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 GT3-R (Jono Lester/Kyosuke Mineo) got to within a half-second of the GT300 lap record, setting an outright best time of 1:58.256 during Wednesday morning’s test. Second-fastest was the #30 Toyota Prius apr GT (Hiroaki Nagai/Kota Sasaki), and then in third, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka).
The #60 Syntium LMcorsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto) was fastest on Tuesday afternoon, but their programme was halted early due to a mechanical failure on the car, and did not run on Wednesday.
The next two test sessions will be Official Tests, the first at Sportsland SUGO on June 16-17, and the second at Suzuka once again, on June 30-July 1.
Feature Image Credit: © Ryuji Hirano / AUTOSPORTweb