Button, Kobayashi to hit the track at Suzuka test

It’s the final official test session of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, and the final tune-up at Suzuka Circuit for the teams and drivers for this August’s 46th International Suzuka 1000km: The Final.

41 teams and over 80 drivers will take part in the two-day official test session at Suzuka Circuit on June 30 and July 1, which will feature several third drivers as part of the test – including another much-anticipated outing for both Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi, the two former Formula 1 stars who will make their Super GT race debuts at the Suzuka 1000km on August 27.

Already in June, there’s been a two-day tyre test on June 6-7, for a limited number of teams at Suzuka, and on June 17-18, a two-day official test at Sportsland SUGO. NISMO led both days of the Suzuka test on their Michelin-shod #23 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R, while Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #19 WedsSport Advan Lexus LC500 paced the Sugo test this past week – all while Yokohama-clad teams paced the GT300 field in Suzuka and at Sugo.

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© GT Association

Just as it was when he was at the Suzuka tyre test earlier in June, Jenson Button will be a star attraction as the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion joins Hideki Mutoh and Daisuke Nakajima in the #16 Motul Mugen Honda NSX-GT for this two-day test – with much higher stakes than his first outing a few weeks ago.

The Honda fleet as a whole have shown tremendous improvement since receiving a special 15 kilogram weight break before Round 3 of the 2017 Super GT series at Autopolis, and there will be added motivation for the five NSX-GTs to make a good showing at Honda’s original home circuit at Suzuka – which is also a special venue for Button, a long-time Honda-affiliated F1 driver and former Japanese Grand Prix winner in 2011.

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© Toyota

Kamui Kobayashi, the new lap record holder at the Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans, will also return to Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh to partner Sekiguchi and Yuji Kunimoto in the #19 WedsSport LC500.

He’ll be part of a strong Lexus fleet that has been a perfect 3-for-3 in 2017, joined by last year’s Suzuka 1000km winners Yuji Tachikawa & Hiroaki Ishiura (Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo), last year’s GT500 Drivers’ Champions Heikki Kovalainen & Kohei Hirate (Lexus Team SARD), current GT500 championship leaders Ryo Hirakawa & Nick Cassidy (Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s), and Kazuki Nakajima & James Rossiter (Lexus Team au TOM’s) who won this race together in 2014.

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© Lexus Team SARD

In GT300, there are eight registered third drivers, headlined by another former F1 driver, as Austria’s Christian Klien will make his return to the Suzuka 1000km with Team Taisan SARD.

Klien is joined by two returning veterans: Takayuki Aoki in the #360 RunUp Nissan GT-R GT3, entering his 15th Suzuka 1000km, and Tetsuji Tamanaka, who will come out of retirement to once again drive the #5 Mach Syaken Toyota MC86 GTNET in his 16th consecutive 1000km. Tsubasa Kondo will reprise his role as third driver for VivaC Team Tsuchiya in the #25 VivaC 86 MC.

At JLOC, Yuya Motojima will test the #87 Shop Channel Lamborghini Huracán GT3, while rookie candidate Tsubasa Takahashi and veteran Koji Yamanishi will split third driver duties in the #88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

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© Porsche Carrera Cup Asia

And only one driver is registered for the test to Panther Team Thailand’s #35 Arto Toyota 86 MC 101: Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak, who last appeared in the series in the inaugural 2014 Buriram Super GT Race in Thailand with the overachieving local wildcards i-mobile AAS Racing.

Vutthikorn is a longtime Porsche Carrera Cup driver, a two-time national champion in his native Thailand, and now races in the new Blancpain GT Series Asia.

Sven Müller, one of the top rookie candidates in GT300 this season, will return to D’station Racing for the two-day test at Suzuka in the #33 D’station Porsche. He’s set to make his return to the series at the 1000km, after clearing his clashes with the ADAC GT Masters in Germany.

The #22 R’Qs Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, the #48 Shokumou.jp Nissan GT-R GT3, and the #111 EVA RT Test-01 Rn-s Mercedes-AMG GT3 will once again sit out this test, as they did at the two-day official test at Sugo two weeks ago. UPDATE: The #2 Syntium Lotus Evora MC has also been withdrawn from the entry list as of June 26.

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