The Autobacs Super GT Series conducted its fourth and final in-season official test at Suzuka Circuit on June 30 and July 1, in preparation for next month’s Suzuka 1000km: The Final on August 27.
Over the course of two days, four sessions, and over ten hours of testing with conditions that ranged from a full wet start to a fine and dry finish, it was NISMO’s #23 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R, piloted by Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli, which set the best time of both days of the test.
Quintarelli’s best time from Day 1 on Friday was followed up by the #19 WedsSport Advan Lexus LC500 of Yuhi Sekiguchi, Yuji Kunimoto, and Kamui Kobayashi setting the best time in Day 2 on Saturday.
Friday morning’s session began under heavy rain at 9:30 AM local time. Two red flags were presented for incidents involving the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT (Koki Saga/Rintaro Kubo) and the #35 Arto Toyota 86 MC 101 (Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak), as the drivers carefully, deliberately navigated the 5.8 kilometer circuit.
Out of that wet first session, it was the Honda NSX-GTs who impressed the most, putting four of their five cars inside the top five of the leaderboard – led by the #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure), with Tsukakoshi setting the car’s best time of 1:57.320, a second better than the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa*) with a 1:58.316.
Bridgestone continued to demonstrate their wet-weather excellence as the Potenza-clad #65 LEON Cvstos Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Haruki Kurosawa/Naoya Gamou*) led the GT300 class in Session 1 with a 2:07.092. So too did Dunlop, which got their #64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette*/Kosuke Matsuura) fifth on the board in GT500, and three of their four cars in the top six in GT300, led by the #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons*/Masataka Yanagida).
As conditions improved during Session 2, starting at 1:00 PM on Friday, it allowed for the fastest times of the two-day session on a green track.
Quintarelli put the Motul Autech GT-R on top of the leaderboards in the middle of the three-hour session, eventually improving to a best lap time of 1:47.944 – getting to within a half-second of Hideki Mutoh’s lap record from 2016. NISMO team director Yutaka Suzuki credited the improvements that Michelin had made to their tyres over the course of the spring break for their improved form at the Suzuka test.
Second in Session 2 was the Keihin NSX-GT (Kogure), followed by the defending Suzuka 1000km champions, the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa*/Hiroaki Ishiura) – putting all three manufacturers on top to finish off the first day of the test.
Nissan led the way in both classes on the first day, headed up by the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino/Mitsunori Takaboshi*) which set the best time of the test in GT300 with a 1:58.379 from Takaboshi.
Second-place was the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka*), with the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 (Jono Lester*/Kyosuke Mineo) third ahead of the #21 Hitotsuyama R8 (Lyons) in a session dominated by the FIA GT3 class cars, with the #30 Toyota Prius apr GT (Hiroaki Nagai/Kota Sasaki*) the only JAF-GT300/MC car in the top ten in 9th.
The rain and clouds of Friday gave way to sunny skies on Saturday, though amazingly enough, no teams managed to improve on their benchmarks from Day 1.
Still, Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh could take pride in pacing the second day of the test, as Sekiguchi set the car’s best time of 1:48.975 in the Saturday morning session from 8:30 AM. They beat out a triumverate of Nissan GT-Rs, with the Motul Autech GT-R (Matsuda) second, and the #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Jann Mardenborough*) third – despite bringing out a red flag in the middle of the session at the Degner curves.
The #46 S Road Craftsports GT-R (Satoshi Motoyama/Katsumasa Chiyo*) was fourth, and the top four were all within just 0.111 seconds of one another in GT500.
The GT300 side produced a bit of a surprise from the #50 INGING & Arnage Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Akihiro Tsuzuki and Morio Nitta, with Nitta putting out the car’s fastest lap of a 1:59.636 – a time that stood as the best of Saturday.
For the fourth and final session, long-run race simulations became the focus over outright fastest laps for most of the teams in the paddock. The ZENT Cerumo LC500 (Ishiura) and the Hatsune Miku AMG (Kataoka) set the fastest times in their respective classes for the fourth and final sessions.
All teams were said to be running at similar ballast levels to what they will use at Rounds 4 and 5 of the championship at Sportsland SUGO and Fuji International Speedway respectively.
With 2009 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion, Jenson Button, being one of the star attractions of this test and the upcoming Suzuka 1000km, he drove a total of 63 laps with a best time of 1:49.283 on Friday.
Also at the test was Le Mans record lap holder Kamui Kobayashi, who did 66 laps and a best lap of 1:51.679 during the Saturday afternoon session.
Next up for the Super GT Series is Round 4 of the championship, at Sportsland SUGO, on July 23.