Lexus vehicles topped both the GT500 and GT300 leaderboards during Saturday practice for Round 4 of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series at Sportsland SUGO, the Sugo GT 300km Race.
Thanks to a brilliant final lap in the last minutes of the 1 hour, 45 minute free practice, Andrea Caldarelli helped put the #6 Wako’s 4CR LC500 (with Kazuya Oshima) at the top in the top class, with all three manufacturers inside the top three at the end of the session.
GT300 was led by the #60 Syntium LMcorsa Lexus RC F GT3 (Akira Iida/Hiroki Yoshimoto), with Yoshimoto setting his best time during the first hour of a practice session that saw a few hair-raising incidents.
There were only two red flags: The first for a spin involving Kazuho Takahashi in the #2 Syntium Lotus Evora MC (with Hiroki Katoh) at the exit of the S-Curves in Sector 2, and the second with 20 minutes to go, when Kohei Hirate in the #1 Denso Kobelco SARD LC500 (with Heikki Kovalainen) went off at SP-Out corner and crashed head-on into the sponge barriers, incurring minor damage.
Even after off-season renovations that included the addition of paved runoff at the SP corners, they still proved a challenge for a number of drivers – such as Kiyoto Fujinami in the #5 Mach Syaken MC86 GTNET (with Natsu Sakaguchi), who had a heavy hit and suffered some rear-end damage in the first hour.
The top car in the GT500 championship standings, the #37 KeePer TOM’s LC500 (Ryo Hirakawa/Nick Cassidy*) was the first to dip into the 1 minute 12s range, but his best time in the final ten minutes was ultimately eclipsed by Caldarelli, who posted a 1:12.394 on his last flying lap – nearly two seconds slower than the current track record, set by Caldarelli’s co-driver Oshima during last year’s qualifying session.
Second was the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri/Takashi Kobayashi*) with a 1:12.489, less than a tenth of a second slower than Caldarelli and the Wako’s LC500. Both Autobacs Racing Team Aguri cars were equipped with onboard cameras that will be shown during the weekend.
In third, and best of the Nissans, was last year’s race-winning car, the #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R (Daiki Sasaki*/João Paulo de Oliveira) with a 1:12.505 – the best of the Yokohama-clad cars as well. The #17 Keihin NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure*) and the #36 au TOM’s LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima*/James Rossiter) completed the top five in GT500.
GT300 was led by the 43rd and final pre-qualifier for this weekend’s race, the Syntium LM Corsa Lexus, after Yoshimoto set his fastest lap of a 1:19.670 during the first hour of practice.
That time withstood a barrage in the final ten minutes, with the second and third best times belonging to the #3 B-Max NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino*/Mitsunori Takaboshi) just 0.072 seconds slower, and the championship-leading #25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui/Kenta Yamashita*) just 0.095 seconds back as the best of the JAF-GT/MC cars.
Three Mother Chassis cars made it into the top six, with the #18 Upgarage Bandoh 86 (Yuhki Nakayama*/Shintaro Kawabata) fourth, and a great sixth-place effort from the #52 GreenBrave Mark X MC (Taku Bamba/Shigekazu Wakisaka*).
The two Audi R8 LMSes had a great practice as well, with the #26 Taisan SARD R8 Fukushima (Shinnosuke Yamada/Jake Parsons) 5th and the #21 Hitotsuyama R8 LMS (Richard Lyons*/Masataka Yanagida) 10th. The rest of the top ten were all German makes as well: The #65 LEON Cvstos AMG (Haruki Kurosawa*/Naoya Gamou) was 7th, the Spa-bound #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi*/Tatsuya Kataoka) 8th, and the #9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 (Jono Lester*/Kyosuke Mineo) 9th.