Super GT 2018 Is GO! Watch LIVE
It’s the opening round of the 2018 Super GT season and what a year we have with attention on the driver’s seat focusing on former F1 Champion Jenson Button making his full time championship debut.
The three main Japanese manufacturers will once again be putting it all on the line as Honda & Nissan trying to end the dominance of Lexus which won last year’s title with the team of Ryo Hirakawa & yet another fast young Kiwi driver in Nick Cassidy.
The pair will team again in 2018 are will start the season as favorites, but pre-season testing showed that both Honda and Nissan have made major improvements and the defending champs will not have it easy.
At the official pre-season test, at Okayama, the No.6 WAKO’S 4CR LC500 (Kazuya Oshima / Felix Rosenqvist) set the best time of the two days with a record breaking lap time. The No.38 ZENT CERUMO LC500 (Yuji Tachikawa / Hiroaki Ishiura), No.36 au TOM’S LC500 (Kazuki Nakajima / Yuhi Sekiguchi), No.19 WedsSport ADVAN LC500 (Yuji Kunimoto / Kenta Yamashita), and the champions (Hirakawa / Cassidy), were also very fast putting them in the faster group of the field.
However, what caught everyone’s attention was the speed the Honda NSX-GT fleet was showing. Especially, No.17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (Koudai Tsukakoshi / Takashi Kogure) which set the quickest times in two out of the four sessions. The No.100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto / Button), No.64 Epson Modulo NSX-GT (Bertrand Baguette / Kosuke Matsuura), and No.8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri / Takuya Izawa) were slotting into the LC500 squad with comparable lap time. Even more interesting is that NSX-GT is said to be deployed with a different engine than the one that was used for testing at the season opener, therefore, the car may show even faster speed at the real race.
The NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 squad is not losing grounds either. No.12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R marked the top time of Day 2 afternoon session with colleague No.23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda / Ronnie Quintarelli) at third fastest. Considering that many teams were carrying out a race simulation at the time, GT-R can be showing its reputed toughness at the race again. Also, the squad executed a significant change on the aerodynamics as well as engine to bounce back from the previous season which they ended with just one win. In other words, the Nissan squad was not in a situation to pursue lap times yet at the Okayama official test due to the change. However, their preparation for the season opener must be going in a positive direction if you look at No.24 Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R (Joao Paulo de Oliveira / Mitsunori Takaboshi) whipping out the fastest lap time of the two days overall.
Looking at the series from a different perspective, the GT500 class will see some extraordinary rookies competing this season. The attention even from all around the globe is on Jenson Button who is competing at full time with RAYBRIG NSX-GT. The 2009 F1 world champion made his first appearance in the series through his single-race participation in the Round 6 Suzuka last year. Although he could not finish the race with a good result, it seems the race ignited the F1 champion. Considering how much he had been working energetically in the offseason tests, we may see the champion competing for the leading position from the season opener. After the similar single-race participation last year, Kamui Kobayashi is also competing full time with No.39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD LC500. Co-holder of the record of the highest finishing position by a Japanese in F1, third position, Kamui will share the wheel with Heikki Kovalainen, the 2016 GT500 champion and an F1 Grand Prix winner. It seems the duo’s car was not fully fit at the test in Okayama, but the duo could be the central force of a storm in the season. Rosenqvist, who is joining WAKO’S 4CR LC500, is a driver coming out of Formula E and Super Formula.
There are also two drivers who are stepping up from GT300, Kenta Yamashita (WedsSport ADVAN LC500) and Mitsunori Takaboshi (Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R). Both are a Japanese F3 champion and have experience in racing in GT500 through single-race participation. Two rookies were showing impressive lap times during the tests at Okayama and Fuji, especially Takaboshi marking a top time at Fuji. There is also a rookie in terms of teams, and NDDP RACING with B-MAX competing under No.3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R is stepping up from GT300. Former No.46 car driver lineup from last year, Satoshi Motoyama / Katsumasa Chiyo, will maintain the combination as they pursue the role of drivers for the team. They sure could be another subject which all the eyes would stay focused on.
MC cars look strong in GT300 but never underestimate BRZ and Mercedes.
Looking good at the test were No.25 HOPPY 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui / Sho Tsuboi) and No.2 SYNTIUM Apple LOTUS (Kazuho Takahashi / Hiroki Katoh) with a mother-chassis (MC) car. They shared the class top time of the day during the two days. With No.61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT (Takuto Iguchi / Hideki Yamauchi) also marking a top time of a session, the MC and JAF-GT300 cars with more options in suspension setup were staying true to the reputation of being quick at the technical track of Okayama.
However, if you look at the results at Okayama in recent years, you would see Mercedes AMG GT3 across many different years. In that sense, last year’s winner and runner-up, No.0 HATSUNE MIKU AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka) and No.65 LEON CVSTOS AMG (Haruki Kurosawa / Naoya Gamou), respectively, should deserve to be called a favorite despite staying calm during the test. No.55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 (Shinichi Takagi / Sean Walkinshaw) marking a session top time and No.21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS (Richard Lyons / Ryuichiro Tomita) running with decent lap times at the official test at Okayama are also likely to be in the top group.
Speaking of a topic of the season opening round, new models are at everybody’s interest also, of course. First GT3 car of Honda, NSX GT3, and the two new teams fielding the car need a close-look. No.34 Modulo KENWOOD NSX GT3 is joined by GT500 champion who knows about Honda machines inside-out, Ryo Michigami, and rookie Hiroki Otsu. No.777 CARGUY ADA NSX GT3 will have GT300 champion Naoki Yokomizo and Takeshi Kimura. For NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT3, two of new 2018 model will be deployed in the class. GAINER teams, No.10 GAINER TANAX triple a GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino / Hiroki Yoshida) and No.11 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Hironobu Yasuda), will be competing with both new model cars.
GT300 class will also see new drivers this season, and Marco Mapelli, a Lamborghini works driver, has joined No.88 MANEPA LAMBORGHINI GT3 (Kazuki Hiramine / Mapelli). We can also expect Kohei Hirate (teaming up with Koki Saga for No.31 TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT) and Yasuda (GAINER TANAX GT-R), both changing their battle field from GT500, to add excitement to the class this season.
Source: Super GT Media