Super GT Japan 2016 season preview: Lots of new cars on the grid
The Japanese Autobacs Super GT Series is ready to start. The 2016 season of the biggest Asian GT competition will kick off this weekend at the Okayama International Circuit. Fifteen cars in GT500 category and thirty cars in GT300 class are on the entry list, with 90 drivers listed. There are lots of new names in the driver line-ups and six completely new cars in the garages.
GT500 class will be again represented with three different cars of Japanese manufacturers. For the third year in a row, since new rules are introduced in 2014, GT500 cars are using 2.0L turbo engines with about 550 hp. Lexus will have six RC-F cars, there will be five Honda NSX Concept-GTs and four Nissan GT-Rs.
In GT300 class, twelve different manufacturers will be represented. Six European brands will bring the new models which will have their Japanese racing debuts at Okayama. Mercedes AMG-GT, BMW M6 GT3, Ferrari 488 GT3 and Lamborghini Huracan GT3 are the all-new models while some teams will run with the latest generations of Porsche 911 GT3 R and Audi R8 LMS. The main Japanese representatives are Nissan GT-R GT3 and Lexus RC-F GT3.
Defending champions will stay together
The defending GT500 champions Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli will stay together for another year in the #1 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R entered by Nismo. The #12 Calsonic Nissan GT-R of Team Impul, which took second place n 2015, will be driven by the same crew as before – Hironobu Yasuda and Joao Paulo Lima de Oliveira.
Two more Nissan GT-Rs will be entered by Mola and Kondo Racing. Katsumasa Chiyo will drive the #46 GT-R alongside Satoshi Motoyama. Although Chiyo was officially the rookie in the GT500 class, he is a well- known racer who won last year’s Blancpain Endurance Series and scored two victories with Gainer’s GT-R GT3 in GT300 class, so he can help Mola team to reach the top in the final classification. The drivers of the #24 Kondo Racing’s GT-R will be Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida.
Lexus RC F was a fastest car at the official test
At the official Super GT test held at Okayama, some teams showed the performance which put them among the favourites. The fastest lap times were made by the #6 WAKO’S Lexus RC F of Lexus Team Le Mans and #37 Keeper TOM’s Lexus RC F of Lexus Team TOM’s. The #6 Lexus was driven by Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli while the #37 crew were James Rossiter and Ryo Hirakawa.
The Lexus Team TOM’s will have one more car. The #36 Lexus RC F has a new sponsor (au instead of Petronas) and the new driver. The New Zealander Nick Cassidy, who won the 2015 Japanese F3 Championship and is currently leading the Formula 3 European Championship, will debut at Okayama alongside Daisuke Ito. The #38 Lexus RC F of the Lexus Team Zent Cerumo will be driven by experienced drivers Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura.
Honda NSX cars without hybrid systems
Two more Lexus RC Fs are on the entry list. The #19 car of the Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh will be driven by Yuhi Sekiguchi and Yuji Kunimoto while in the #39 car of the Lexus Team SARD the drivers will be Kohei Hirate and former F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen.
Five Honda NSX Concept-GT cars are entering the competition without the hybrid system, which they were using in the previous two years. The teams which are running with Honda cars have no time for adaptation, so they will see in the racing conditions how competitive the new car is.
The teams with NSX cars are Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (#8), Drago Modulo Honda Racing (#15), Keihin Real Racing (#17), Nakajima Racing (#64) and Team Kunimitsu (#100). All five Honda teams will run with experienced drivers. Eight of them are Japanese, only foreigners are Oliver Turvey (Drago Modulo) and Bertrand Baguette (Nakajima Racing).
The new Prius against new European rivals
There will be lot more new drivers in GT300 category, because the number of the teams which announced the full-season participation is double than in GT500 class. We already mentioned new European cars in GT300 class, but there will be also new Japanese contender. The apr team will run brand-new Toyota Prius GT, based on new production model that went on sale in December last year. The #31 apr Prius won last year at Okayama, so the expectations of Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama are high. The other apr’s car #30 will be driven by Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki.
Last year’s GT300 champion Andre Couto will share the cockpit of the #0 Gainer Tanax Nissan GT-R GT3 with Ryuichiro Tomita. Last year they were teammates in four of eight races so Couto was alone on the top of the final championship classification.
Gainer will run Nissan and Mercedes
The Gainer team will have one more car on the grid, the brand new #11 Mercedes AMG-GT for Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Bjorn Wirdheim. Four more similar Mercedes cars were chosen by Goodsmile Racing, R’Qs Motor Sports, Leon Racing and Rn-sports.
BMW Team Studie replaced Z4 GT3 with M6 GT3. The drivers will remain the same – Jorg Muller and Seiji Ara. The second BMW M6 GT3 was chosen by the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri. Three teams will use updated Audi R8 LMS and two teams will run with the new generation of the Porsche 911 GT3 R.
New Italians on the grid
Two Italian brands will be again on the grid but with completely new cars. Lamborghini Gallardo was retired and replaced with Huracan GT3 in the garages of the Team Direction and JLOC team. Both teams will have two cars. The one and only #51 Ferrari 488 GT3 will be driven by LM Corsa drivers. The same team will also run the #60 Lexus RC F GT3.
Besides championship defending #0 Nissan GT-R GT3 there will be three more GT-Rs of NDDP, Dijon Racing and Tomei Sports. The new member of the #3 B-Max NDDP team is a young Brit Jann Mardenborough, knows as a winner of Nissan’s GT Academy. He will drive alongside his mentor Kazuki Hoshino.
2016 season features eigth races
After the season-opening 300-km race at Okayama International Circuit on April 10th, the championship will continue at Fuji Speedway on May 4th. The 2016 season features eight races, six of them are 300-km races, in August the 1000-km race at Fuji will be held and the finale will be the 250-km race at Twin Ring Motegi on November 13th.