Kovalainen fears pre-season testing form was an "illusion"
Heikki Kovalainen admits he's concerned the SARD Toyota's strong SUPER GT pre-season testing form may have been an "illusion" after managing just one point for 10th last weekend at Motegi.
Prior to the season, ex-Formula 1 racer Kovalainen was buoyed by a winter he described as the best he and SARD had had since their 2016 title success, praising the progress the team had made under the leadership of new-for-2020 team director Juichi Wakisaka.
But the first three rounds of the season haven't gone according to plan for Kovalainen and his teammate in the #39 Toyota GR Supra, Yuichi Nakayama, who finished fourth in the Okayama season opener before slipping to sixth at Fuji and then 10th in Sunday's Motegi round.
"We didn’t have enough pace, it’s as simple as that," Kovalainen told Motorsport.com. "We didn’t deserve any more than one point, and we wouldn’t have even got that if some cars didn’t have problems.
"The car balance all weekend didn’t feel as good as it did in previous events. I wasn’t able to go forwards in the race, I was stuck in the group at the back and didn’t have the legs to make any real progress. We stopped a bit late as well and we probably lost some positions from that.
"I think I was the only one on the soft tyre and it didn’t feel that great. It was consistent but in these conditions the grip level wasn’t high. The hard tyre seemed better, but I don’t know if that’s the main reason we struggled or not.
"We didn’t finish that far behind the group from sixth position, behind the #3 [NDDP/B-Max] Nissan. We just didn’t have the pace to get ahead of anyone in that queue, and it was very hard to pass."
After Nakayama qualified down in 12th place on Saturday, Kovalainen was unable to make any real progress in the opening stint before coming on lap 29 of 63 to hand over to Nakayama.
The duo were on course to finish outside of the points before gaining positions when both the Nakajima Racing and Real Racing Hondas hit problems, causing both to drop out of the race.
Following qualifying, Kovalainen said SARD had experimented with a set-up more in line with Nakayama's preferences, complaining of a lack of running on fresh tyres, but said the team had returned to a "baseline" set-up for the race.
"It’s a strange situation," he added. "The TOM’S cars are where we should be, and we don’t seem to be able to make that step. At times during the winter we felt close, but in all three races we haven’t been able to capitalise on that promise that was there in the winter.
"Whether it was a real promise or an illusion, I don’t know. At the moment it looks like it was an illusion."
Kovalainen and Nakayama now sit seventh out of the 15 GT500 crews in the points table, and fifth among the six Toyota GR Supra squads.
Their tally of 14 points mean they will carry a 28kg success handicap for next month's fourth round of the season at Suzuka.
"The margins are still small," said Kovalainen. "We don’t need to find a second per lap, just a few tenths. But in SUPER GT the margins are so tight, and if we could qualify in the top four the race would be very different.
"I don’t like this trend of always being behind and having to wait for the top cars to have fuel restrictors before we can finish ahead of them. I want to see us there on merit. We have to keep working to find a bit more speed."
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