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Analysis
Super GT Okayama Testing

The signs Toyota can still threaten Honda in Okayama opener

Toyota may have endured a difficult time in last weekend's official Okayama SUPER GT test, but a closer look at the data shows that the #36 TOM'S car still has a good chance of putting up a strong fight to the all-conquering Hondas.

Start practice

SUPER GT pre-season testing times have always been tricky to get a read on, but the introduction of the new for 2023 carbon-neutral fuel (CNF) has made it harder than ever to discern which of the three GT500 manufacturers has the advantage.

Depending on who you asked during last weekend’s Okayama test, either Toyota or Nissan has made the best fist of the switch from regular gasoline to CNF so far, with Honda struggling slightly more. But such was the superiority of the now well-developed Type S NSX-GT anyway that it still looks like the best car overall.

That said, the Nissan Z is not far behind, while the switch to CNF has possibly transformed Toyota from no-hopers to at least close enough for the talents of #36 TOM’S pair Sho Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata to challenge, even if the other GR Supra crews still struggle.

 

A look at the timesheets from across the two days appears to back this up. Honda has three cars in the top four, led by the #16 ARTA NSX-GT that went quickest in the hands of Nirei Fukuzumi. Toyota’s #36 car was third, but had four cars in the bottom four spots, while Nissans occupied the middle ground in P6-P9.

The qualifying simulations done on Saturday afternoon tell a similar story: Honda quickest, Nissan not far behind and Toyota lagging. But that doesn’t quite tell the full story. To get the full picture, we also need to take into account the long runs from Sunday afternoon.

Motorsport.com has pored through lap-by-lap data on Session 4, when just about every GT500 team was focused on long-run pace. The upshot is that the cars that showed best notably were not quick over a single lap. Conversely, some of the cars that look good in quali trim are struggling to be consistent.

Best 30-lap averages from Session 4 (GT500):

Pos. No. Team/Car Drivers Average
1 17 Real Racing/Honda

Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi

Japan Nobuharu Matsushita

1m21.163s
2 23 NISMO/Nissan

Japan Tsugio Matsuda

Italy Ronnie Quintarelli

1m21.222s
3 100 Kunimitsu/Honda

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

Japan Tadasuke Makino

1m21.356s
4 36 TOM'S/Toyota

Japan Sho Tsuboi

Japan Ritomo Miyata

1m21.393s
5 16 ARTA/Honda

Japan Nirei Fukuzumi

Japan Hiroki Otsu

1m21.543s
6 39 SARD/Toyota

Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi

Japan Yuichi Nakayama

1m21.596s
7 1 Impul/Nissan

Japan Kazuki Hiramine

Belgium Bertrand Baguette

1m21.692s
8 24 Kondo/Nissan

Japan Daiki Sasaki

Japan Kohei Hirate

1m21.709s
9 38 Cerumo/Toyota

Japan Yuji Tachikawa

Japan Hiroaki Ishiura

1m21.878s
10 3 NDDP Racing/Nissan

Japan Katsumasa Chiyo

Japan Mitsunori Takaboshi

1m21.931s
11 37 TOM'S/Toyota

Japan Ukyo Sasahara

France Giuliano Alesi

1m21.941s
12 14 Rookie Racing/Toyota

Japan Kazuya Oshima

1m22.255s
13 64 Nakajima Racing/Honda

Japan Takuya Izawa

1m22.279s
14 8 ARTA/Honda

Japan Tomoki Nojiri

Japan Toshiki Oyu

1m22.315s
15 19 Racing Project Bandoh/Toyota

Japan Yuji Kunimoto

Japan Sena Sakaguchi

1m23.460s

Leading the way on 30-lap averages is the #17 Real Racing Honda of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Nobuharu Matsushita. The same is also true when we look at the 20-lap averages (1m20.982s), as well as for 10-lap averages (1m20.647s).

Tsukakoshi also completed the fastest run when the average of the best 10 laps is considered (1m20.817s), also the longest of any car at 36 laps. The next longest was a 31-lap effort from Kazuki Hiramine in the Impul Nissan, followed by 28-lap runs from Matsushita and Tsugio Matsuda in the NISMO Nissan.

Matsuda’s run stands out as one the most impressive for its sheer consistency, with 18 laps out of 28 in the 1m21s range or faster. Matsushita managed the same number, albeit at a slightly slower pace, while Hiramine only managed 14 of 31, suggesting Impul’s Bridgestones are suffering more degradation than the Michelins of the NISMO car.

Indeed, Ronnie Quinatarelli, who said he was confident about the #23 car’s long-run pace on Sunday afternoon, backed up team-mate Matsuda’s effort with a strong 22-lap run of his own.

Despite Toyota struggling during Saturday afternoon’s GT500-only running, the #36 TOM’S car was solid on the long runs. Tsuboi’s longest run was only 20 laps, but it was a shorter run of 14 laps that caught the eye with a rapid 10-lap average of 1m20.109s, which puts him second only to the #17 Honda of Tsukakoshi.

Best runs in Session 4 by 10-lap average:

Pos. No. Team/Car Driver Average
1 17 Real Racing/Honda

Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi

1m20.817s
2 36 TOM'S/Toyota

Japan Sho Tsuboi

1m21.109s
3 23 NISMO/Nissan

Japan Tsugio Matsuda

1m21.125s
4 17 Real Racing/Honda

Japan Nobuharu Matsushita

1m21.373s
5 100 Kunimitsu/Honda

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

1m21.406s
6 1 Impul/Nissan

Japan Kazuki Hiramine

1m21.416s
7 23 NISMO/Nissan

Italy Ronnie Quintarelli

1m21.447s
8 100 Kunimitsu/Honda

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

1m21.454s
9 36 TOM'S/Toyota

Japan Sho Tsuboi

1m21.457s
10 100 Kunimitsu/Honda

Japan Naoki Yamamoto

1m21.518s

Third-fastest on the 30-lap averages, the #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda also fares well: Naoki Yamamoto did three strong runs that made it in the top 10.

By contrast, a notable absence is the two-car ARTA Honda team. Hiroki Otsu did most of the long runs for the #16 ARTA car, and while he was fairly consistent, he wasn’t quick enough to breach the list above. On his best run of 19 laps, his 10-lap average (1m21.543s) was slower than that of the #39 SARD Supra of Yuhi Sekiguchi (1m21.539s), which stands out as the second-best Toyota.

The real puzzler is ARTA’s #8 entry, the only GT500 car that wasn’t doing much real long-distance running. The NSX-GT shared by Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu made no fewer than eight pitstops in Session 4, double the number of the other Bridgestone Hondas. 

 

Considering the explosive speed of Oyu during manufacturer testing this off-season, it’s hard to imagine the #8 will be so far off the pace come the opening race. Differing tyre selection could be one of the factors behind the car’s comparative lack of long-run pace, a factor which also almost certainly explains why the #3 NDDP Racing Nissan was so far off the pace of its sister #23 car.

As for the other tyre makers, it doesn’t look like Yokohama or Dunlop will be in the fight at Okayama, continuing the trend of the last two seasons. The lacklustre long-run pace of the #19 Bandoh Toyota looks particularly concerning.

Similarly off the pace was the Rookie Racing Toyota on Bridgestones - to the point where you wonder whether Hiramine had a point about the #14 car possibly sandbagging...

Read Also:

So, can we call the #17 Honda the favourite for the opening race next month? Not exactly. Over a short run, the team is clearly still lacking, ending the Okayama test the slowest of the four Bridgestone Hondas over a single lap. 

Overtaking at Okayama is difficult, and unless it rains or a safety car shuffles the order mid-race, it’s hard to imagine a car starting outside the top five winning the race. The #23 Nissan faces the same issue - a long-run pace advantage doesn’t always mean much if you spend most of the race stuck behind a slower car.

Taking both qualifying pace and long run pace into account, you would have to say the #100 Honda, which was second-fastest over a single lap, looks in good shape. But if Tsuboi and Miyata can qualify well, you wouldn’t discount the #36 TOM’S car either, despite Tsuboi's gloomy rhetoric.

LEON Mercedes looking ominous in GT300 

The same trends were also evident in the GT300 class, where the cars with the best long-run pace were keeping a low profile in the overall timesheets.

The clear winner of Session 4 was the #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. The car shared by Naoya Gamou and Takuro Shinohara completed a staggering 38 laps in the 1m27s or faster, more than double that of their-next nearest competitor, with a 30-lap average of 1m27.521s.

That's despite LEON ending up way down in 15th, eight tenths off the pace, based on single-lap pace across the two-day test.

Likewise, the Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra (19th), the Goodsmile Racing Mercedes (13th), Inging Toyota GR86 (ninth) and Kondo Racing Nissan (12th) all notably displayed much better long-run pace than speed over a single lap, although none could hold a candle to the #65 car.

Best 30-lap averages from Session 4 (GT300, Top 10):

Pos. No. Team/Car Drivers Time
1 65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3

Japan Naoya Gamou

Japan Takuro Shinohara

1'27.521
2 52 Saitama Toyopet Toyota GR Supra GT

Japan Hiroki Yoshida

Japan Kohta Kawaai

1'27.878
3 4 Goodsmile Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3

Japan Nobuteru Taniguchi

Japan Tatsuya Kataoka

1'28.022
4 2 Inging Toyota GR86 GT

Japan Yuui Tsutsumi

Japan Hibiki Taira

1'28.065
5 56 Kondo Racing Nissan NISMO GT-R GT3

Brazil Joao Paulo de Oliveira

Japan Teppei Natori

1'28.177
6 18 Team UpGarage Honda NSX GT3

Japan Takashi Kobayashi

Japan Shun Koide

1'28.236
7 88 JLOC Lamborghini Huracan GT3

Japan Takashi Kogure

Japan Yuya Motojima

1'28.284
8 244 Max Racing Toyota GR Supra

Japan Kimiya Sato

Japan Atsushi Miyake

1'28.293
9 20 Shade Racing Toyota GR86 GT

Japan Katsuyuki Hiranaka

Japan Eijiro Shimizu

1'28.332
10 6 Team LeMans Audi R8 LMS GT3

Spain Roberto Merhi

Japan Yoshiaki Katayama

1'28.338

The team that topped the overall times, the #88 JLOC Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, was only seventh in the long-run rankings, with the two cars immediately behind it - the K-tunes Racing Lexus RC F GT3 and Shade Racing Toyota GR86 - behind the curve on long-run pace.

With three of the four Bridgestone users in the field (the exception being the #31 apr Lexus LC500h which didn't focus on long runs), in the top four, that tyre looks to be the one to have right on race pace, with Yokohama a close second and Dunlop lacking in durability.

It should be noted that Subaru didn't do any runs long enough to include in this analysis, but the evidence from the other Dunlop runners isn't too encouraging. On the other hand, for LEON, the key will be to qualify well enough to make use of its imperious long-run speed.

 

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