Toyota's Yamashita doesn't fear '21-style points drought
The SUPER GT championship-leading Rookie Racing Toyota team has conquered its race pace issues from last year, believes Kenta Yamashita.
After the opening two rounds of the championship Yamashita and Kazuya Oshima hold a five-point lead at the head of the standings over Kunimitsu Honda pair Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino, winning in the Okayama opener and finishing seventh last time out at Fuji Speedway.
That leaves the #14 Eneos-sponsored GR Supra as the heaviest car in the GT500 field heading into next week's third round of the championship at Suzuka, with 46kg of success ballast.
It mirrors the situation of the 2021 season, as Yamashita and Oshima took an early lead in the standings with a win and a second-place finish from the opening two rounds, only to then fail to score points for four races in a row and finally end up fourth in the championship.
However, Yamashita feels that the aerodynamic improvements made to the GR Supra, combined with Rookie Racing's focus on boosting its race pace after a tough '21 campaign, puts the team in better shape this year.
"The Supra is traditionally not that well-suited to Suzuka, and last year was pretty bad," Yamashita told Motorsport.com. "But this year the downforce has increased so I think it could be better.
"We are heavy again, but we don’t have the fuel restrictor yet, so if the speed is there, I think we can score points. Of course something like a podium would be tough, but I think we can aim to get points.
"Last year we were quick in qualifying but in the races we were slow. This year, during pre-season testing we focused on trying a lot of things with the set-up and long runs, and I think we improved.
"So I don’t think we need to worry about a repeat of last year’s streak of ‘no-point’ races."
Another difference from 2021 is that the season finale this year will be held at Motegi, a track where Toyota has struggled relative to Honda in recent seasons, and not Fuji, which traditionally favours the GR Supra.
But Yamashita feels that the GR Supra no longer has the edge it once did at the Toyota-owned track, and could be a more competitive proposition at Motegi this time around.
"I don’t feel like this year the Supra is a ‘Fuji special’ car like it was before, the [Nissan] Z and the [Honda] NSX are both quick there now," said Yamashita. "So I’m thinking now that it doesn’t matter whether the finale is at Fuji or Motegi.
"I think if we can get the set-up right [for Motegi], it can be ok for us."
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