Which car holds the edge in SUPER GT testing so far?

Honda, Nissan and Toyota have all looked like they've had an edge over the competition at various points of the SUPER GT pre-season so far, but who is really ahead? Jamie Klein draws some preliminary conclusions from manufacturer testing.

Which car holds the edge in SUPER GT testing so far?
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With two of the three GT500 manufacturers taking advantage of the aero freeze to introduce new models for 2022, the upcoming SUPER GT season looks set to be one of the most unpredictable in years.

Nissan has turned heads with the all-new Z that replaces the venerable GT-R, and has sounded confident about its prospects. Honda has introduced fresh Type S bodywork for its NSX-GT and Toyota has also been busy honing its GR Supra following a slightly fortuitous title triumph last year.

Official pre-season testing finally begins this week at Okayama, but since late January each manufacturer has been conducting unofficial running at Fuji Speedway, Suzuka, Motegi - and Okayama, which will also the opening round of the season next month.

Some of these 'maker's tests', as they are sometimes referred to, are more secretive than others. Sometimes they take place with just a single manufacturer present, but at other times two or even all three share a track, providing a glimpse - albeit often not the most accurate one - of the pecking order.

There's only one track where we have laptimes available for all three manufacturers, and that's Suzuka. Nissan tested there with all four of its cars (plus a test car) in January, joined by two Toyotas and a single Honda. Then, last week, the whole GT500 field congregated at the track again, minus the two NISMO-run Zs.

That's because the two works-operated Nissans had already used up their full allocation of 24 hours split across six test days, undertaking private running at Fuji and then Motegi in February with no other marques present. Originally, Nissan had planned to join Honda and Toyota in Okayama, but a delay in obtaining fresh Michelin tyres for testing purposes led to a change in plan.

So, here is a look at the combined laptimes from the two Suzuka tests, which - for the time being - remains our only comparison of all three GT500 manufacturers:

Combined Suzuka testing times:

Pos. No. Team/Car Tyre Jan 25 Jan 26 Mar 3 Mar 4
1 8 ARTA Honda B     1'44.296 1'44.915
2 100 Kunimitsu Honda B     1'44.302 1'44.632
3 17 Real Honda B 1'45.092 1'44.894 1'44.360 1'45.010
4 23 NISMO Nissan M 1'44.982 1'44.515    
5 12 Impul Nissan B 1'45.136 1'44.659   1'45.338
6 36 TOM'S Toyota B     1'44.686 1'45.516
7 3 NDDP Nissan M 1'44.995 1'44.724    
8 16 Mugen Honda D     1'44.780 1'44.906
9 90 Toyota test car B 1'45.584 1'44.823    
10 37 TOM'S Toyota B     1'45.294 1'44.825
11 39 SARD Toyota B     1'44.831 1'45.218
12 230 Nissan test car* M 1'44.846 1'45.277    
13 14 Rookie Toyota B     1'44.872 1'45.405
14 24 Kondo Nissan Y 1'45.239 1'45.820 1'45.413 1'45.045
15 64 Nakajima Honda D     1'45.077 1'45.632
16 19 Bandoh Toyota Y 1'46.145 1'46.533 1'45.324 1'45.086
17 38 Cerumo Toyota B     1'45.126 1'45.696
18 230 Nissan test car* B     1'45.178  
19 99 Honda test car B     1'46.020  
20 230 Nissan test car* Y       1'46.238

* The Nissan test car used Michelin tyres on both test days in January, Bridgestones on March 3 and Yokohamas on March 4. 

Of course, there are some pretty major caveats to note, the first of which is that laptimes usually tend to be faster in the winter owing to the cooler conditions, which lead to denser air and therefore more aerodynamic effect.

The fastest time of the test, the 1m44.296s set by the #8 ARTA Honda, is half a second up on the best time from qualifying at Suzuka last year, and it's unlikely we'll see similar pace come race week, especially with success ballast on board.

But with three Bridgestone-shod NSX-GTs on top of the pile, it's probably safe to conclude that the Type S is likely to succeed the GT-R as the weapon of choice on Suzuka-style high downforce tracks.

Initial feedback from those in the paddock indicates that, far from working to reduce drag and increase top speed, Honda has chosen to double down on having the only 'GT'-shape car of the three GT500 marques following Nissan's switch to a lower, Supra-style body shape with the Z.

That has led to a top speed deficit of some 7km/h in relation to Toyota and Nissan, which are believed to now be on a rough par. At a track like Suzuka, that won't be an issue, but it could be another story at Fuji.

Real Racing setting a time half a second faster in March than in January suggests that the track was in better condition for the latter test. Temperatures in March were around 10 degrees higher than January, which would reduce aero performance to a degree, but the track is understood to have been much more gripped up in the latter test due to the higher number of cars circulating.

That suggests that had the NISMO Z been present last week, it might have set a time similar to the Honda contingent, although the fact the Impul Nissan went slower in March means it's hard to be certain.

#12 Calsonic IMPUL Z
#12 Calsonic IMPUL Z

Photo by: Masahide Kamio


Photo by: Motorsport.com / Japan


Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Meanwhile, Toyota can arguably be satisfied to be within four tenths of the pace at a track where the GR Supra has never really excelled since its 2020 introduction, suggesting that the aero improvements it has brought along are having an effect. 

After its dominance at the erstwhile Pacific Grand Prix venue last year, Toyota will be looking to maintain the advantage in this week's first official pre-season test, which will mark the first time all 15 GT500 cars will share a track.

Nissan, having skipped the February Okayama test entirely, may be a little behind, but come the Fuji test - the track the Z has essentially been designed around - expect the Yokohama marque to start flexing its muscles a little more, even if it will be eager to not give everything away.

It's still too early to say with any certainty which car will have the best performance on the widest range of tracks, or while carrying success ballast. But some early contours of this year's title battle are just about starting to come into view, and will no doubt get clearer still when official testing kicks off on Saturday.


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