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Toyota drivers say Supra has lost its edge at Okayama

The Toyota GR Supra will no longer enjoy the kind of advantage it had in last year's opening SUPER GT round at Okayama, believe the marque's drivers.

Start practice

Toyota swept both days of last weekend's pre-season test at Okayama courtesy of the #36 TOM'S GR Supra of reigning champion Sho Tsuboi and GT500 rookie Giuliano Alesi, with Tsuboi setting the benchmark time of 1m18.116s.

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Last year, Toyota dominated the opening round at the former Pacific Grand Prix venue, locking out the top four positions while rival GT500 manufacturers Honda and Nissan both struggled.

However, both Honda's new-look NSX-GT Type S and Nissan's brand-new Z were close to the pace last weekend, with all three marques split by just 0.130s in the combined timesheets after two days.

Combined Okayama laptimes:

Pos. # Driver Team/Car Time/Gap Session
1 36 Sho Tsuboi TOM'S Toyota 1'18.116 Day 2 am
2 8 Tomoki Nojiri ARTA Honda +0.068 Day 1 am
3 17 Nobuharu Matsushita Real Honda +0.099 Day 1 pm
4 100 Naoki Yamamoto Kunimitsu Honda +0.102 Day 1 am
5 23 Tsugio Matsuda NISMO Nissan +0.130 Day 2 am

Sacha Fenestraz, who is sharing the #37 TOM'S car with Ritomo Miyata this season, admitted to some anxiety about Honda's laptimes around a track where the NSX lacked competitiveness last year.

"Honda is looking scary at the moment," Fenestraz told Motorsport.com. "At Suzuka [in private testing] of course you expect it, but I knew they weren’t showing everything and they were already quick.

"I think it’s not impossible for us to beat them, but I think Honda is a bit ahead at the moment. If they are that fast here, I don’t know how fast they are going to be in Suzuka…"

Rookie Racing's Kazuya Oshima, who along with teammate Kenta Yamashita won last year's Okayama opener, echoed Fenestraz's concerns about Honda, while also noting Nissan's pace.

 

"It looks like Honda is very quick," Oshima told Motorsport.com. "Also Nissan is getting much better, so it’s going to be very close.

"It will be very difficult to repeat [Toyota's dominance last year]. I am confident we can be the best Supra team. But where we are relative to the other cars, I don’t know."

SARD driver Yuichi Nakayama struck a slightly more optimistic note, saying that he feels the Toyota teams have still yet to fully maximise the benefits of the GR Supra's new front aerodynamics.

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Nakayama told Motorsport.com: "For now, I think Honda [is looking strongest], but it’s the first year for the Z, so I think once they refine their package they will get quicker… more than last year I feel like the level of all three manufacturers is the same. It’s hard to read.

"I feel like we’ve lost our advantage [at Okayama]. Last year Honda struggled here, but they seem really quick now… but Toyota has new aero as well, so I think we can still show more speed as well."

Of the Honda contingent, the #8 ARTA car set the best lap over the course of the two days, with Tomoki Nojiri coming within 0.068s of matching Tsuboi's eventual benchmark on Saturday morning.

 

However, ARTA Honda race engineer Ryan Dingle believes that neither the all-new Nissan Z nor the updated GR Supra have shown their full potential yet, making the opener too close to call.

"There’s so little in it between all three cars," Dingle told Motorsport.com. "Honda certainly could do better than last year [at Okayama], but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

"We’re happy with the updates Honda has brought, but it’s a bit premature to say if one manufacturer is ahead or behind.

"The Z still has some teething issues, and they have some time to be extracted. And the Supra seems to have more downforce than before, so if they can get that to work they will be faster."

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