> Provisional entry list: Sportsland SUGO
Sportsland SUGO welcomes Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS and SRO Motorsports Group for the first time ever this weekend when the Japanese circuit stages rounds seven and eight of the 10-race campaign.
Both GT3’s overall and Fanatec Japan Cup titles can be decided on Sunday, although that relies on a series of unlikely results. Instead, the championship battles are likely to roll on to Okayama, which hosts the season finale next month.
Japan’s largest motorsport facility is located towards the north-east of the country in the mountainous Miyagi Prefecture. It was completed in 1975, since when SUGO has regularly welcomed a variety of domestic categories, including Super Formula and Super GT. However, it rarely attracts continental or international series. Indeed, the current 12-turn, 3.7-kilomtere circuit that was first used in 1987 last hosted a major overseas event 20 years ago when the FIM Superbike World Championship made its final appearance there.
The track, which is initially quite technical before becoming progressively faster as the lap evolves, therefore represents something on an unknown quantity for Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia’s international teams. Instead, local outfits and drivers armed with Super GT and Super Taikyu experience should have the upper hand initially.
IBRAHIM AND FOSTER IN A HURRY
Inexperience and the maximum Success Penalty will certainly count against Prince Jefri Ibrahim and Nick Foster who can, mathematically at least, wrap up the overall GT3 drivers’ title this Sunday. Nevertheless, Triple Eight JMR’s #99 Mercedes-AMG has been the standout entry over the first six races where its Johor/Australian combination has claimed two wins, two more podiums, a fourth and fifth.
The second of those two wins, which Ibrahim/Foster scored last time out at Fuji, will now hamper them this Saturday when their car remains stationary for an additional 15 seconds during its Race 1 pitstop – enough time for places to be lost and points dropped to other title protagonists.
Chief among them are CarGuy Racing’s Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino whose stellar performances at Suzuka and Fuji leave them 30 points adrift. That deficit will be cut again this weekend if the fluro yellow Ferrari can maintain its run of good form that includes three poles from four attempts, two wins and a further podium.
The same duo have also been the standout Fanatec Japan Cup pairing and lead that particular championship by 19 points from Hiroaki Nagai and Yuta Kamimura (Porsche Center Okazaki) who require two big results at SUGO if they’re also to remain in overall title contention. Second place at Fuji means their Porsche joins the championship’s top-two on Race 1’s Success Penalty list at a circuit where the same pairing recently finished second in Super Taikyu.
Yogibo Racing’s Naoki Yokomizo is also a realistic title contender but will need to make the most of his handicap-free opening race this weekend. The Silver Cup entry he shares with Kiyoto Fujinami will have an advantage in GT3 Q1 – a session predominantly populated by Am drivers – before the baby blue Ferrari goes in search of its maiden victory.
Those without an overall title to play for but who should be in Fanatec Japan Cup contention include two cars that failed to capitalise on strong performances at Fuji: BMW Team Studie and D’station Racing. Both Pros – Seiji Ara and Tomonobu Fujii – boast plenty of experience around SUGO where the BMW and Aston Martin will enjoy a handicap-free first race.
There’s also a new Am Cup contender this weekend in the form of Super GT regulars Audi Team Hitotsuyama whose duo of Motohiro Ogura and Akihiro Tsuzuki shared the same car at last year’s Fuji 24 Hours. Look out for the R8’s distinctive red wheels…
Further back, the GT4 class features four cars this weekend, and none of them lead the championship. Team Scala and Koshido Racing’s pairings, who are tied at the top of the standings, were only scheduled to contest Suzuka and Fuji, leaving the door ajar for others over the remaining four races.
Bad luck at Fuji prevented Team GMB’s Hiroaki Hatano and Shinya Hosokawa from adding to their Suzuka victory. However, they’re now the best placed of the line-ups competing at SUGO thanks to a four-point lead over GTO Racing Team’s Brian Lee and Hideto Yasuoka who have been incredibly consistent thus far.
Those Silver-Am entries are joined by two all-amateur cars in the form of Akiland Racing’s Masayoshi Oyama and Makio Saito, and Comet Racing’s Kazuhiro Sakai and Masaaki Fujii.
Every race features a mandatory driver change between minutes 25 and 35. The top-three finishers will then serve an additional 15, 10 or five-second Success Penalty during the following race’s pitstop.
Each of this year’s 60-minute races are streamed live on SRO’s GT World YouTube platform. Japanese fans can also watch them live courtesy of J Sports.
SUGO TIMETABLE (GMT +9)
Friday 19 August
11:10 – 11:40: Paid Test
11:40 – 12:40: Bronze Test
15:30 – 17:30: Official Practice
Saturday 20 August
10:30 – 10:45: GT4 Qualifying 1
10:52 – 11:07: GT4 Qualifying 2
11:17 – 11:32: GT3 Qualifying 1
11:39 – 11:54: GT3 Qualifying 2
16:10 – 17:10: Race 1
Sunday 21 August
11:30 – 12:30: Race 2
SUCCESS PENALTIES (RACE 1)
15s – #99 Triple Eight JMR
10s – #30 Porsche Center Okazaki
05s – #777 CarGuy Racing
05s - #33 Team GMB