> Fanatec GT Asia championships also up for grabs at penultimate round
> SRO takes significant step with first standalone GT4 races
> Provisional Okayama entry lists
Several Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS titles will be settled this weekend when Okayama stages the championship’s penultimate event of 2023 as well as the Fanatec Japan Cup finale.
Event five of six also features standalone GT4 races for the first time in Fanatec GT Asia’s history. The class’ timetable mirrors that of its GT3 counterpart where two drivers per car tackle separate test, practice and qualifying sessions before two 60-minute races decide this year’s Japan Cup and – potentially – Overall class champions.
The 38 cars split between GT3 and GT4 is just two fewer than the combined record set at Fuji earlier this year.
All three GT3 Fanatec Japan Cup titles – that’s Overall, Pro-Am and Am – will be won at Okayama, which also staged the series’ dramatic showdown 11 months ago when Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino defeated Prince Jefri Ibrahim and Nick Foster.
There’s live (and free) qualifying and race coverage on SRO’s GT World YouTube channel, while J Sports will show the GT3 and GT4 races across Japan via a combination of its TV and digital channels.
The former Pacific Grand Prix venue is a regular on the domestic Super GT and Super Formula calendars, but – until September last year at least – hadn’t hosted an international series since 2010. Now Fanatec GT Asia returns to the 3.7-kilometre, 13-turn circuit located in the forest-covered foothills north-east of Okayama city.
Sepang welcomes 2023’s finale next month, but at least some GT3 championships will still be decided this weekend across the two one-hour races.
Although mathematically feasible, the Overall titles are unlikely to be settled. And what’s more, one half of Triple Eight JMR’s championship-leading crew – Luca Stolz – is unavailable. Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim, who enjoys a nine-point advantage, is therefore joined by another experienced and fast Mercedes-AMG driver, Mikael Grenier.
The Canadian is undoubtedly capable. But sealing the championship with a round to spare requires Ibrahim to have amassed a 51-point advantage come Sunday afternoon. And that is only possible with a win and second place finish. What’s more, Stolz has been one of this year’s standout drivers whose absence is bound to be noticed.
Two Ams very much hoping that’s the case are Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Anthony Liu who head to Okayama tied second. Both have had to contend with different co-drivers this year but are still well placed to strike if Ibrahim’s challenge falters. Craft-Bamboo’s Dani Juncadella, who joins Liu for the third time, is unbeaten in Pro qualifying this season, while Inthraphuvasak and Alessio Picariello will be eager to rebound from a tough outing at Motegi where their AAS Motorsport by Absolute Racing Porsche scored just eight points across both races.
Lu Wei’s last appearance was also compromised by a DNF. However, he moved back into title contention with the help of Dennis Olsen by winning Race 2. On the one hand it leaves R&B Racing’s #4 Porsche 15 points behind Ibrahim, but with the caveat of a maximum Success Penalty to serve on Saturday.
So, plenty more twists and turns to come in the Overall title fight, which – barring a disaster for Ibrahim’s pursuers – looks set to be settled in Malaysia.
Instead, the focus will be on Fanatec Japan Cup where three crews can still win the Overall crown.
Two class victories at Motegi have propelled Porsche Center Okazaki’s Hiroaki Nagai and Yuta Kamimura into a 17-point lead over D’station Racing’s Satoshi Hoshino and Tomonobu Fujii. Increasing that to 26 on Saturday afternoon would see the 911’s crew crowned champions with Sunday’s race to spare.
PLUS with BMW M Team Studie’s Tomohide Yamaguchi and Seiji Ara also head to Okayama with a slim chance. However, they must clinch both class wins and hope Nagai/Kamimura and Fujii/Hoshino struggle to have any chance of overcoming their 45-point starting deficit.
Nagai/Kamimura enjoy a bigger advantage over Hoshino/Fujii in the Pro-Am standings, which features a fourth potential championship chasing crew, NK Racing’s Kiyoshi Uchiyama and Tsubasa Kondo, while Yusuke Yamasaki and Yorikatsu Tsujiko (Comet Racing) start as overwhelming Am class favourites thanks to their 37-point lead over Masaaki Nishikawa and Atsushi Tanaka (RUNUP SPORTS).
Elsewhere, just three points covers the top two crews in the Fanatec China Cup standings where Sun Jingzu and Franky Cheng Congfu (Audi Sport Asia Team Absolute) lead Yuan Bo and Leo Ye Hongli, while the latter’s R&B Racing squad leads the GT3 Teams’ Championship by nine points from Absolute.
A combination of Okayama’s results and Sepang’s entries might delay confirmation of GT4’s overall champions until the final event of 2023. So, instead, it’s best to focus on the Fanatec Japan Cup battle that’s at the heart of SRO’s first-ever standalone GT4 races.
Masaki Kano and Max Orido (YZ Racing with BMW M Team Studie) lead Naohiko Otsuka and Sho Kobayashi (Checkshop Caymania Racing) by 16 points in both the GT4 Overall and Fanatec Japan Cup standings.
The Am vs Silver-Am match up makes Kano and Orido hot favourites, and especially in an expanded class that predominantly features the latter. However, it’s worth remembering that only four of the seven entries are eligible to score championship points, so a DNF could prove costly.
Appearances earlier this season also make Akiland Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia eligible to score points. And the latter’s crew, Haridarma Manoppo and Nonaka Seita, could yet win GT4’s Overall title at Sepang – where the GR Supra is also due to appear – if results go their way at Okayama.
D’station Racing’s Aston Martin makes its first SRO appearance in the hands of Am crew Tatsuya Hoshino and Hama Kenji who were Super Taikyu GT4 class runners-up with the same car in 2020 and ’21, while the new-for-2023 McLaren Artura makes its Asia debut courtesy of CREF Motor Sport.
Aston Martin, BMW, McLaren, Porsche and Toyota are also joined by Mercedes-AMG courtesy of GT3 representative Comet Racing, which contested the class last season.
Logistical issues have forced Craft-Bamboo to withdraw its provisional GT4 entry, while a potential ninth car – K-Tunes’ Toyota – was damaged at Suzuka.
Thursday 17 August
12:30 – 13:45 GT4 Test 1
13:55 – 15:10 GT3 Test 1
15:20 – 16:35 GT4 Test 2
16:45 – 18:00 GT3 Test 2
Friday 18 August
09:30 – 10:30 GT4 Official Practice 1
11:30 – 12:45 GT3 Official Practice 1
13:45 – 14:45 GT4 Official Practice 2
14:55 – 15:25 GT4 Bronze Session
15:35 – 16:50 GT3 Official Practice 2
17:00 – 17:30 GT3 Bronze Session
Saturday 19 August
09:00 – 09:15 GT3 Qualifying 1
09:22 – 09:37 GT3 Qualifying 2
09:47 – 10:02 GT4 Qualifying 1
10:09 – 10:24 GT4 Qualifying 2
12:40 – 13:40 GT3 Race 1
15:40 – 16:40 GT4 Race 1
Sunday 20 August
11:20 – 12:20 GT3 Race 2
14:30 – 15:30 GT4 Race 2
SUCCESS PENALTIES (RACE 1)
15s – #4 R&B Racing + #50 YZ Racing with BMW M Team Studie + #39 Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia
10s – #992 Absolute Racing + #718 Checkshop Caymania Racing
05s – #88 Triple Eight JMR