The day started with fine weather from early morning at Okayama International Circuit on March 19. While the teams ran their cars extensively on the dry track to select and confirm the tires for the season opening round that will be held at the same Okayama circuit in three weeks, Ryo Hirakawa / Nick Cassidy of No.37 KeePer TOM'S LC500 marked the fastest time once again as they did on the previous day in GT500 class. In the GT300 class, defending champion No.25 VivaC 86 MC driven by Takamitsu Matsui / Kenta Yamashita whipped out a top time faster than the track record set also by the team last year.
Session 1: 09:00-10:59 (Safety car drill held for 10 min from start. Ended at 10:59 with red flag.)
Weather: Fine Track: Dry
Temperature: Air 6℃ - 13℃ / Track surface 8℃ - 20℃ (6℃ / 8℃ at start)
Session 2: 13:45-15:55 (Race-start practice held for 15 min from start. Extended by 10 min due to red flag)
Weather: Fine Track: Dry Temperature: Air 16℃ / Track surface 25℃ - 27℃ (16℃ / 25℃ at start)
Topped by KeePer TOM'S LC500 but three Honda NSX-GTs in Top 6
Day 2 of the official test started out in a fine weather again as in the previous day at Okayama International Circuit. Track surface temperature increased as the soft spring sunshine fell on the track. It became an ideal condition for the teams to collect data with the temperature reaching to the range that enables simulating the season opener in three weeks.
Among the cars running on the track, the Lexus LC500 fleet was prominently fast again on Day 2, except for No.19 WedsSport ADVAN LC500 and No.6 WAKO'S 4CR LC500, which came to a stop on the track one after another in the morning session. It made not only the Lexus camp but also the rivals nervous since LC500 had not had any major issues until then including in their private test. Yoji Nagai, General Manager, TRD Motor Sports Development Department, Technical Division, who oversees the development of LC500, commented, "It was a problem in electronics in both cars. But we were able to analyze the cause and resolved it already, so no problem at all. Rather, it was better to have a problem during testing (instead of a race)." Nagai looked relieved as he explained the trouble.
Top time of the morning was marked by the same car as yesterday, No.37 KeePer TOM'S LC500. It was Ryo Hirakawa who marked the top time the day before, but on Day 2, it was Nick Cassidy with 1 min 18.395 sec. The impressive time came very close to break the track record/pole position lap time set by Hirakawa last year, 1 min 18.126 sec.
And in this session, the Honda NSX-GT squad showed progress. No.17 KEIHIN NSX-GT (lap time by Takashi Kogure) and No.8 ARTA NSX-GT (lap time by Tomoki Nojiri) improved their lap time in the later half of the session placing second and third places, respectively, and No.100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (lap time by Takuya Izawa) was at sixth position. Project Leader Masahiro Saeki, who manages the NSX-GT project of Honda, looked delighted as he commented, "I don't think we can make any big changes in the hardware (aerodynamics parts) by the season opener, especially when you consider about time. However, we are steadily making progress in the engine development regardless of how little the progress is, therefore, we are currently exploring multiple options like how far we would go with the first engine or when we should deploy the updated second engine. In addition to that, I think our cars can go a little bit faster by the setup even at this stage. For the rest, we will discuss with the teams and move it forward."
LC500 domination returned in race simulating afternoon
Afternoon session opened with a race-start practice where Okayama Prefecture Policy's motorcycle police lead the parade lap. Fans filled up the stands must have gotten excited to see a race-start practice that looked no different from the actual one.
Many teams were working on the long distance simulating the race at Okayama season opener during the afternoon session to evaluate different tires as well as try different settings as the condition was similar to the race that will be in about the same time of a day. On the other hand, the session was force to suspend a multiple times with a red flag as more cars went off the track. Out of the many red flags, the last one was caused by No.38 ZENT CERUMO LC500's run-off. Yuji Tachikawa explained that he slid the tires at Turn 2. Team as well as Tachikawa himself looked relieved, though, since luckily he didn't suffer any injuries and the damage on the car was not so serious.
Okayama International Circuit underwent resurfacing during the offseason. Tachikawa gave a positive evaluation, "There is more grip and it's smoother overall. Two places have a gap on the surface, but it doesn't bother that much, and maybe that's why the time was two to three seconds faster." He also added, "But when it comes to the race, I think the tire selection gets a little bit more difficult because the aggressivity to the tires is stronger..."
In the afternoon session, the LC500 squad dominated the top 6 as they did in the morning of Day 1. Despite going off the track at the end, No.38 ZENT CERUMO LC500 (lap time by Hiroaki Ishiura) secured the top place. The fastest time overall of the day was the lap time marked in the morning by No.37 KeePer TOM'S LC500 (sixth fastest in the afternoon with the lap time set by Hirakawa).
Nissan GT-R fleet seemed to be in a difficult situation in terms of lap time except No.24 Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R (lap time by Daiki Sasaki) which set a seventh fastest time in the afternoon just behind the LC500 squad.
B-MAX NDDP GT-R and VivaC 86 MC share top place in GT300
It was the same story for the GT300 class too where the same two cars from previous day, No.3 B-MAX NDDP GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino / Mitsunori Takaboshi) and No.25 VivaC 86 MC (Takamitsu Matsui / Kenta Yamashita / Takeshi Tsuchiya), exchanged the top position back and forth throughout the day. In the morning, Yamashita driving No.25 VivaC 86 MC marked 1 min 25.529 sec, a lap time slightly breaking the pole position time/track record of 1 min 25.529 sec set by Tsuchiya last year, and took the top position. And, in the afternoon, Takaboshi in No.3 B-MAX NDDP GT-R was on top with 1 min 25.893 sec. In overall, the fastest went to No.25 car for the lap time marked in the morning session.
Four cars of three new models are making debut in the GT300 class this season, and No.52 SAITAMA TOYOPET GreenBrave MARK X MC (Takayuki Hiranuma / Taku Bamba / Shigekazu Wakisaka) and No.117 EIcars BENTLEY GT3 (Yuji Ide / Ryohei Sakaguchi) appeared to be still deep in the initial phase. "It's like a car from when FIA GT3 started." Kazuhiko Oniki, an engineer in charge of the Bentley, revealed the car has a conservative build. Mark X MC is a "sister car" of mother-chassised 86MC that has been performing well from last year. However, Bamba at the wheel explained, "It feels a bit too sensitive like a formula car, but we are still in progress of understanding the car and collecting basic data."
Contrastingly, two Lexus RC F GT3 looked smooth in finding the right setting especially No.51 JMS P.MU LMcorsa RC F GT3 (Yuichi Nakayama / Sho Tsuboi / Naoya Yamano) which broke into eighth position in the afternoon on Day 2. Shinji Matsuoka, engineer leading the development, made a strong comment, "Since the car is a totally brand new machine, we are starting from the initial point (basic setting) without making a big change and gradually making progress in the setting. Car reacts clearly (to the setting change) and the drivers say the feeling is not bad. Anyways, I think the car can be an interesting presence in the GT300 class."
Nick Cassidy (No.37 KeePer TOM'S LC500)
Yesterday was Ryo (Hirakawa) and today it was me that got the top time. I'm really happy that our No.37 car got the top time two days in a row. We have a new car from this year and the car has evolved significantly, and it keeps my mind positive as I drive it. Also, we were able to drive a lot in a dry condition in two days and I think we had a very good and effective test. Car felt good also, so I hope we can continue this momentum into the season opener. No.37 car has been good at Okayama where the opening round will be. Although the car is changed, I will give my best to get a good result again at this year's season opener. Today was a really happy day!
Kenta Yamashita (No.25 VivaC 86 MC)
Joining the defending champion team and marking the top time at the first test, it's a great start. I'm happy. Many people ask me 'How is your first GT?' because I was competing in F3, but, actually, I have competed a full season in the GT300 class with a Porsche before and I also drove in the Super Taikyu and Inter Proto, so I already have some experience with the touring car. But 86MC is like a formula car more than any of those cars, so I don't think I would have had a difficulty even if it was the first time. I came to know right away that the level of GT300 is so high, but the team prepared a good car and that made it possible to get the top time. That's why I think we can get a good result at the real situation if I don't make any mistakes.