Fuji, Japan - As a measure to prevent the spread of Novel Coronavirus, 2020 AUTOBACS Super GT season opener had been put on hold since last April, but now, after a long delay, the new 2020 season is about to begin. The series is kicking off the 2020 season at the Takanokono Hotel FUJI GT 300km RACE hosted at Fuji Speedway on July 18 and 19. All 15 cars of 3 models competing in GT500 class are new. In addition, with more young drivers coming in the series, the race could even be more unpredictable and more exciting. GT300 class could turn into a fierce battlefield once again this year with a wide variety of car models. Who will top the long-awaited 2020 season opener?
2020 season opening round will be a 1-day event with Qualifying and Race on Sunday. Saturday reserved for an official practice session.
The opening round of the 2020 season will unfortunately be held without spectators as a measure to prevent the spread of Novel Coronavirus. The event will have an unusual schedule with an official practice session in the afternoon of July 18 (Sat) and the qualifying and race (300km distance) in the morning and afternoon of July 19 (Sun), respectively. In addition, the GT300 teams will be split into 2 groups in Q1 of the qualifying session. Group A will have teams with an odd-number position from last year's team ranking, a total of 14 cars starting from number one No.55 ARTA NSX GT3. Group B will be composed of 15 cars with an even-number position starting from second place No.96 K-tunes RC F GT3.
GR Supra already possessing stability despite debut race.
For the GT500 class, the 2020 season means a year which new chassis is deployed, and 15 cars of 3 models are switching to a new car that is also built to suit the integrated technical regulation shared with Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters DTM, CLASS 1.
With a new organization, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing (TGR) is supplying GR Supra GT500, built based on GR Supra that was released to the market in May last year, to 6 teams. Although the base car has changed, Toyota's new GT500 machine is a lineal evolution inheriting a great amount of know-how from 2019 champion car LEXUS LC500, and it was already showing promising speed at the official test held at Fuji.
2019 champion Kazuya Oshima has moved to newly formed TGR TEAM WAKO'S ROOKIE. Oshima will partner up with young emerging Sho Tsuboi to share the wheel of No.14 WAKO'S 4CR GR Supra. Oshima appears to still keep all the capability, marking the top lap time of the morning session held on the first day of the official test at Fuji, and his chance for clinching a back-to-back win is quite high. No.38 ZENT GR Supra (Yuji Tachikawa / Hiroaki Ishiura) in favor of Fuji is also a strong candidate for the win. Tachikawa is the only active GT500 driver who has competed in the previous model Supra and also the last winner/title holder. He sure would want to be the driver to bring in the first victory of GR Supra at Toyota's home track Fuji.
Out of the GT500 rookie drivers, Miyata in No.19 WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra (Yuji Kunimoto / Ritomo Miyata) and Fenestraz with No.36 au TOM’S GR Supra (Yuji Kunimoto / Sacha Fenestraz) are the drivers to watch. Heikki Kovalainen of No.39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra will not be able to travel to Japan due to the travel restriction in place, thus, it is unfortunate but he has to miss the season opener. Yuichi Nakayama will be teaming up with another 2019 champion, Kenta Yamashita, at the season opening round. Yamashita was initially planning to concentrate on the world endurance championship this season, but the series will not be resuming for a while and that brought him the opportunity to drive No.39. The duo could be a dark horse too at the opening round.
With totally new inside, NSX-GT is really fast.
Honda NSX-GT remains to be the same name, but, if you look inside, the car underwent a drastic change from MR (mid-engine / rear-drive) to CLASS1 regulated FR (front-engine / rear-drive). You would think this changes the characteristics of the car significantly, but the new layout car is already receiving highly positive feedback from the drivers as they describe it, they can drive with the same feeling.
Indeed, NSX-GT demonstrated its speed at the official test held at Fuji where No.100 RAYBRIG NSX-GT (Naoki Yamamoto / Tadasuke Makino) marked the top time of the first day overall as well as the morning of the second day and No.8 ARTA NSX-GT (Tomoki Nojiri / Nirei Fukuzumi) finished the second day with the fastest lap time overall. These two teams are considered as the top candidates of the season opener. Wearing new livery representing their new sponsor which is very familiar to the motorsport fans, Red Bull, No.16 Red Bull MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (Hideki Mutoh / Ukyo Sasahara) sure is an eye-catcher along with Sasahara who is making his SUPER GT debut.
GT-R has chance to win if it can bounce back from downturn in test.
Official test at Fuji was bittersweet for the NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT500 squad as all of their cars encountered the same problem. Their car is a lineal evolution of the predecessor and the potential seems to be at the same level which was shown by No.12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Daiki Sasaki / Kazuki Hiramine) and No.23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda / Ronnie Quintarelli) running with lap times that put them in the upper group. If the squad can address the issue and utilize the engine power fully, they should have a good chance of winning the race especially when GT-R has been strong at Fuji.
AMG GT3 teams looked strong in test but don't underestimate NSX, GT-R, BRZ!
30 cars of 14 different models have entered in the GT300 class of the series this season. The season opening round will miss Thailand-based No.35 arto RC F GT3, but it is expecting 29 cars in the lineup. There are also a few foreign drivers who will be absent, so the teams are bringing in experienced Japanese drivers to fill in the spot.
One of the most exciting debut of new model car is No.52 SAITAMATOYOPET GB GR Supra GT (Hiroki Yoshida / Kohta Kawaai), a JAF-GT300 category car built based on GR Supra. It is the team's original race car mounted with 5200cc V8 engine, and it has already proved to be an eye-catcher, along with newcomer Kawaai who holds winning experience in FIA-F4, during the official test held at Fuji by showing the speed to be at eighth place in the class overall on Day 1 and then overall fourth on Day 2 by the freshman. The class will also see a comeback of BMW M6 GT3 after two years of absence. And, it is Studie, a BMW customer-team, that is making the comeback. There are also brand-new teams making appearance in the series, No.244 Takanoko-no-yu RC F GT3 (Rintaro Kubo / Atsushi Miyake) and No.6 ADVICS muta MC86 (Ryohei Sakaguchi / Kazuto Kotaka).
If to make a prediction from the official test held at Fuji, the top favorite would be No.4 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG (Nobuteru Taniguchi / Tatsuya Kataoka) that placed second overall on the first day and third on the second day. Two veteran drivers and Team Manager Ukyo Katayama of the team are looking ahead strongly with really positive mind as they claim there is a 3-year circle in winning the championship. No.65 LEON PYRAMID AMG (Naoya Gamou / Togo Suganami) with the same AMG GT3 is also seemed to be in a good shape.
Standing against the favorites are the domestic GT cars, and the expectation is set high for No.34 Modulo KENWOOD NSX GT3 (Ryo Michigami / Jake Parsons), which marked a top time in just last one lap on Day 1 of the test, and defending champion No.55 ARTA NSX GT3 (Shinichi Takagi / Toshiki Oyu).
With the overall fastest lap time of Day 2 of testing, all the hope is put on No.61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT (Takuto Iguchi / Hideki Yamauchi) for finally clinching the GT300 class title this season. Furthermore, No.96 K-tunes RC F GT3 (Morio Nitta / Sena Sakaguchi), falling just short of the title last year, as well as teams fielding GT-R GT3, No.10 TANAX ITOCHU ENEX with IMPUL GT-R (Kazuki Hoshino / Keishi Ishikawa), No.11 GAINER TANAX GT-R (Katsuyuki Hiranaka / Hironobu Yasuda), and No.56 Realize Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R (Kiyoto Fujinami / Joao Paulo de Oliveira) with completely new driver lineup, could well be fighting in the contention for the top place.
The season opening round of 2020 AUTOBACS SUPER GT which all motorsports fans have been waiting for will be broadcast by the same broadcaster as last year, J SPORTS, on live, recorded, and on demand (all formats are domestic only) It is very unfortunate that first half of this season has to be held without spectators on the stands, but TV crews are generating and implementing creativity and ingenuity to bring the excitement of the race from the circuit to all the fans, and you can count on it.