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All you need to know ahead of Super GT pre-season testing

The SUPER GT season kicks into gear this weekend with the start of official pre-season testing at Okayama. Jamie Klein summarises everything you need to know ahead of the new campaign.

All you need to know ahead of Super GT pre-season testing

When does testing take place?

All times are JST (GMT +9)

Saturday March 6

Session 1: 10:00-12.10
Session 2: 14:00-16.20 (includes 10 minutes each GT300-only and GT500-only running)

Sunday March 7

Session 3: 09:00-11.25
Session 4: 13:50-16.00

A further two-day official test is scheduled for Fuji Speedway on March 27-28 before the season kicks off at Okayama on April 10-11.

Which teams are testing this weekend?

All but one of the 44 cars that named on the full-season entry list will be in action this weekend at Okayama, with the only absentee being the Max Racing Toyota GT300 squad. That reduces the car count in the lower class to 28, while 15 cars are entered in the top GT500 category.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan continue their three-way rivalry in GT500, supplying six, five and four cars respectively - the same number as last year. No fewer than 12 brands are represented in GT300, which features cars from three different rulesets: The series' own GT300 rules, ‘Mother Chassis’ cars based around a standard Dome tub and the dominant FIA GT3 cars. Six GT300 cars and a pair of Mother Chassis machines take on 21 FIA GT3 entries this year.

Start Action

Start Action

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Toyota and Nissan are the best represented entries in the class with five entries apiece, followed by Mercedes with four, Honda with three and Audi and Lamborghini with two each. Lotus, Subaru, Porsche, BMW and returnee Ferrari are all represented by a single car.

SUPER GT’s four-way tyre war also continues to rage, but with a slight shift in the balance of power following the Mugen Honda team’s recently-announced switch from Yokohama rubber to Dunlop. Bridgestone supplies the bulk of the GT500 class with nine cars, with the remaining six now split evenly between Michelin, Yokohama and Dunlop.

Michelin is no longer involved in the GT300 class, with one of its two customers in the class from last year - LM Corsa - switching to Dunlop rubber and the other, D’station Racing, failing to secure an entry in 2021 amid the end of its alliance with Pacific Racing.

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Who is new to the grid in 2021?

In GT500, there are no new teams this year, with the make-up of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan rosters unchanged from 2020. But there are a couple of new drivers in the top class, notably new Nissan recruit Nobuharu Matsushita (Team Impul) and Honda young gun Toshiki Oyu (Mugen). Additionally, Kenta Yamashita is back from his ‘year abroad’ racing full-time for Rookie Racing, reunited with 2019 title-winning co-driver Kazuya Oshima.

The most notable newcomer in GT300 has to be Giuliano Alesi, who will be joining Toyota Team Thailand at Okayama and most likely for much of the season as teammate to Sean Walkinshaw. The ex-Ferrari Academy driver is making his sportscar racing debut after five seasons racing in the Formula 1 support paddock, but is also keeping his foot in single-seaters by taking on a full campaign in Super Formula Lights with TOM'S.

Giuliano Alesi, Sean Walkinshaw, #35 arto RC F GT3

Giuliano Alesi, Sean Walkinshaw, #35 arto RC F GT3

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

One of Alesi's SF Lights rivals, Honda junior Ren Sato, is making his SUPER GT debut with the ARTA GT300 team alongside veteran Shinichi Takagi, while Teppei Natori joins the UpGarage Honda team, joining forces with ex-GT500 man Takashi Kobayashi.

Another young driver to watch, in the Okayama test at least, will be Toyota protege Hibiki Taira. The Japanese F4 champion takes the place of Sena Sakaguchi at K-Tunes Racing, as Sakaguchi is deputising for Sacha Fenestraz in the TOM'S GT500 squad. Whether both will end up racing for their temporary teams depends on how quickly Fenestraz's current visa woes are resolved.

In GT300, there are no brand-new teams as such, but there are two returning squads in the form of Team LeMans and CarGuy Racing. Team LeMans, which split with Toyota just after winning the 2019 GT500 title, is back with an Audi R8 LMS for three-time GT500 champion Satoshi Motoyama and newcomer Yoshiaki Katayama, while CarGuy returns after a three-year absence in a new partnership with Pacific Racing to field a Ferrari 488 GT3 for Kei Cozzolino and Takeshi Kimura.

Is anyone missing from last year?

On the driver front, the most notable absences from an international perspective are former Tokyo flatmates Nick Cassidy and Jann Mardenborough. Ex-Toyota man Cassidy is now racing full-time in Formula E, while Mardenborough is potentially facing a season on the sidelines following the end of his tenure as a Nissan GT500 driver.

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Jann Mardenborough, Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500, Nick Cassidy, Lexus Team TOM'S Lexus LC500

Jann Mardenborough, Kondo Racing Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500, Nick Cassidy, Lexus Team TOM'S Lexus LC500

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

The only other GT500 driver from 2020 out of a drive is former IndyCar racer Hideki Mutoh, who is replaced by Oyu within the Mugen Honda squad alongside Ukyo Sasahara. However, Mutoh has been drafted in by Team Kunimitsu to stand in for Tadasuke Makino in the Okayama test, as Makino continues his recovery from meningitis.

In GT300, two teams are missing completely from 2020: D’station Racing, which lost its entry rights following the end of its tie-up with Pacific Racing, and Hong-Kong based X Works. The merger of the Inging and Cars Tokai Lotus squads accounts for the one-car reduction in the class when balanced against the two new arrivals (Pacific/CarGuy and Team LeMans).

On the driver front, three international drivers on the grid at the end of last year are absent: Jake Parsons, Sean Thong and Mathias Beche. Japan-domiciled Australian Parsons has switched to Super Taikyu for 2021, but hopes to make some SUPER GT outings this year, while Hong Kong-born Thong and Swiss driver Beche are yet to reveal their plans for the new season.

Among the Japanese drivers absent as things stand are Kazuko Kotaka, a victim of the Inging/Lotus merger, D’station manager-driver Tomonobu Fujii, Hitotsuyama Audi stand-in Tsubasa Kondo (replaced by Takuro Shinahara for 2021) and JLOC substitutes Tsubasa Takahashi and Shinnosuke Yamada (replaced by Natsu Sakaguchi and Kosuke Matsuura).

Are there any new cars in 2021?

Not in the GT500 class. In fact, the aero development freeze introduced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic means this year's breed of top-class cars - the Toyota GR Supra, the Honda NSX-GT and the NIssan GT-R - are very similar to last year's. 

But there is a new car in the GT300 ranks in the form of the hotly anticipated second-generation Subaru BRZ. This replaces the old model that had been in service since 2012, and is based around the road car that was officially unveiled late last year. Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi are kept on as drivers as the R&D Sport-run squad searches for a first-ever title.

#61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT

#61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT

Photo by: Subaru

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What other changes are there for this year?

The obvious change from last year is the schedule, which sees the return of Sugo, Autopolis and Okayama - which hosts the opening round next month - following their absence from last year’s coronavirus-impacted calendar. A less condensed schedule also means there will be fewer races in the summer and more in the cooler spring and autumn months, which could lead to some wet races after a 2020 season that hardly featured any wet running at all. 

The Full Course Yellow, delayed from its planned introduction last year, will be tested further this weekend at Okayama and could make a full debut at some point during the season, which would change the complexion of races and eliminate some of the need to pit as early as possible to cover off the risk of a safety car.

FCY practice

FCY practice

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Also worth noting is how the returning tracks will affect the way the championship pans out. Sugo and Autopolis slot in as the fifth and sixth races of the year - in other words, when the weight handicaps are at their highest. Given these slower, technical tracks are likely to penalise the heavier cars less than tracks like Fuji or Motegi, it means the championship contenders can aim for better results at this point in the campaign rather than just scrapping for a couple of points as was often the case in 2020.

The success ballast itself is unchanged from last year - 2kg per point in GT500 for rounds two through six, and 3kg per point in GT300. For the penultimate race at Motegi, that’s halved to 1kg and 1.5kg respectively, and for the Fuji finale the weights are axed entirely.

One more minor change is a tweak designed to even the playing field in the GT300 class, with GT300-rules cars now unable to change their front and rear diffuser designs all season and only able to use two different types of front canard and rear wing (but any combination thereof). The hope is this will bring the subclass more in line with the FIA GT3 cars, which have a fixed specification and cannot be altered from their homologated design.

#55 ARTA NSX GT3

#55 ARTA NSX GT3

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

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About this article

Series Super GT
Event Okayama March testing
Author Jamie Klein