Toyota Super GT drivers fear "tough" 2021 season
Toyota SUPER GT ace Ryo Hirakawa admits he expects a "tough" season in 2021 with a schedule less well-suited to the GR Supra than last year's unorthodox calendar.
Hirakawa fell agonisingly short of scoring his second GT500 title last year after running out of fuel within sight of the chequered flag while leading in the Fuji Speedway finale.
That race was one of four visits to the Toyota-owned track as part of a schedule radically overhauled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the GR Supra generally excelling at Fuji thanks to its high top speed but struggling compared to GT500 rival marques Honda and Nissan at Suzuka and Motegi.
This year sees the return of Okayama, Sugo and Autopolis to the schedule after they were temporarily dropped for 2020, and Hirakawa thinks this means Toyota has to start performing better on higher-downforce tracks to stay in with a chance of the title.
"I think this year could be a bit tough for the Supra," Hirakawa told Motorsport.com. "Because last year we were at Fuji four times, but this year we have Okayama, Sugo, Autopolis - high-downforce circuits, which are not really good for us.
"It’s good for Honda, maybe, so we have to find a way to be good here [Okayama] as well. In the off-season we were trying to find something, and we found a little bit but not so much. I think Round 1 will be very important [to prove we can be competitive]."
Kenta Yamashita, returning to SUPER GT full-time this year for Rookie Racing after making three cameo outings for Toyota in 2020, offered a similar opinion to Hirakawa.
#14 ENEOS X PRIME GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
"I think the Supra is only quick around Fuji, so other tracks are a bit difficult," Yamashita told Motorsport.com. "Because there are only two Fuji races this year, it could be harder than last year."
Hirakawa is also facing the possibility of going into the first round of the season at Okayama on April 11-12 without his new regular teammate Sacha Fenestraz, who is currently unable to enter Japan due to travel restrictions.
GT300 regular Sena Sakaguchi deputised for Fenestraz at Okayama, setting the third-fastest time of the test, and is set to join Hirakawa again for the final pre-season test at Fuji at the end of this month.
"He did quite a good job," said Hirakawa of Sakaguchi. "When he did a long run on old tyres he was struggling, because in such cold conditions you have to be really careful or you get so much graining. He was making that situation himself by turning too aggressively.
"But then he put the new tyre on and he was ok, I was a bit surprised. He just needs to work on race performance, that’s the hardest thing."
Sakaguchi made one start in the GT500 ranks last year for Team SARD in the second race of the year at Fuji, deputising for an absent Heikki Kovalainen.
Ryo Hirakawa, Sena Sakaguchi（#37 KeePer TOM'S GR Supra）
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
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