A season-high of 31 supercars travel to Suzuka, Japan this weekend (30 June/31 July 2018) for the first leg of Blancpain GT Series Asia’s Japanese doubleheader.
Suzuka’s iconic 5.807km, 18-turn figure-of-eight circuit remains one of motorsport’s most significant challenges, as well as a bucket list destination for any racing driver. Two 60-minute sprint races will provide a rigorous test for Blancpain GT Series Asia’s teams before the championship completes its mid-season Japanese adventure in Fuji three weeks later.
23 GT3 cars will make the trip to Suzuka where FFF Racing Team by ACM’s Martin Kodric and Dennis Lind will be eager to extend their championship lead by claiming a first win of the season.
The Lamborghini duo has been remarkably consistent so far but is still searching for a first victory after twice finishing as runners-up. Indeed, a podium in Buriram’s second race means they must serve a 10s pitstop success penalty during Suzuka’s opening race on Saturday.
Meanwhile, GruppeM Racing will be aiming to maintain their 100% record so far in 2018. The team’s #888 and #999 Mercedes-AMG GT3s both won races in Malaysia and Thailand but have also been inconsistent.
A rotating driver roster ensures that Patric Niederhauser is currently alone in second overall and just four points off the pace. Markus Pommer, with whom he claimed race one victory at Buriram, again joins the Swiss driver this weekend.
Raffaele Marciello is also back in the #888 entry after AMG commitments at the Nurburgring 24 Hours prevented him from racing in Thailand. However, the Italian will serve the full 15s success penalty in Suzuka’s opener as a result of co-driver Alexander Mattschull winning race two at Buriram alongside super-sub Maxi Buhk.
Consistency has also been key to Nick Foster and Leo Ye Hongli occupying third in the overall standings after four races, in their Ferrari F488 GT3. They’re joined in the HubAuto Corsa garage by a new face this weekend after Ferrari factory star Davide Rigon was called up to partner Morris Chen in the absence of Tim Slade, who has a conflicting Australia Supercars round.
Martin Rump and Franky Cheng are the best-placed Audi crew in fourth while Hiroshi Hamaguchi, along with FFF Racing co-driver Marco Mapelli, will be eager to strengthen his Pro Am championship lead and overall position on home ground.
Elsewhere, former Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion Alexandre Imperatori makes his expected Blancpain GT Series Asia debut with KCMG in the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, in place of Tsugio Matsuda who will spend the rest of 2018 focusing on his primary Super GT commitments with Nissan.
However, the level of local interest remains significant at Suzuka thanks to several Japanese race-by-race entries joining the likes of ARN Racing (Ferrari) and BMW Team Studie.
CarGuy Racing claimed a GT3 victory during their previous outing at Fuji last season and return with the same bright yellow Lamborghini Huracan GT3, which is driven by team owner Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino.
Multiple Super GT300 champion Tetsuya Yamano joins his brother Naoya at Porsche Team EBI, D’station Racing’s 991 GT3 R piloted by the familiar pairing of Satoshi Hoshino and Seiji Ara is also back, and last year’s Fuji winner Naoki Yokomizo joins Tamotsu Kondo aboard Kizashi x Saccess Racing’s fluorescent orange Lamborghini. All four race-by-race crews will be stationary for an additional 7s during their race one pitstop.
There’s also a change at ARN Racing whose clashing Super GT commitments have forced full-season drivers, Hiroaki Nagai and Daisuke Ito, to miss Suzuka. They’re replaced in the #8 Ferrari by Am Cup duo Shinji Takei and Hideki Nagai, who usually compete in Porsche Carrera Cup Japan. Their minimum pitstop time in race one has increased by 7s as a result of changing both drivers.
Pirelli’s new P Zero DHD2 tyre will also be introduced this year at Suzuka. Many GT3 teams will have their first chance to try the new compound during a five-hour test session this Thursday before the weekend begins with practice on Friday.