Round 5 of the 2015 AUTOBACS Super GT championship takes us to Suzuka, for the annual 1000km race. The weather looks to be taking a turn for the worst, with a mixed Saturday turning to a torrid Sunday, and a late swing in Round 4 caused a few upsets in the results. All the signs are pointing towards a particularly unpredictable affair.
The first thing that needs tackling is qualifying. Saturday’s weather appears to show an influx of rain during the afternoon, but the early morning weather is characterised by sunshine interspersed with patchy showers. This could prove critical.
Firstly, GT300 - Suzuka favours JAFGT300s massively, with 2014 seeing the entire force locking out the front two rows. The hybrids appear to have a clear advantage, but the lack of pace that R&D have carried throughout the last two seasons suggests that a MC upset could be on the cards. It seems perfectly poised to be that way too, as three of the four MC cars head into the weekend with no ballast. Coming of the back of a strong SUGO test and a disappointing Round 4, Cars Tokai could finally be in a position to showcase just what the Evora is capable of. However, we then come to the weather - the MC cars, especially the Lotus, are most effective with higher track temperatures. The early morning sun could bring the heat, but the intermittent showers could take away the comfortable grip zone. Many teams will walk a very fine line between success and failure. Of course, in a scenario where grip levels are uncertain, you need a car that can switch on no matter the conditions. That car is the GT-R - and TOMEI, DIJON and apr NetMove all head in with no ballast. GT300 qualifying is looking more open than it has done all season, and the result will be completely dependent on how the teams react to the challenges the weather poses to them.
In GT500, we see a similarly open field. All Honda teams will be praying for the afternoon rain to turn up early, as they thrive in the low grip conditions. A worst case scenario would be the rain coming in at the end of Q1, since the chance of getting multiple cars near the sharp end of the grid will slip straight from their grasp. If there are any cars that can challenge up at the front, expect it to be, as always, the 15 - even with 28kg of ballast on board, Drago’s ability to wring the seemingly impossible out of the NSX platform over 2015 has been sublime. ARTA on no ballast sees another shot at a one lap wonder, although their race pace has been decidedly lacking throughout the last two seasons. Any of the other three Hondas have an equal chance at joining in the Q2 battle. The next thing to look for is how Lexus react to the temperatures - the RCF loves to generate traction in fairly low temperatures up to around 40 degrees and above, but any kind of moisture drops them off the pace quite quickly. Last year saw the back end of the grid locked out by the RCF, after a dominant early 2014 left them with a lot of ballast and an eye on race pace. Of course, this proved to be the right call - a similar thing could be seen this weekend. The Nissans are much harder to call; they could try and emulate their Fuji turnaround or they could pull out some surprisingly quick times. The race will be a much different story, but the starting order hinges on whatever they can achieve.
Tomorrow will see a race preview as usual and hopefully a clearer indication of what this weekend holds for us - not only in where everyone appears to sit, but how Sunday’s all-critical weather appears to shaping up.