Is Honda really as strong as it looks in SUPER GT testing?


The first of these tests was held at Suzuka late last month, but was cut short by a day due to snow. Then at the start of February, two days of running were held at Fuji, albeit with Toyota not participating, before the focus shifted to Okayama the following week, with 10 cars in attendance.

This test provided the best indication yet of how things are shaping up between Honda, Nissan and Toyota. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Honda is going into the new campaign as the marque to beat.

Every single one of the five test days so far has been topped by one of the NSX-GT crews. But over the two days of running at Okayama in particular, the gap between the Hondas and the rest was marked.

Fastest on both on the opening day and overall was the #17 Real Racing car, with Koudai Tsukakoshi logging the best time of 1m16.263s – around four tenths underneath the pole record set by Nissan’s Ronnie Quintarelli in 2019.

The other Bridgestone-shod NSX-GTs came next, with Toshiki Oyu putting the #8 ARTA car second on a 1m16.516s, followed by Naoki Yamamoto’s 1m16.628s in the Kunimitsu Honda and Nirei Fukuzumi’s 1m16.633s in the #16 ARTA car.

 

Best of the non-Hondas was the sole Nissan present, the #1 Team Impul Z, with Kazuki Hiramine setting that car’s best time of 1m16.917s – more than six tenths off the pace. It’s the same story for Toyota, whose top representative was the #36 TOM’S GR Supra driven by Sho Tsuboi to a best lap of 1m16.988s.

Headline laptimes can often be misleading in SUPER GT testing, especially in the winter when the temperatures are cool and the air is dense, leading to greater downforce levels that won’t be possible to replicate when the season gets underway in April.

But compared to the laptimes from last year’s Okayama test in February (which was not attended by Nissan), the Toyotas are broadly similar to where they were, while the Bridgestone Honda contingent has made a quantum leap forward, helped no doubt by greater understanding of the Type S aero package as well as engine advancements.

With Honda looking so good on the surface, Motorsport.com has obtained full laptime data from the two days at Okayama in order to drill down into matters a little further.

We’ve looked at both the short-run and long-run data to see whether in particular the four Bridgestone NSX-GTs are really as strong as a quick glimpse at the fastest times suggests. And the results make for somewhat grim reading for Nissan and Toyota.

First, short runs. With almost all the fastest times being set either during the morning of Day 1 (Session 1) or the morning of Day 2 (Session 3), we’ve taken the five fastest times per car set by either driver across these two sessions and produced an average to try and provide a picture of the kind of qualifying pace each car is able to achieve consistently.

Average of best five laps (Sessions 1 and 3):

Pos.

Car/Team

Driver(s)

Time

1

Real Honda

Tsukakoshi/Matsushita

1’16.549

2

ARTA Honda

Nojiri/Oyu

1’16.713

3

ARTA Honda

Fukuzumi

1’16.778

4

Kunimitsu Honda

Yamamoto/Makino

1’16.875

5

TOM’S Toyota

Tsuboi/Miyata

1’17.046

6

Impul Nissan

Hiramine

1’17.155

7

SARD Toyota

Nakayama

1’17.163

8

TOM’S Toyota

Sasahara

1’17.408

9

Nakajima Honda

Izawa

1’17.760

10

Cerumo Toyota

Tachikawa

1’17.939

As mentioned before, Tsukakoshi’s lap of 1m16.263s was enough to top the test, but so was his second best-lap, a 1m16.345s. Combined with Nobuharu Matushita’s best three laps aboard the #17 car, it gives a five-lap average nearly two tenths clear of the opposition.

The remaining three Bridgestone Hondas all achieved five-lap averages beneath the 1m17s mark, with the combined efforts of Tomoki Nojiri and Toshiki Oyu in the #8 just edging out Nirei Fukuzumi, who did the vast majority of the short runs at the wheel of the #16. 

In this comparison, it’s the #36 TOM’S car shared by Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata that comes out as best non-Honda, but still 0.497s off the pace. The Impul Nissan, in which the fastest five times all came courtesy of Hiramine, was 0.606s slower than the Real Honda.

What’s more, both the #36 Toyota and the #1 Nissan both set only one lap in the 1m16s range apiece for the entire test, compared with 10 for the #17 Real Honda, six for the #8 ARTA car, five for the #16 and three for the #100 Kunimitsu NSX.

The remaining four cars, the #37 TOM’S, SARD and Cerumo Toyotas and the Nakajima Honda, never cleared the 1m17s barrier, and the slowest of all, the Cerumo car, only managed to set three laps faster than 1m18s.

 

Turning our attention towards long-run pace, we only have the afternoon session on Day 2 (Session 4) to consider, as this was the only session to feature runs that were long enough to really be worth analysing separately from the shorter runs of Sessions 1, 2 and 3.

We’ve taken a look at both five and 10-lap averages, with the majority of runs not featuring many more than 10 representative laps (the early laps of each run on cold tyres are discarded). The longest run of any car was a string of 24 laps set by Makino in the Kunimitsu Honda, in which his best time was a 1m18.528s – one of 10 laps in the 1m18s range. 

But the run that will really have struck fear into the hearts of the opposition was a 22-lap stint from Matsushita in the Real Honda, in which he stayed in the 1m18s range virtually throughout, only dipping in the very low 1m19s for two laps midway through the run.

That was soon followed by a no less impressive 16-lap run from Tsukakoshi, who reeled off 10 successive laps in the 1m18s bracket to top both the five-lap and 10-lap averages.

Best five-lap averages (Session 4):

Pos.

Car/Team

Driver

Time

1

Real Honda

Tsukakoshi

1’18.412

2

ARTA Honda

Oyu

1’18.428

3

Kunimitsu Honda

Makino

1’18.705

4

Impul Nissan

Hiramine

1’18.905

5

ARTA Honda

Otsu

1’18.948

6

TOM’S Toyota

Tsuboi

1’19.243

7

SARD Toyota

Sekiguchi

1’19.552

8

Nakajima Honda

Ota

1’19.639

9

TOM’S Toyota

Alesi

1’19.673

Best 10-lap averages (Session 4):

Pos.

Car/Team

Driver

Time

1

Real Honda

Tsukakoshi

1’18.567

2

ARTA Honda

Oyu

1’18.620

3

Kunimitsu Honda

Makino

1’18.807

4

ARTA Honda

Otsu

1’19.292

5

Impul Nissan

Baguette

1’19.463

6

Nakajima Honda

Ota

1’19.779

7

TOM’S Toyota

Tsuboi

1’19.875

8

TOM’S Toyota

Alesi

1’19.876

9

SARD Toyota

Sekiguchi

1’20.017

The next-best average came from Oyu in the #8 ARTA Honda as part of a 17-lap run that featured nine laps in the 1m18s range, with Makino’s 24-lap stint producing the third-best average. A consistent but not especially quick 19-lap run from Hiroki Otsu in the #16 ARTA car was next up on the 10-lap averages. 

Tsuboi did the best run of any of the Toyota drivers in the #36 GR Supra, but in 16 laps he never cracked the 1m18s. He also experienced more drop-off, with his 10th-best lap being over a second a lap slower than his best. By contrast, Tsukakoshi only saw his times drop off by around half a second, while Matsushita impressively did 10 laps all within three tenths.

It was a similar story for the Impul Nissan, with Bertrand Baguette’s 16-lap run proving marginally more consistent than Tsuboi’s but slower on peak pace. Hiramine did a 13-lap stint with four laps in the 1m18s range, giving him the fourth-best five-lap average, but experienced an alarming drop-off that dragged down his 10-lap average.

Now, there are of course some limitations with this data. For a start, five of the 15 GT500 cars didn’t attend, so we can’t say with any certainty how the two Michelin-shod NISMO Nissans, the two Yokohama-shod cars or the Rookie Racing Toyota (due to test at Okayama but still being restored after Kenta Yamashita’s big crash at Suzuka) might have fared.

Changing conditions also make comparisons somewhat imperfect, and we don’t have information on tyre choice and fuel loads. Incidents, such as Baguette’s excursion in the gravel in Session 4, and reliability dramas also impact things – the #38 Cerumo Toyota, for example, didn’t complete a single long run due to some unspecified trouble.

That said, the picture is starting to look clearer, even compensating for some of these factors. Honda, which now has four of its five cars on the benchmark Bridgestone tyre, looks very much like the car to beat over both a single lap and a stint around a track where it has not excelled in recent seasons.

The numbers will be especially alarming for Toyota, which has dominated the past two races at Okayama but is now looking very much on the back foot.

Official testing in March will no doubt offer an even clearer picture, but for now, Honda’s quest to give the NSX-GT a successful farewell this season looks to have gotten off to a very good start.

 



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