Blancpain GT Series Asia’s race-by-race Japanese entries - ARN Racing, CarGuy Racing and D’station Racing - all enjoyed encouraging championship debuts at Suzuka last weekend ahead of their second appearances at Fuji Speedway this August.
While the inaugural campaign’s 25+ full-season entry list originally surpassed all expectations, series organisers - SRO Motorsports Group - continued working hard to attract regional teams and drivers eager to sample their first taste of pan-continental GT racing and globally recognised Balance of Performance regulations on home soil. This approach previously proved successful in both Malaysia and Thailand, and continued during Suzuka’s fifth and sixth rounds where the three Super Taikyu teams, as well as GT4 driver Masahiko Ida, joined KCMG’s full-season Japanese Am Cup pairing.
All debutants turned heads with their pace and professionalism, but it was ARN Racing’s Ferrari piloted by Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki that posed the biggest challenge to the championship’s regular front-runners.
The eye-catching metallic maroon-coloured 488 GT3 topped Free Practice 3 courtesy of Sasaki before Nagai qualified sixth and ran as high as fourth en route to an excellent sixth overall and Pro/Am runners-up trophy in Race 1. A puncture in Sunday’s second hour-long encounter derailed any hope of another strong result, but Sasaki at least underlined the team’s raw pace by setting fastest lap.
CarGuy Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Takeshi Kimura and Kei Cozzolino had the pace to finish higher than 12th overall in Race 2, while Satoshi Hoshino and Seiji Ara recovered from a tough first outing to bring their D’station Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R home 18th in Race 2.
The KCMG-entered Audi R8 LMS GT3 driven by Naoto Takeda and Takuya Shirasaka, which has contested every Blancpain GT Series Asia round so far in 2017, claimed an Am Cup podium in Race 1 and now leads the class standings. It was a similar story for Ida whose HubAuto Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR looked set to add a class victory to its earlier rostrum before being penalised for a pitstop infringement.
At least one more Japanese race-by-race entry - to be announced later this week - will join ARN Racing, CarGuy Racing and D’station Racing at Fuji on August 19/20, while spaces remain open for additional teams and drivers eager to test themselves against the best Blancpain GT Series Asia has to offer. Indeed, SRO Motorsports Group underlined its commitment by holding separate Japanese-language driver and team briefings in Suzuka, as well as translating all internal/external written communications and press releases. The same service will be provided in two months’ time.
Hiroaki Nagai, #28 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: “We were at Suzuka two weeks ago for Super Taikyu, so we had some data for our car. But as last weekend was our first time with Pirelli tyres, it took us three practice sessions to find a balance. Nevertheless, in the first race we were able to finish second in Pro/Am, and in Race 2 we set the fastest lap despite retiring early with damage from contact. Everyone in Blancpain GT Series Asia is friendly and we enjoyed the high level of racing. The next event is at Fuji and, since both myself and Kota Sasaki have been there many times, we are aiming to win both the Pro/Am class and overall.”
Kei Cozzolino, #777 CarGuy Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: “This was the first time that CarGuy Racing had competed in an international series. Although we know Suzuka Circuit very well, it was difficult for us to race against the established teams contesting the full season. The biggest challenge for us was to know about the tyres, and since we had no prior testing, everything was new to us as we went along. For Fuji, I am sure we can learn so much from the data we collected at Suzuka, and with the right set-up and teamwork, we can aim for a higher position. As the driver, now that I know how to qualify and manage the race, I think we will be better equipped there.”
Championship Manager Benjamin Franassovici: “We wanted our Japanese teams and drivers to feel completely comfortable racing in a new environment last weekend, and the positive feedback we’ve since received suggests the championship has achieved that. The pace of our race-by-race entries, and ARN Racing’s drivers in particular, proves that local teams can join our series for a one-off outing and compare very favourably with their regional rivals. Theirs is a fantastic example to any others looking at potentially entering our Fuji round on August 19/20.”