Tough test for LEXUS PETRONAS TOM’S at Sepang

Published on June 15th, 2010

Super GT defending champions LEXUS TEAM PETRONAS TOM’S – featuring the long partnership of Germany’s Andre Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka – enters the battle for Round 4 as the championship leader; but will not, however, be the favourite to win the race at Sepang International Circuit this weekend.

Carrying a weight handicap of 68kgs – courtesy of their superb performance in Round 2 and 3 – the PETRONAS-backed team faces an uphill test despite declaring that they were ready for the challenge to score their best result of the season – to score their first win of the season.

“Despite the obvious challenges, the team and drivers are extremely motivated, especially when we look at the title fight as a whole. Moreover, this is a special round for us, as it is the home-ground of our title partner PETRONAS and we hope we can give our fans something to look forward to,” said team director Masanori Sekiya.

While the drivers can expect massive support from the locals to push their challenge, they would also need to deal with an extra 68kgs of additional weight that would definitely drag down their acceleration.

Though still looking for their first win of the season, Lotterer and Wakisaka lead the drivers’ championship standing with 34 points; holding a two-point advantage over second placed Daisuke Ito and Bjorn Wirdheim of another LEXUS – Team LEXUS LeMans ENEOS. But, like their sister team, Ito and Wirdheim would also have a heavy responsibility at Sepang as they would be carrying a 64kgs weight handicap.

With three rounds completed in the series, the LEXUS TEAM PETRONAS TOM’S currently lead the series standings in both the drivers’ (34 points) and team (43 points) categories, respectively. The team’s back-to-back podium finishes in the past two rounds at Okayama (3rd place) and Fuji (2nd place) also translates into a significant weight handicap for the team coming into the round at Sepang.

The sole round outside Japan, the Malaysian leg would provide a different kind of challenge for the drivers and teams especially with the hot and humid tropical weather. That, however, had made the round extra special for most of the competing teams and drivers especially Lotterer.

“I am looking forward to coming back to Malaysia, especially as this is the one round that takes us out of Japan. Not only does the entire Super GT fraternity get to come out and experience a different culture and environment; it is also a nice break from the routine we’re used to in Japan,” said Lotterer, who is also thrilled with the support of the locals.

“The feeling and level support is different and that makes Sepang a really nice experience for us. It also gives us an additional boost of motivation to perform at our best, especially coming here with a massive handicap! So, we will definitely give it everything for our home fans here,” he added.

The 2010 season marked the fifth year of partnership between Loterrer and Wakisaka; and that explained well the commendable performance displayed by the dynamic duo, who was also the GT500 overall champions in 2006.

Designed to equalize the performance of the competing cars, the Super GT regulations also help to ensure close competition between the teams on-track. For the LEXUS TEAM PETRONAS TOM’S, the 68 kg handicap weight in relative terms represents a significant handicap.

Wakisaka said he was looking forward to the race in Sepang as he had always loved the Formula 1 track. “I like racing at the Sepang track as it is quite varied. It has a nice mix of really fast and slow corners. While this is interesting for us drivers, it’s also interesting for the spectators,” he said.

He noted that it was going to be difficult for him and Lotterer with the heavy weight handicap that they would need to carry for the round. “For sure it makes it a tough round for us, but this does not stop us from putting up a good fight, as always,” he added.

At last year’s race in Sepang, the dynamic duo of HASEMI TOMICA EBBRO GT-R of Ronnie Quintarelli and Hironobu Yasuda caused a major upset when they stunned their more established and more celebrated rivals as they took the chequered flag for the Malaysian round.

Three rounds had passed for the 2010 season and all had featured three different winners; which is, however, not something unusual as the success ballast plays an integral part in the outcome of Super GT races.

Yasuda took the opening round of 2010; this time partnering Joao Paulo de Oliveira in a Nissan GT-R R35. As their challenge faltered badly in Round 2, the battle at Okayama was triumphed by the partnership of Weider Honda Racing – Takashi Kogure and Loic Duval. The most recent round at Fuji Speedway had Hiroaki Ishiura and Kazuya Oshima of LEXUS TEAM KRAFT as the top winner.

In the GT300 class, Team M7 MUTIARA MOTORS AMEMIYA is the ‘home away from home” team; but unlike LEXUS TEAM PETRONAS TOM’S, they are in the chasing pack despite a sensational start to the season.

Steered by drivers Nobuteru Taniguchi and Ryo Orime topped the opening round in Suzuka; taking a massive 20 points to take an early lead to the championship. The price of success is always heavy in Super GT as Round 2 saw the team collecting only a single championship point in the teams’ championship.

That race in Okayama was won by the partnership from Team MOLA – Naoki Yokomizo and Tsubasa Abe in his Nissan Fairlady Z. The team would come to Sepang as leaders for both the drivers’ and teams’ championship; collecting 35 and 44 points respectively and followed closely by the partnership of Takuto Iguchi and Yuji Kunimoto of Team COROLLA Axio apr GT.

With a total haul of 25 points, apr trailed the leading MOLA team by 10 points in the drivers’ championship and also an identical 10-point deficit in the teams’ championship with 34 points against MOLA’s 44.

Apart the Super GT races, the race in Sepang would feature four other top class support race – the GT3 Asia, the GT4 Asia, the Toyota Vios/Yaris Challenge and the Scirocco Cup China, which is featuring its first international race in Sepang.

2009 SUPER GT 500 CLASS HANDICAP WEIGHT LIST FOR ROUND 4

1. LEXUS TEAM PETRONAS TOM’S (LEXUS SC430) – 68 Kg
2. LEXUS TEAM LeMans ENEOS (LEXUS SC430) – 64 Kg
3. LEXUS TEAM KRAFT (LEXUS SC430) – 54 Kg
4. LEXUS TEAM ZENT CERUMO (LEXUS SC430) – 50 Kg
5. Weider Honda Racing (Honda HSV-010) – 48 Kg
6. KONDO Racing (Nissan GT-R) – 46 Kg
7. TEAM KUNIMITSU (Honda HSV-010) – 30 Kg
8. KEIHIN REAK RACING (Honda HSV-010) – 28 Kg
9. Team IMPUL (NISSAN GT-R) – 26 Kg
10. LEXUS TEAM SARD (LEXUS SC430) – 14 Kg
11. AUTOBACS RACING TEAM AGURI (Honda HSV-010) – 10 Kg
12. NISMO (Nissan GT-R) – 6 Kg
13. NAKAJIMA RACING (Honda HSV-010) – 6 Kg

words & pix: SIC

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