Okayama, Day 1, Friday
© Janos Wimpffen
Konnichi-wa from a partly cloudy but very pleasant
day at the Okayama International Circuit. This is the first day
of the final round of the 2006 Japan Le Mans Challenge. It has been
a mixed introduction for this, the third of the global Le Mans type
The glass half-full perspective holds that it is
difficult to round up an adequate number of ACO-legal cars to hold
a proper championship and that this pilot effort should be taken
as an enthusiastic introduction rather than as a final statement.
The glass half-empty approach states that the potential is not there.
It’s probably too early to judge.
It is definitely a fuller plate this weekend with
20 entries, eclipsing the first two races where the organizers were
barely able to scrape together a starting field into the two-digit
range. Alas, none of the additional cars, apart from a GT2 Porsche,
would be eligible to run at Le Mans in 2007. Indeed, that is what
the JLMC faces, the prospect of handing the four class crowns to
teams and cars unable to present proper invitations to the party
We do have the prospects of good racing here. P1
is headed by the Hitotsuyama Zytek which has run fast, but retired,
at both previous races. The Mugen-entered “works” Courage-Mugen
also hit problems at its only previous appearance at Motegi. The
remainder of the P1 and all of P2 is composed of center-seat single-seat
sports cars that have been a staple of mid-level Japanese prototype
racing for some time. They and the other non-ACO ready cars have
been given a dispensation to help pad the field.
other entry, a 550 Maranello, has won both rounds overall from the
GT1 class. It faces the Le Mans veteran JLOC Murcielago this time
and a Mosler from the Super GT series.
GT2 is the largest category, with three full Porsche 996s plus an
older 964. The Team Kawamura RSR has won both races thus far. There
are also two Mazdas in the class. One of them, No. 7, is woman-owned,
operated and driven. The drivers have to hand over a ticket before
and Sakiko Tsuji, above.
Okayama circuit, formerly known as TI Aida, features a set of sweeping
turns past some of the many verdant small peaks dotting the area,
then back along a long straight, some sharp bends behind the paddock
and then a hairpin and double right-angle combination returning
to the finishing straight. One of the most dramatic sections is
the broad hairpin before the long straight. It is set at the base
of a rocky cliff, somewhat reminiscent of the old Rouen circuit.
The surface is quite narrow in most sections, that is, just about
anywhere apart from the front stretch.
The track is within Okayama Prefecture, located
about 50 kms. northeast of the city itself. Okayama is in the western
portion of the main Japanese island, Honshu, and is about one-third
of the distance between the major Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area and
Hiroshima on the west coast of the island. As noted, we are in the
midst of a very pleasant autumn weekend. Temperatures should be
in the low 20s.
A quick and
very silly cultural note—better ones to follow. Those familiar
with this otherwise beautiful country know that there are easily
more vending machines in Japan then there are people in Sweden.
That’s probably not an exaggeration. They are simply everywhere.
the drive up from the train station we passed through a cluster
of three houses nestled at the base of a hill above a delightful
stream. Crouched between two of the houses was the ubiquitous vending
machine dispensing bottles of Pocari Sweat to any would be angler
or hiker who stumbled by with the yen.
On a more physical
note, it always impressive how hilly is this land. The few flat
spots are the locations of the cities.
With 30 minutes
gone of the first of two 90-minute free sessions, 18 of the 20 cars
have taken to the track. Only the No. 111 Oscar and the No. 8 Mazda
RX-8 have yet to be seen.
The gaps in
the field are already too evident. The Zytek leads with a 1:22.251
followed by the #16 Courage Mugen at 1:23.267.
leads P2 with the No. 18 GC-21 (Grand Champion 21) at 1:30.450.
The tightness of that class is indicated by the No. 15 Oscar’s
1:30.946 behind him. This car is actually brand-new for this race.
It uses a Honda S2000 motor as opposed to the Toyotas and Mazdas
found in the other Japanese sports-racers. The No. 15 Oscar is an
aluminum monocoque, somewhat retrograde from the earlier carbon-fiber
The No. 20 Ferrari is well clear of the Lamborghini
with a 1:31.407 and the Kawamura Porsche is figuratively all alone
in GT2 at 1:35.222.
The 2007 schedule for the JLMC has been released
and is as follows:
13 May, Sugo
3 June, Fuji
22 July, Motegi
27 October, Okayama.
Same format, with 1000-kilometer events and with
the non-ACO cars accepted again.
Throughout the first session the relative orders
remained but times crept downward. The Zytek has improved to 1:21.887,
the No. 18 GC to 1:30.116, and the Ferrari to 1:32.764. The No.
8 Mazda joined the field late and struggled to get anywhere near
the two-minute mark after numerous laps out there. It’s been
having differential problems. It finally manages a blinding 1:56
before sputtering down to 2:41—oh, dear. The No. 111 Mazda
powered P1 car did not take to the track during the first session
but Team Myst did have another car out there briefly, a spare Oscar-Toyota.
ends with the continued mild improvements of some cars. P2 has tightened
considerably with No. 15 at 1:30.101. The Courage is also a bit
quicker but still well behind the Zytek. The No. 27 Porsche also
remains the clear leader in GT2 while the GT1 leading Ferrari appears
to have stopped out on the course.
set the pace in the early part of the much warmer afternoon session,
turning a 1:22.42 compared to the Zytek’s 1:23.3. The Le Mans
veteran Lambo ran third fastest overall for the first half-hour.
At 1:31.6 it was ahead of a struggling Ferrari at 1:34.1. The P2
cars seem not to have gotten up to speed yet. The little purple
P2 Oscar nominated T-car went out and off at the hairpin at the
bottom of the long downhill straight. The session was interrupted
while it was dug out of the kitty litter.
On the restart
the Zytek takes its ‘rightful’ spot on top with a 1:21.745.
None of the
P2 cars have yet to improve upon the Lamborghini’s time for
3rd overall. The No. 111 Oscar that did not run this a.m. is going
quite well at 1:33.0. The beleaguered No. 8 Mazda has not run in
Yamazaki again ran quickly in the No. 18 GC-21 at
1:32.192, but only good enough for fourth overall. With only two
races held in the three race series, the points situation is obviously
in flux, with nearly all the regulars—however few there are,
with a shot at the respective titles. The near complete meltdown
of the P1 cars leaves the lead driver of the No. 66 Oscar, Takahiko
Shimazawa in the lead. P2 features a six-way draw between the drivers
of the converted F3 cars, GC No. 4 and GC No. 18. Given the two
outright wins, the trio in No. 20, Ferrari drivers Kataoka, Hattori,
and Tajima hold the lead for the class. However, the Mosler has
done well and its trio is only 2 points back. The identical situation
holds in GT2 with Aoyama, Ohtsuka, and Nishida in front with the
No. 27 team. Their rivals in Porsche No. 5 have a clear shot at
them, although Team Takamizawa’ third driver, Oyaji did not
On the Teams’ side, Myst has thus far been
the only one to score in P1. Aim (No. 18) and MYZ (cars 3 and 4)
are tied for the P2 lead. Hitotsuyama’s Ferrari team is only
2 points clear of the Leyjun Mosler, and once again the same holds
true with the top G2 teams.
It takes until
nearly the end of the session before a P2 car takes the third overall
spot. But it’s the new No. 15 rather than the older GC-21
car. As it is the quickest of that marque, I guess we can refer
to it as the Oscar winner. The Honda-engined car ends the day at
1:29.6. The GT2 leading Porsche also improved slightly to 1:35.3.
A clump of Oscars ended up in the 1:37s, headed by this one.
Qualifying will be held tomorrow, Saturday, with
two sessions. The 60-minute morning period is the so-called “Drivers’
Qualifying” session and the times from the afternoon are then
taken to set the grid. It consists of two 20-minute sections, one
each for the two Prototype and GT classes. Support races included
the CERJ, aka Patrick Peter’s historic car sideshow, and a
Mazda GT race.
The race will be the usual 1000-kilometers (271
laps) or 6 Hours, whichever comes first. This being a tight circuit,
expect the latter. The start is at 11:00 and sunset is at 17:11,
so the last half-hour or so should be spent in the shadows cast
by the many pretty hills.
Free Practice Times
21 Zytek 1:21.887 1:21.745
16 Courage 1:22.623 1:22.420
15 Oscar 1:30.946 1:29.567
18 GC-21 1:30.031 1:31.522
88 Lamborghini 1:31.487 1:30.453
20 Ferrari 1:31.407 1:33.679
4 GC-21 1:31.628 1:32.524
3 GC-21 1:32.764 1:34.374
111 Oscar none 1:33.041
27 Porsche 1:34.780 1:35.311
9 Mosler 1:35.176 1:36.019
5 Porsche 1:39.328 1:35.825
37 Oscar 1:37.487 1:35.976
52 Oscar 1:37.845 1:35.990
65 Oscar 1:37.359 1:36.623
66 Oscar 1:37.804 1:36.824
77 Porsche 1:39.510 1:43.481
930 Porsche 1:43.050 1:43.612
7 Mazda 1:47.244 1:46.982
8 Mazda 1:55.572 none
15T Oscar not timed not timed