SUPER GT: Dunlop hopeful of improved 2023 after Mugen split
The tyre brand is back to supplying a single car in the top GT500 class this season, the #64 Nakajima Racing Honda NSX-GT, for the first time since 2020.
It follows Mugen ending a two-year relationship with Dunlop in order to join forces with ARTA and field a two car team using Bridgestone rubber.
Nakajima has suffered two disappointing seasons since a breakthrough 2020 campaign in which it scored two pole positions and a podium, finishing bottom of the GT500 standings last year with a best finish of seventh place at Sugo.
However, a fresh development push over the off-season has left Dunlop Japan’s motorsport department manager Yoshinao Yasuda confident that the Nakajima Honda team can return to challenging for top results at certain venues.
“During the off-season we concentrated on improving our race pace,” Yasuda told Motorsport.com. “We have been focused on improving the contact patch efficiency with a new construction and it’s working better than last year.
“Everything has been going in a good direction, but there is still a lot we have to do to develop the compound.
“I don’t think we are far off at Suzuka, it should be ok there, but other tracks are more difficult. Still, it seems to be better than last year.”
Yasuda said that Dunlop would focus on achieving results at its strongest circuits this year as it chases a first GT500 win since the 2017 Suzuka 1000km.
“The target is to do well at Suzuka, and maybe Autopolis,” said Yasuda. “We are concentrating on those tracks and developing compounds that will work there.”
Big Suzuka crash still under investigation
Dunlop’s off-season was disrupted by a big crash in manufacturer testing at Suzuka as Nakajima rookie Kakunoshin Ota went hard into the barriers at the 130R corner after suffering a tyre failure.
However, the #64 car was rebuilt around a new chassis, that of the #99 Honda test car, in time for the following week’s first official pre-season test at Okayama, although Ota was forced to sit out the test due to his injuries.
Yasuda said that while the exact cause of the tyre failure that caused the crash remains unclear, a production error has been ruled out.
“There was a big accident at Suzuka, but now we know which tyre will survive,” said Yasuda. “Tyre development-wise, we know we can’t go further than that.
“We are still investigating, but we checked the tyres and we don’t think it’s a production issue. It was a different construction than we usually use, so it could be that.
“It’s possible it started to fail on some of the kerbs. After you hit the kerb, you go to 130R, and it rips the construction and it fails. But we are trying to find out how it happened.”
The Nakajima Honda of Izawa was 10th-fastest in the Okayama test with a best time around eight tenths of a second off the pace-setting ARTA Honda.
Ota is set to return to action in this weekend’s second and final official pre-season test at Fuji according to the latest version of the entry list.