Honda braced for "tougher" battle against Toyota in 2021
Honda says it is braced for a "tougher" battle against Toyota in the second year of competition for its front-engined NSX-GT in the 2021 SUPER GT season.
Last year, Honda won four times out of a possible eight and took pole five times, with Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino sealing the title for Team Kunimitsu in a dramatic season finale at Fuji Speedway.
That was despite the marque playing down expectations ahead of the campaign after converting its traditional mid-engined NSX-GT into a front-engine, rear-wheel drive car to meet the new 2020 SUPER GT regulations.
A development freeze has been imposed this year in the top GT500 class the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to help contain costs, meaning this year's cars are largely the same as last year's.
Honda's head of car development Tomohiro Onishi however believes that Toyota has still made a step forward, based on the evidence of pre-season testing.
"We’d like to make Okayama the NSX-GT’s forte and score a lot of points, but if you look at the results [from testing], there’s almost no difference with our rivals, especially Toyota," Onishi said. "It looks like it will be a close battle.
"At Fuji last year we were able to win thanks to the weight handicap [in Round 2]. But looking at the joint test, Toyota seems even faster. In terms of one-lap speed and top speed, even in long runs, they have improved slightly. So it may be a tougher battle than last year."
#36 au TOM'S GR Supra, #39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Honda project leader Masahiro Saiki added that he believes that the Toyota was the superior machine last year regardless of Honda's winning record.
"Looking back, I think the GR Supra was the strongest and fastest car," he said. "It was our first year with the FR car, so we started the season as ‘challenger’ in relation to our two rival manufacturers.
"Five pole positions and four wins may look like a dominant record, but if you take success ballast into account, I think we lost almost every round.
"This year, races are planned in Okayama, Autopolis and Sugo, where we couldn’t race last year. To ensure we can handle those tracks, during the off-season we tried various set-ups and devoted ourselves to checking [fully] how we can use this FR car."
Despite the development freeze, Saiki said Honda has still been able to reduce the weight of the engine to assist with the set-up, while improving the intake and exhaust systems.
He said further improvements to efficiency could be introduced later in the year for the second engine of the allotted two units per season that GT500 teams are restricted to using.
"The engine is not a big step up, but it is slightly higher in terms of power," Saiki revealed. "The combustion efficiency has also gone up as a result.
"We have found several methods to increase that [combustion efficiency] further, but we have to balance this against reliability. If the reliability can be confirmed, we can incorporate those in the second engine."
Saiki concluded by saying: "Of course, the goal is to defend the title. As far as I know, Honda has never won the title two years in a row. Therefore, we’ll do our best to aim for consecutive titles."
#1 STANLEY NSX-GT
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Super GT returns to Motorsport.tv for the 2021 season
Okayama Super GT: TOM'S on pole as Toyota Supras dominate