Lester chasing Super GT glory in Japan
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After scoring his dream drive in Japan's highly competitive Autobacs Super GT series, a surprisingly successful pre-season test programme has seen New Zealand's Jono Lester alter his personal goals to include podiums and race wins.
"I've got a very positive feeling about this team. Everybody's been working, nobody's put a foot wrong, our driver changes are quick, our pit stops are quick -- everything's justgelling nicely," Lester told Driven. "I definitely think we can challenge for podiums and race wins this year."
The 27-year-old is one of two Kiwis on the 2017 Super GT grid, with Nick Cassidy lining up in a GT500 Lexus LC500. Lester and his Gulf Racing Japan Porsche 911 GT3-R co-driver Kysuke Mineo set the third fastest time in the GT300 class in the category's crucial final test at Fuji Speedway (which was then cut short by snow). The Fuji Speedway test was one of two pre-season test sessions for the category; the former at Okayama.
"Obviously it was a pretty quick lead in from the week before at Okayama. We made some good progress there, but there were a few things that we didn't get to try which we put on the car straight away," Lester said.
"We focused on some long runs, we tried some different tyres, tried some different brakes -- all sorts of stuff -- and tried to pack as much into it as possible. And then we did a qualifying simulation at the end, along with everybody else, which is when we put the car in P3.
"It felt mega on the new tyre, but there's still time in it. I'm still learning, but it was a great performance and we're obviously where we need to be."
Lester expects the factory Nissan squad (who topped final Fuji Speedway testing with drivers Mitsunori Takaboshi and Kazuki Noshino) to be the team to beat this season, however he doesn't think any one team will stand up and dominate the series.
"Everybody's quick. We had 17 cars within nine-tenths of a second in the first run yesterday. It's a V8 Supercar -- type field spread -- It's mental," he said.
"So if you make one small mistake and lose a tenth, it can cost you five, six, seven positions. Anybody on their day can be strong, which means that we can't let our guard down and we have to be on it the whole time.
"And to put together a championship charge in this series, like V8s and many other series around the world, is so so difficult. And that's why it's so rewarding if you can pull it off."
2017 Super GT calendar
Round 1: Okayama GT, 300km - April 9
Round 2: Fuji GT, 500km - May 4
Round 3: Autopolis GT, 300km - May 21
Round 4: Sugo GT, 300km - July 23
Round 5: Fuji GT, 300km - August 6
Round 6: International Suzuka 1000, 1000km - August 27
Round 7: Buriram United Super GT, 300km - October 8
Round 8: Motegi GT, 250km - November 12