The new Lexus LC luxury coupe has been winning admirers and awards all over the world, both as a road car and a race car. Few people have experienced both sides of the car’s personality, yet British racing driver James Rossiter is in a unique position in this respect. He has the privilege of racing an LC within Japan’s high-profile Super GT championship and is then able to drive his own road-going LC back home again.
How does James view the Lexus LC from these perspectives? Following his team’s recent win in round three of the 2017 Super GT endurance championship, we caught up with him to have an informal chat.
First of all, congratulations on your win at Autopolis. How do you feel your stint went?
Rossiter: It was a very eventful race – more so than I anticipated. We started further back than we should have done due to a mistake in qualifying, but I knew we were fast. The problem was that Andrea [Caldarelli] was so close to Nick [Cassidy] that if I made a move on Andrea I risked touching Nick, which I didn’t want. But after about ten laps I got fed up waiting, so I took the pin out of the grenade and went for it.
That enabled me to stalk Heiki [Kovalainen] for six laps and pull a great move for second place. I could see that he was struggling with the rear of his car, especially on the entry into high-speed corners, but I didn’t want to take too much of a risk as he was in another Lexus. So I waited for him to catch up with some back-markers before I dived up the inside when he went wide on one of the fourth-gear corners. It was a clean battle, one of my most exciting and enjoyable stints in the series.
What factors decide when you and the rest of the team change to the second driver, in this case Nakajima-san?
Rossiter: We have a window of opportunity with fuel and other things but at Autopolis it was decided by me screaming down the radio. Some of the GT500s had pitted early and come back out. So when I caught them and they weren’t getting out of the way – they were having their own race – I could see us losing a lot of time. So I knew that we needed to box that lap and come in to switch for Kazuki [Nakajima].
Regarding another recent switch, how would you describe the difference between last year’s GT500 specification RC F to this year’s stunning new Lexus LC?
Rossiter: The RC F went through a lot of development following its introduction three years ago, and we’ve made a big step forward with the LC, especially with regards to aerodynamics. The shape of the LC is very efficient, with its beautifully shaped but very low nose – that’s one of the key characteristics that I really love about both the race car and the road car. In terms of the chassis development, I can now put the LC where I want and drive it how I want. It just seems to respond so well to everything I’m doing.
This has been a nice step forward from all the guys at [Gazoo Racing]. They’ve taken on board all comments from the drivers over the past few years and really made an exceptional race car.
Thinking about your reference to the LC road car, some people assume it is a successor to the LFA. How would you bust that myth?
Rossiter: Hmmm… the LFA was a very unique supercar, whereas the LC has a very highly level of comfort, so you can use it every day. As well as its beauty and the excitement of driving it, for me, the LC blends luxury into the supercar world – the sort of luxury comfort that only Lexus does so well. If you want to drive it hard, you can do; and if you want to drive it smoothly and listen to music, it’s rewarding in that respect, too.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to have one of the first models in Japan. I liked it straight away, of course, but it’s grown on me. I really enjoy it.
And it’s in the stand-out Naples Yellow paintwork…
Rossiter: Yes! I wasn’t sure for the first two minutes but I’ve also come to love it; it’s such a beautiful colour. The way its pearlescent qualities reflect light is very photogenic. In fact, I’ve managed to take some nice photos of it near the rice fields at the bottom of Mount Fuji recently.
You have a short break now before round four at Sportsland Sugo but we understand you’re already in training for round six at Suzuka. Why so early?
Rossiter: Suzuka presents a unique challenge and is the crown jewel of Super GT. It takes almost six hours to race the 1000km and is absolutely non-stop, flat-out racing. You need a huge amount of endurance and stamina to complete it. Partly because it is extremely hot and humid in Japan in late August, so the stress and strain on your body is very high just from the temperatures inside the car. But also because Suzuka is one of the most physically and mentally demanding circuits. You cannot make one single mistake if you want to win.
Having won there twice previously, my goal is win again. So the preparation for that has to start very early. I do a lot of cycling back home in Monaco – anything up to six hours a day.
Extra competition is arriving at Suzuka in the form of Jenson Button. Are you glad another British driver is joining, and is there any historic rivalry between you?
Rossiter: Yeah, it’s going to be great to have him there. I first met him when I started Formula 1 test-driving at the end of 2004, and we’ve become good friends over recent years. I’ve known about his desire to get into Super GT for a while, shall we say, and it’s going to be exciting to have a driver of his calibre with us on track. He’s found the race traffic around GT300 cars quite eye-opening, as well as the fact that he’s got to share a car for the first time. It’s always a compromise – there’s no such thing as a ‘number one’ driver in this series.