GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 2
2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 2 FUJI GT 500km RACE
Date: May 3rd – 4th, 2019
Location: Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Audience: 91,800 people (2 days)
Qualifying rounds: 6th
Final rounds: 6th
Points earned: 5 P
Series ranking: 7th
The second round of the 2019 season, which was the first SUPER GT event of the year, was held at the Fuji Speedway on May 3rd and 4th in the second half of the Golden Week holidays, which, for the first time ever, have been 10 days long. The Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG car no. 4 has been adjusted to fit the participation requirements, (BoP / Balance of Performance) for the 500km long distance race which has become a Golden Week classic. The weight has been slightly increased, by 55 kg, making the car reach 1340 kg, keeping it as usual one of the heaviest in the race, while slightly improving the maximum speed, crucial for a race, because of the relaxed intake restrictions on the engine, which affect the car’s power.
This provided a little boost forwards before the counterattack season.
During the qualification rounds, day 35,800 people gathered for the official practice rounds. The weather was sunny, with a temperature of 20 °C and 27 °C road temperature. Neither the soft tires (mediums) nor the hard tires (medium/hards) were able to provide a satisfactory grip on the road. Pilot Kataoka was the first to try out the tires several times on the short run. Around the middle of the session Taniguchi followed him, but he, too, appeared unsatisfied.
The grip balance between the front and back was not stable, and frequent understeering and oversteering require the pilot to constantly keep concentrated and brake, steer, and adjust the throttle. Having to perform all of this throughout a long-distance run was a reason for anxiety.
Taniguchi achieved a personal record of 1 minute and 37.281 seconds for the GT300 class trial run which started at 10:15, while Kataoka finished fifth with a time of 1 minute and 37.149 seconds. Another reason for anxiety after the official practice was over was the top speed, which is very important for the finals. The car no. 4 only reached 271.357 km/h, which is slow even for GT3, compared to the class’s best, the mother chassis car no. 5 (ADVICS Mach Shaken MC86) which achieved 280.519 km/h.
The fans and private sponsors of GOODSMILE RACING & Team UKYO are always around the circuit supporting the team and giving them strength with their voices. Even during this pit walk, the driver signing event was incredibly popular, with fans voluntarily holding the sign pointing to the end of the line, and the line to get stickers along the sign guard being as long as several pits towards one of the corners. At a certain point around the middle of the event, fans helped reduce waiting time by spontaneously arranging for some of them to get and later distribute the stickers. Everybody was apt to be an active participant in organizing the event as if they were personally affected.
After receiving this strong encouragement, Kataoka was again in charge of the Q1 in the knockout qualifying rounds with all of the 29 cars, which have now become the standard system and which started at 2:30 PM. Because of the rule stating that the tires used during the finals must be one of the sets used during the qualifying rounds, car no. 4 chose the hard tires and went on with the warm-up rounds, in order to take advantage of the only chance to make a good time. On the third lap, it recorded 1 minuted and 37.189 seconds. “I don’t like the machine balance, and I got caught up with other cars in sector 3,” said Kataoka, which nevertheless achieved 11th place. Taniguchi, who was in charge of Q2, recorded a wonderful time of 1 minute and 36.592 seconds, finishing up 6th.
The track surface temperature was above 40 degrees, making for a jump up in time surpassing the expected improvement from the track. The cars in the first 8 places had a close fight, only showing a time difference of 0.776 seconds, putting them in the best possible position to start the 500 km final.
On the final, sunny day of the race, the Fuji Speedway was crowded by 56,000 people who had come to see the 110-lap 500km race.
The GSR team’s analysis predicted a 5-second difference in the race pace compared to the rival side based on the time difference and other factors from the official practice the day before. The tires brought to the race strategically force two pit stops. Far from being able to go through the whole race without changing tires or even just two of them, this strategy requires changing all of them as a precondition. Furthermore, the possibility of sudden rain according to the weather forecast made it important to consider how the pit stop routine could be quickly adapted to a sudden weather change.
However, despite the forecasts, rain began to fall right from the warm-up laps, forcing Taniguchi, which had taken Kataoka’s place, to return to the pit before even a single lap was over. Car no. 4, Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG, who started the final rounds from sixth place, had kept hope in the dry-weather tires, but around five minutes before the start, the rain started falling down heavily, with the racers following the Safety Car (SC) once again.
All racers on the grid were using wet-weather tires, and Kataoka, for whom a surprise birthday party was held at the Kids Walk event the day before, and who enjoyed a sort of second coming-of-age ceremony, was in charge of the start.
The team, predicting that the rain would stop after having wet the road surface, chose the rain tires with the wet-weather pattern to still have a compound on the harder side. Kataoka, by the third lap, had risen to the fifth position, before car no. 360 (RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R).
However, on the 11th lap, the SC was introduced again, and after that accidents occurred in both classes including the GT500. On the 16th lap, the race was flagged for about 30 minutes due to the rapid increase in rainfall.
This is when it got even harder for Kataoka. When the SC led the restart on lap 18, the hard compound rain tires, that got cold while waiting on the grid, showed no sign of regaining grip. However, although the rain stopped, a lot of water still remained on the road surface, making it unclear whether the tires would warm up, and requiring a lot of effort just to keep the car from spinning. Under these harsh conditions, Kataoka fell to 11th place and was kept in that unpleasant situation for a while, before being able to recover to a time of less than 1:50 by the 23rd lap.
Then the real show started, as he made his personal best lap time on lap 24, chasing the cars before him, repeatedly achieving times of less than 1:49 and reaching the 9th place by the 30th lap. On the next lap, he overcame car no. 88 (Manepa Lamborghini GT3) and reached the 8th place, achieving yet another personal lap record on lap 35 with 1 minute and 46.294 seconds and getting to the second place before going to the pit to pass the baton to Taniguchi and change to slick tires.
Taniguchi, considering the complete refueling and the remaining laps, chose medium hard tires. He went back into the lap near cars no. 60 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa RC F GT3), 21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS), and 61 (SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT), immediately facing many difficult moments, such as encountering an off-the-track GT500 car on lap 42.
Running in the 9th place, he had trouble controlling the front of the vehicle because of the stiff tires, having to use all possible methods to increase and then rapidly decrease the level of acceleration in his driving. This led to a personal best of 1 minute and 38.658 seconds in the 44th lap, signaling the start of a wild chase.
On lap 51, he overtook car no. 60 and reached 7th place. Furthermore, on lap 55, the left rear tire of car no. 21, which was fighting hard with him, busted within a yellow section, resulting in a time loss as it hesitated in getting out while searching for a green post. He was then left alone and able to shorten the gap by one second per lap, before passing the baton back to Kataoka on lap 72.
Similarly, Kataoka, aiming for the 110 lap finish line with medium-hard tires, around 6:00 PM, suffered the dire consequences of the steep drop in track temperature from the 25 degrees before the finals, as the tires, in his words “became as if octagonal, with a lot of vibration and no grip.”
However, an objective analysis of the margin between him and car no. 33 (EvaRT 00 X Works GT-R) approaching from behind demonstrates how, despite having his hands full with controlling the vehicle, the skillful pilot was also able to defend from the attack from behind until reaching the checkered flag.
He was able to defend the 6th place, obtaining 5 points and a 13 kg handicap at the 3rd race on the Suzuka Circuit. Despite all the difficulties, it is the third race in a row where the team is able to gain points.
■Comments from the Team
The laxer regulations on performance adjustments had given us high expectations which make the final placement disappointing, but I believe that this placement reflects the conditions of the tires, the car, and the pilot’s skill. The race was full of unexpected events, and after the flagging the tires did not warm up properly, making Kataoka drop places. However the resulting catch-up was nothing short of incredible, and it was the only fun part. In the final stint, when he was pressed from behind, I believed that we were done for (laughs), but he drastically changed his driving method and found a way to perform effortlessly. I am glad that he was able to maneuver the vehicle under such harsh conditions. I believe that the weather will be slightly warmen in Suzuka, so we have high expectations for that race.
Despite the bad machine balance right from the start, Taniguchi showed a wonderful attack in the qualifying Q2 rounds, and he himself was surprised by his ability to control the car despite the difficult situation, making him stand out from the competition. The rain before the start was not expected, and the first full refueling forced us to ride with a bad track position and heavy vehicle, throwing off our strategy. I thought of shortening the last pit stop and going on with the soft tires, but the choice did not present itself. The sixth place within this series is really the bare minimum we could have hoped for, and even a seventh place would have been terrible. GSR usually always comes up with good results in this kind of races, but we need the courage to change directions before the race at Suzuka.
During the qualifying rounds, the track was dry and warm, making it a perfect day for GT. Starting from the 6th place I was keen to improve my position, but we cannot deny that, compared to other teams, we are weak in rainy conditions. Once the race started the other teams started to run smoothly, especially car no. 65 which could be mistaken for a GT500. I found myself in a place where I could not give my best on the outer lap, and I feel that I have done well because I do not know the pace of my rivals. However, right at the finish, Kataoka gave a painful, sad cry…(laughs) To be honest, we did not have the potential to reach 6th place during the weekend, so we should feel lucky about this placement. I still believe that I am weak and that I should improve the situation as soon as possible.
Throughout the weekend, I believed that we could never win given the materials at our disposal. However, despite that feeling, we did get some decent times. Given all of this, we reached 6th place in the qualifying rounds and 6th place in the final. This weekend goes off to show our strength, but this 6th place felt much harder than the number implies. The others also made mistakes and before the end our rival fell into our trap, gifting us with this 6th place. All of this considered, it was not a particularly fun weekend. Thinking of the whole series, the points we got here will come in useful later. However, the championship will be tough if our performance doesn’t get better, and we must realize that our current conditions are not sufficient and improve them at Suzuka.