GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 3
2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round3 SUZUKA GT 300km RACE
Dates: May 25th to 26th, 2019
Venue: Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture)
Weather: Fine Spectators: 57,000 (over 2 days)
Driver Points: 8P
Driver Points Ranking: 6th (14.5P)
Held at the Suzuka Circuit on May 25th and 26th, the third race of the 2019 Super GT Series, a race set to forecast this season’s power rankings, was the first one competed this year on a dry track on both days. GOODSMILE RACING & Team UKYO drivers Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka, although restricted by performance tuning and tire performance, were determined to make a point in finishing strongly at Suzuka and achieved a second consecutive top-10 finish for the season. Our efforts were boosted by the large crowds of GSR fans who filled the grandstand and pit walk areas as always giving their support to the drivers and team—they too were not to be outdone by the hot conditions and the pit walk events were a huge success. The fans—and not only the Racing Miku supporters—showed their togetherness with the team in proactively volunteering to help with handing out autograph session tickets and stickers. In addition, throughout the race a huge supporter’s flag could be seen waving from the grandstand in front of the pit area, and when we ran a spontaneous Twitter competition offering a GSR original panel present, we were instantly inundated with applicants: we really felt the fans’ support this race. It was almost as if they had affected the climate too as this late-May weekend saw a record-breaking heatwave. Amid forecasts for the track surface temperature to reach almost 50℃ by the afternoon due to the hot midsummer-like sunshine, we took to the track for the morning’s 95-minute official practice session. We had expected our tires to perform better as the temperatures rose, but we couldn’t get the balance we desired, perhaps at the fault of the irregularly fierce heat. The situation did not improve much even after waiting 10-minutes for the track to be rubbered in and the temperature, which had been 34℃ at the start of the session, to rise. In the end we could only run short runs due to the need to adjust the car’s settings in frequent intervals. Kataoka commented, “Initially the car was oversteering, but changing the settings only tipped the balance the other way. We were just going back and forth,” and Taniguchi said, “We weren’t able to practice how we had planned in our meetings;” It was a start to the weekend just as agonizing as in the last race. Kataoka, who drove first as usual, clocked a 1’59.605 in his 20 laps which included a temporary halt to the session by red flag. Then, Taniguchi, racing with soft tires, recorded a lap time of 1’58.294 which placed us third in the session. Contrary to this result, the team was wary of the fine line that is Q1 qualification, and appointed Taniguchi, who had recorded the fastest morning time, to race Q1. This was the first time in the session we used harder compound tires, and while complaining how the change had made a difference far greater than expected, we were fifth onto the track and clocked a 1’58.997, with an air temperature of 31℃ and a track surface temperature of 48℃. At this point, the team expected to go 1’58 flat but a crash involving Car 9 (PACIFIC MIRAI AKARI NAC PORSCHE) saw the session red flagged and from then onwards we opted to resist attacking in order to save the tires and somehow made it through to Q2 in 14th place. Kataoka came into Q2 with a fury that had been brewing throughout the morning, entering an early attack lap in consideration of the track surface temperature and clocking a 1’57.909 as his first warmup lap. He commented, “The track condition had improved more than I thought.” This time scored us a sixth position grid start which all the GSR team thought was way above our performance capability.
As the temperature continued to rise on Sunday morning, pre-race conditions for this 300km 52-lap final included an atmospheric temperature of 29℃ and a track surface temperature of 42℃. The team had already decided its strategy the day before: we would minimize the first stint, a move based on the unpredictability of tire grip and machine balance due to the fierce heat. The goal was to switch to hard tires with an early pit stop and gain positions and time by racing in clean air behind the leader’s group. When the final race began at 2:30pm, however, right from the opening lap our machine, which was still the heaviest GT3 at 1,330kg and still subjected to the same power restrictions as in the season opener, showed clear signs of its inability to compete. Car 4, driven by Kataoka, started in sixth place but was overtaken by the two cars behind it and dropped into eight place: Car 360 (RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R), which started in eight, showed its superior power when it overtook us on the section between the Dunlop curve and the Degner curve. Kataoka commented, “There’s such a speed difference that I couldn’t even think about blocking him there.” Soon after, Car 34 (Modulo KENWOOD NSX GT3), which started in seventh, showed the disparity again when they flew by on the back straight. With fresh tires in the opening stages of the race, our rivals were putting distance between us with every straight section, no matter how much time we made up on the corners. Even when our rivals slowed as the laps progressed, Car 4, struggling on the straights, was never able to get itself into a position where it could challenge those in front. In addition to this the drivers were under the constant stress of managing the distance with the car in front when catching up while avoiding collision from the cars behind. In such conditions, with around one third of the race down on lap 15, just before the pit window, Car 23 from the GT 500 class (MOTUL AUTECH GT-R) was involved in an accident at 130R and went crashing into the sponge barrier. This brought the safety car onto the track for around 20 minutes while a cleanup took place before the race was restarted from lap 21. Then, as we had planned from the start, we brought Car 4 into the pit for an early driver change, but we weren’t the only teams doing so: our rivals in the race, including Car 360 and Car 5 (ADVICHS MACH SHAKEN MC86) also changed their drivers with the same timing resulting in a crowded second half to the race for Taniguchi, not what we had hoped for. Around 10 laps in, the track surface temperature settled at around 38℃, and Taniguchi recorded his fastest lap of the race just after he got on the track at lap 23 with a time of 2’01.451. He set his sights on the cars in front but despite clocking subsequent lap times in the 2’01 range he was unsuccessful in challenging Car 34 NSX and Car 360 GTR. At this point he could only persevere. With the tires not gripping the track at all, the team gave Taniguchi, who is a competent drifter, permission to take risks and challenge the cars in front. He unleashed a “secret technique,” playing the fact that the car’s rear would swing outwards as load is transferred to the front to his advantage, turning with the load at the rear and bouncing off the curb with the front of the car. This closed the gap and he successfully overtook Car 34 and Car 360 GT-R on lap 37. But Car 4’s lack of linear velocity proved a decisive weakness, and even attempting outbraking our rivals on the first corner or the chicane, Suzuka’s main battlegrounds, was out of the question. Taniguchi, targeting the “reverse bank,” got alongside Car 34 using a skillful move on the left turn before the reverse bank after the ‘S’ curve, and despite the machine’s inability to turn without catching the curb, he managed to stay alongside and pull of an impressive overtake technique going into the Dunlop curve. Right before this, Car 88 had retired from the race due to technical trouble, and Taniguchi was now in fifth going into the race’s final stages. He showed no signs of letting up clocking a 2’02.615 on lap 47 as he chased the cars in front. Then, right before the chequered flag on the final lap at the chicane, Car 25 (HOPPY 86 MC), which had been battling for the top of the podium, suddenly slowed down due to fuel trouble, and GSR crossed the finish line in fourth position: our best ever result at the Suzuka Circuit. With a surprise birthday party held for Taniguchi who turned 48 together with the manager Ukyo Katayama and the fans, and both drivers staying to sign autographs for young fans until late in the evening, GSR felt right at home in this race, and with so many supporters standing with us, we were destined to do everything we could have done on the track. With this momentum and experience, we’ll surely have some luck amid the scorching heat in Thailand’s Buri Ram.
■Comments from the Team
As the field tired towards the end of the race, Taniguchi’s strengths really showed. Our team collectively managed an error-free race, but we were open to simple overtaking result of the tunings to performance. To the onlooker, fourth place may seem like an achievement, but the reality is we were struggling a lot. We were boosted merely by the mistakes of other teams, and we want to be able to fight a little more. I feel like all cars should be afforded the right to compete for a top finish. Looking forward to the Thailand race, both our drivers deal well with hot conditions so I think the summer will be a better season for us. Last year we ran a good race, despite a few hiccups, and we could have seriously competed for a podium finish. I hope we can achieve something similar again this year.
Despite our slowness on the straights we managed a good result thanks to making ground as the other cars’ tires were running low on air. But at the same time, we were made to feel the huge hurdles that stand before us and winning. Even thinking about machine performance, in qualifying TK (Kataoka) really attacked the track. But the placement was a little too high so in the early stages of the race no matter how well we took the corners we would fall behind with every straight. We lost the position we wanted to hold but fared strongly in the mud-fights as our rival’s tires were running low on air. I wish there were one or two laps more at the end. I think it would’ve gotten interesting. Today is all about praising our drivers, and the next circuit in Thailand is one which GSR usually performs well in. We’ll do everything that we can like today, and I expect it be a race where we’re waiting for our opponents to drop out.
This season’s performance tuning is heavily affecting the Mercedes AMG and we’re being eaten up on the track. Knowing we were slow on the straights we thought we could make up for it with the corners, but it didn’t really feel like that at all, it was just tough. Our lack of speed on the straights meant we could only match the pace and it was difficult to overtake. And GT 500 class cars were coming into the corners too, and they would come in behind, so I was reluctant to lead. To be honest, I don’t think today’s race was one deserved of fourth place, but we somehow pressed on and bore the struggle. We did well to hold on in such an enduring race. What was clear in the dry conditions was that Yokohama tires are way off the race pace compared with our rival teams, although we did finish top among GT3 machines using these tires. All we can do is persevere.
In a weekend where I couldn’t really feel the performance itself, the result was that only qualifying went well. Thanks to this we managed a slightly higher finish but were by no means prepared to compete in this position. During my stint when the pace of the leaders slowed, my lap speed was actually a little faster than them. However, even if I was to catch up, we didn’t have the performance ability to overtake. Our strategy turned out to be of the same timing as other teams due to SC, and it ended up feeling merely the standard. But seeing Taniguchi’s pace during the second half of the race I knew the tire selection was good, and at the very least we ran a mistake-free race. Well, we somehow managed to finish fourth, even if it shouldn’t have been that way. All I can say is that it was a race where we always on the defense.