GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 8
2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 7 SUGO GT 300km RACE
Dates: September 21st and 22nd, 2019
Location: Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Prefecture)
Weather: Cloudy and Partly Rain
Spectators: 37,100 people (in total for two days)
Driver Points: 15P
Driver Points Ranking: 3rd (41.5 points in total)
The SUPER GT 2019 SERIES Round 7, which is a critical battle in the season, was held at Sportsland SUGO on September 21st and 22nd. The weather forecast was unstable throughout the weekend due to the impact of Typhoon 17, and the thought was that it could get messy.
Driver Nobuteru Taniguchi and driver Tatsuya Kataoka from GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO have been struggling to perform well tuning and matching between road surface and tires until this point in this season, however, they showed their mettle by not giving up until the end by getting 4th place after overtaking one lap before the finish line at the previous race, AUTOPOLIS.
Driver Taniguchi started practice at 9:00AM Saturday this time, aiming to be in front of the No. 55 car, which is at the top of the series ranking (ARTA NSX GT3) at here SOGO. However, it could be due to the track surface temperature being lower than expected, two compounds which were brought in had a bad reaction at the start of driving, and “while tires were not bad, it feels like they wore out right away,” driver Taniguchi said. He completed the menu centered on tire assessment during this stint and changed after marking his best of 01:18.710.
Driver Kataoka, who grabbed a steering wheel from 10:00AM, repeated short runs busily preparing for the race such as brake quenching at SUGO where there is no Circuit Safari with less run time slots. He finished his session in ninth place in his class by slightly beating his time and getting 1:18.702 for qualifying simulation done during the running track time for GT 300 class.
Based on the result of the practice, the team registered driver Taniguchi, who was in charge of tire assessment, as the attacker for Q1 qualifying and driver Kataoka as the second attacker for Q2. Grouping into two groups was applied for the Q1 qualifying for the first time since the season’s opening round at Okayama, and the GT300 class all 28 cars are divided based on their series ranking, where the No. 4 car was decided to run in the group B.
The Q1 qualifying Group B started at 2:18PM. Driver Taniguchi who was close to the No.34 car (Modulo KENWOOD NSX GT3) and No.18 car (UPGARAGE NSX GT3) recorded 1:18.689 in his first push, secured the second position by shortening the time to 1:187.357 for the following round and succeeded to qualify by a wide margin.
Driver Kataoka, who was in charge of Q2, which was a battle of 16 cars, gaining vigor from the Q1 got all fired up “if things go well, I can break into 1 minute 17-plus seconds” and impressively marked 1:17.828 in his first attack lap, although his touch in the morning was not smooth. As driver Kataoka described, “My condition is improving and the track surface situation is getting better. It was not an unsatisfactory move,” he achieved the sixth grid position on the third line while getting the most out of his car. The weather forecast for the Grand Final, which is the next day starting at 2:00PM, shows a high chance of rain, having a single grid is significant in terms of securing visibility in the rain.
The track surface was dry during the warm-up session starting at 12:25PM just before the race started. The handicap weight by cumulative points is lessened in Round 7 of the 2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Series and becomes a weight x 1 kg from normal weight x 2 kg equivalent. Driver Kataoka, who checked final balance with a dry set up with the No. 4 car, which carries 27kg because of this, confirmed its race pace between 1:20-plus and 22-plus. However, the start progressed without knowing how long it would last in actual long-run and when it would start to grip down.
Then, a misty rain finally started before Grid Walk and got stronger in stages. Race control made a decision of “SC Start” at five minutes before starting the race on the board posting at last.
All teams on grid were pressured to make a final decision if they should go with slick or wet tires, by looking at the track surface and sky changing color alternately. “The team always ‘fails’ by challenging anyway, so let’s be safe” thought driver Kataoka, but the top ranked No.55 car decided to go with wet tires early on and they started the final race with wet tires based on this.
Judgment to select a harder compound based on the assumption that the amount of water may decrease was successful. He fended off the 5th start of the No. 7 car (D’station Vantage GT3) on the fourth lap after the Safety Car’s run finished and the signal came on to start the actual race, passing the pole-sitting No.61 car (SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT) and No.25 car (HOPPY 86 MC), which was outfitted with slick tires, and achieved fourth place.
Moreover, he overtook the No.33 car (Eva RT Test Type-01 Works GT-R) and No.56 car (REALIZE NISSAN AUTOMOBILE TECHNICAL COLLEGE GT-R), which were “machines with slick tires, and I was stuck as they were taking the lead” on the eighth and tenth laps according to driver Kataoka and he presented “Kataoka Theater” following the previous race.
After that, he pursued the top ranked No.55 car by seeing a close call where the GT500 car spun out at the SP corner and fended him off just in time.
At that time, there was a car approaching with tremendous momentum from the back. The No.65 car (LEON PYRAMID AMG) was approaching closely with momentum where he was able to shorten his lap time by two seconds after finishing a perfect warm-up with Bridgestone tires. Elsewhere, driver Kataoka, who reacted to the chase, showed a spectacular spurt under tough conditions with an increasing amount of water on the course and beat his best 1:29-plus back to back for the 21st and 22nd lap. In addition, he showed great driving, fighting back with a personal best 1:29.287, although the situation became nose-to-tail on the 29th lap and was defending against super close competition.
However, he looked back “I thought I could compete when the amount of rain was less, but his pace was increasing as his tires got warm and became faster by about two seconds as rain suddenly increased. I imagined that he would take over at some point and he got in.” And the battle which he kept under control for more than ten laps finished on the 35th lap.
At this timing, driver Kataoka, who told the pit by radio that the hard side would no longer work, pitted on the 36th lap. The team also checked with the No.65 car in advance, which has a neighboring pit and chose not to run at the same time. However, the No.65 car also sensed pit lane closing due to the rising momentum to bring out the Safety Car as a GT500 class car spun out at this time, and moved toward the pit in a hurry.
“For a moment, I thought ‘Ohh’, but it was good timing for us at the same time,” driver Kataoka commented. The team who continued to clamor for the Safety Car finished switching drivers at optimum timing for the first time this season and placed a steering wheel to driver Taniguchi’s charge and came back to the course.
Driver Taniguchi, who used one rank softer compound wet tires based on driver Kataoka’s advice, was asking about the course situation by radio when the Safety Car was in front, “I asked Kataoka to tell me where I should avoid even though it should be out basically. He must have checked in the morning. That was really helpful.” Then, the race started by an act of the God of traction from restart this time.
“Following the Safety Car was, like “pretty slippery” in the beginning, until the formation was arranged. Although I was thinking, ‘Oh I don’t feel like I can move up at all,’ other cars around me seemed to be in much tougher conditions as it started.” Taniguchi, who demonstrated the effect of the soft side compound, which benefits from warmth under the same conditions, overtook the No.65 car in a dynamic and elegant way by choosing the outer line on the last corner, in which it is an invariable principle.
“After Taniguchi-san took over, he was saying ‘it does not grip’ over the radio. I was worried if I should have lowered (the compound’s position) by two levels, but turned out fine in the end,” said driver Kataoka, and he shortened the gap which was approximately 4.5 seconds to the No.55 car in the lead for an instance with his spurt which reassured his partner and turned it into a battle for second.
The top battle got closer to 0.449 second at the 46th lap, but No.55 which judged the amount of fuel remaining would last underwent a complete change from saving fuel showed its spurt at the end, moreover, there was development that Taniguchi stuck with GT500 class car which had tire-life was over. Therefore, the theme that “finishing in front of No.55” did not come true. However, these two earned the second place which is the highest placement in this season at SUGO that they are not good at and showed up on the podium for the first time in the 2019 season.
They rose to the third in drivers’ ranking and the gap from the top is just 20 points. The conditions to come from behind to win the title at the final race Motegi are “Pole position (one point) + win (20 points) + No.55 earning zero point (No.96 has to be below the third)” and it is “off-chance” (according to Taniguchi) situation, but the battle toward the series title is still on.
■Comments from the Team
I thought it would be the correct decision to match the number of people for tire selection as well because we can avoid situations such as being involved in bunching up together if there seemed to be more wet tires around us. Kataoka did a great job on the course, more so than that selection. Pit stop timing was definitely different from the past this time, however, that was not because it looked like the Safety Car was going to come and they called him for the pit, but he came into the pit because the amount of rain increased and he started to have a gap between him and the Bridgestone groups. Then, by chance, the Safety Car was brought in. So, we were lucky this time. And, Taniguchi was very strong under that situation. It was sensational, like “how can you catch up?” Even he was saying “it does not grip at all” on the radio. You never know what will happen at the final race, so we will do our best.
Now that it has come to this, the previous AP and the tie before AUTOPOLIS are extremely disappointing. The timing of pit and tire selection were the right choices. They were really good. Kataoka kept persistent and took charge of the situation. The cooperation together was really positive when he was connecting with Taniguchi, and we did everything we could do today such as exchange of slippery locations before driving. I know Bridgestone is obviously better in terms of tire performance, but we covered by drivers performance and team effort, so it was like us, good works. Winning a title is a real long shot, but remaining in contention is important. That we are mathematically still in contention is meaningful.
We could finally race in a “normal” way without impact from the Safety Car this time. We were going to be out of the running if we did not pass the No.55 car in this race, therefore, Kataoka, pushed the race in a great way initially. I cannot do anything about going out of the course if I did, so I tried to push for my turn. In the end, I could not catch the No. 55 car, but it we did a great job to place second under these weather conditions. Being on the podium after a long time, we got third place last year, second this year, so what place will we be achieve next year (laughing). We could not see a podium until Saturday when it was dry, so the rain could have been a blessing in a way. I have to get the pole position and first place next time, but it is a real long shot. The slogan for the next race should be “It would be remarkable to flip the tables and take the title at this point (laugh).”
Hard tires were the right choice. We could pass other teams easily who were not forced to defend, which may be because there was a relative gap in performance in the beginning. I did not feel like I competed against someone in my stint, but I felt a good response of being able to be aggressive more than I thought given the wet conditions. I thought I could compete against the No. 55 car when there was less rain. As the amount of rain increased, I felt like giving up and the Safety Car came on the track at the same time that I was going into the pit, so we were lucky as well. The rope to the title is almost cut off, but not cut off is better than cut off. In terms of that, our fans have a little hope, so I think it was good.