2020 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round3
FUJIMAKI GROUP SUZUKA GT 300km RACE
Date: August 22th-23th, 2020
Location: Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture)
Driver Points: 3P
Driver Points Ranking: 13th (5P)
The third round of the SUPER GT 2020 season was held at Suzuka Circuit on August 22-23 amid a series of sunny days with intense heat.
Although GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO dropped out during the Q1 qualifying session of the first round, it narrowly scraped by in 9th position in the final race. The tough outings continued for the second round, which was also held at Fuji Speedway, as the team failed to earn a points finish due to suffering two tire bursts during the final race.
For quite a while, the team had been jinxed with unfortunate outcomes at circuits that start with the letter “S.” Suzuka Circuit, the venue for the third round, is among these circuits. However, good results were expected, as the team recorded its best ever finish in 4th at Suzuka Circuit last year.
The new Mercedes-AMG GT3 for this season underwent performance adjustments between Fuji Speedway, which is a high-speed circuit, and Suzuka Circuit. Although the Balance of Performance (BoP) improved slightly by -10kg to 55kg, the size for the air restrictors, which decide the intake air quantity for the engine, was restricted from the 36mm x 2 for Fuji Speedway to 34.5mm x 2, invoking concern about whether the performance of the new model could be brought out sufficiently.
The official practice session began around 10 AM on Saturday. The air temperature was 34°C, and the road surface temperature was 44°C. As soon as the session began, Driver Taniguchi spiritedly repeated short runs. He recorded the best time of 2:00.090 following 2 pit stops after about 30 minutes.
However, the decreased performance due to the BoP appeared prominently in “sector 1,” which is the key attribute for Suzuka Circuit. It struggled together with car No. 65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG), which is also the 2020 model of the Mercedes-AMG GT3, and could only produce times near the bottom of the class. In addition, car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) also struggled with tire matching. Especially when coming out of corners, the rear tires could be seen escaping outward.
Despite these difficult conditions, Driver Taniguchi traced an accurate line almost every lap in order to evaluate the tires and confirm the setup. After 20 laps, he handed the wheel to Driver Kataoka.
Driver Kataoka immediately got into repeated laps to confirm the race pace. After about 15 minutes, he had a temporary pit stop due to a red flag crossing. After the restart, he confirmed a pace in the 2:02-03 range. Heading straight into the 10-minute exclusive run for the GT300 class, most machines were unable to improve their time, possibly because of the extremely high road surface temperature. In the qualifying simulation, he recorded a time of 2:00.621 and finished the official practice session in 19th position.
Following this session, the team braced itself for difficulty in the qualifying sessions. After a discussion, the decision was made for Driver Taniguchi to take on the official Q1 qualifying session starting at 2:30 PM.
The grouping system based on the results from the previous round was used again for the Q1 qualifying session, and car No. 4 would be part of group A.
At 2:30 PM, which was the start of the qualifying sessions, the temperature increased dangerously, as the road surface temperature increased to 48°C. When the session began, Driver Taniguchi was the 3rd to enter the course. Following a warm-up, he recorded a time of 2:00.405 for 8th position with 1:30 remaining.
However, 8th position is right at the cut-off line for passing the Q1 qualifying session. Since there was no breathing room, Driver Taniguchi pressed on. He drove wonderfully through sector 1 during this lap and improved his time to 2:00.246. However, the top 9 cars had already broken the 2 minute mark at this point, resulting in a finish at 10th position. This was the 2nd time the team failed to pass the Q1 qualifying session. Since the road surface conditions improved due to the Q1 qualifying session run by group A, group B had even better times for their Q1 qualifying session run. As a result, the team would begin the final race on Sunday from 19th position of the grid.
Although the forecast called for rain, the weather was very sunny from the morning, presenting intensely hot conditions. The track was completely dry. Before noon, Driver Kataoka started the warm-up. He confirmed a race pace in the 2:02 range across 8 laps from the start of the session.
At this stage, the road surface temperature for the west course, which contains the hairpin and the spoon curve, had exceeded 50°C, resulting in even worse heat than the day before. Amid these conditions, Driver Kataoka confirmed the conditions with his highly precise driving as always, and the team faced the challenge of the final race of 300km and 52 laps.
For the approaching final race, Driver Kataoka, the starter for GSR, would take the wheel again for the first-half stint. In the offensive and defensive battle 1-2 corner of the opening lap, he already overtook car No. 5 (Team Mach GTNET MC86 Mach), which was right ahead on the grid. Furthermore, car No. 30 (TOYOTA GR SPORT PRIUS PHV apr GT) in 16th position went off the course. The team had risen to 17th position by the time it passed the first control line.
A safety car (SC) was deployed due to the accident by car No. 30, and a safety car run continued until the 5th lap. When the race resumed, Driver Kataoka repeated times in the 2:02-03 range as expected and pursued car No. 61 (SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT) ahead him.
However, GT500 car parts fell onto the back straight during the 15th lap, resulting in the second SC. The race went back to square one again. Aiming for the end of the SC, Driver Kataoka entered the pit road during the 21st lap, slightly earlier than planned.
Then, Driver Taniguchi took the wheel and returned to the course after replacing all 4 tires. The team had fallen to 27th position momentarily, but car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) would show persistence from here on out of the race.
Driver Taniguchi had selected a compound that is 1 position harder than for the first-half stint. In the out lap, car No. 2 (SYNTIUM Apple Lotus), the champion of the previous round, had been running carefully while warming up its tires, as it had also just finished a pit stop.
Driver Taniguchi, who was fired up with the feeling of “maybe I should just push myself a bit for the out lap,” decided to immediately overtake it.
He began to pursue car No. 31 (TOYOTA GR SPORT PRIUS PHV apr GT), the pole sitter for the day, and recorded his personal best time of 2:01.554 during the 24th lap. As rival cars entered their routine pit stop, he improved his position nearly every lap.
However, while car No. 4 was in 16th position during the 27th lap, car No. 21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS), which went off the course due to contact during a battle ahead of the S curves, got stuck in gravel. The 3rd SC call of the day would take place.
As the race restarted when the SC was removed during the 32nd lap, the situation began to change dramatically. While the gap was tightened among the front-runners and routine pit stops happened one after another, car No. 4 increased its position almost every lap. From the 33rd lap, it went from 11th position to 10th position, and due to the slowdown of car No. 5, into the top 10 at 9th position.
It was subsequently overtaken by car No. 2 to drop its position, but it passed car No. 25 (HOPPY Porsche), which fell from 5th position, at the Degner curve to return to 9th position. After the 40th lap, Driver Taniguchi was in a dogfight battle with the car No. 10 (TANAX ITOCHU ENEX with IMPUL GT-R) behind him.
Driver Taniguchi would improve the lap time, which had been in the 2:04 range to this point, to 2:02.615 during the 43rd lap and did his absolute best to stay ahead, However, he could not hold off the intermediate acceleration brought on by the overwhelming power of the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, as he was overtaken and returned to 10th position.
Then, the final race for the GT300 class would descend into chaos with 5 laps to go. During the 46th lap, car No. 56 (REALIZE Nissan Motor Academy GT-R), which had been fighting for 2nd position, made contact with car No. 55 (ARTA NSX GT3). Car No. 55, which ran half a lap around the course with large damage to its front, stopped at the S curves. Car No. 56 had an accident with another car and ended its race at the spoon curve right before the final lap. Thanks to its top-level rivals dropping out, car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) finished in 8th position.
Although the team started the race in the tough position of 19th in the qualifying sessions, it improved its position by 11 places during the final race and successfully finished in single digits because nobody made any mistakes. It obtained 3 valuable points.
The upcoming 4th round, which will mark the midway point of the season, will be held at Twin Ring Motegi on September 12-13, which differs from the usual schedule every year. Difficult situations, with intensely hot conditions and full weight handicaps, can be expected for the race.
Top teams show their power by bringing forth their strength under these “irregular” conditions. A result that sparks a counterattack is hoped for because this will be an unprecedented race that nobody has data for.
■Comments from the Team
There wasn’t much reaction since driving started on Saturday. Although we had hopes for Suzuka Circuit, the BoP was more of a disadvantage compared to Fuji Speedway, and dependence on tire performance increased, making us struggle after all. We had no mistakes again during the race, and although I felt we may have pushed it a bit too hard during the out lap after the pit stop (laughs), it was wonderful because we wouldn’t have had a race if we didn’t pass the car up at that stage. I think it was a good race, considering the qualifying session results.
Next is “hot and heavy” Motegi, but everybody will face the same conditions. There is an opportunity when everybody is perplexed. We need to reconsider how we use the tires and regain our strength by getting a lot of points somewhere.
There were many situations that we couldn’t understand since Saturday. Even though we were doing our best and feeling good, we weren’t getting good times. The tires also “did not reach their peak grip,” and even during straightaways, “our times were about 0.6 seconds slower than others.” It was tough despite the fact that Suzuka is a power circuit, so we had to do our best during corners to make up for it, but our tires would wear out if we pushed too hard. Although we can say “we just need to do our best” under this negative cycle, we couldn’t see a way out. The drivers did great, and we had good timing and perfect execution for our pit stop, which allowed us to improve our position. The worst part is that we did everything that we could do right.
Although it ended up being a long stint during the final race, it did help us that there were many safety car involvements that seemingly reset the race each time. After Kataoka in the first half, we set the tire one step harder, and I overtook a rival right away during the out lap because there was a rival there and chased car No. 31, which was finished first in the qualifying sessions, because it was right in front. However, the tires were losing their form by the time the 3rd safety car instance ended, and the rear tires felt rough, giving me the sense that “I probably can’t pass anybody up.” I think it was good that we could get points. However, similarly to the first round, this was not an 8th position finish that we earned. It feels like we are at a loss for ability so… I want to have a good race soon.
Although we are limited in what we can do during this short amount of time, and I am terribly sorry for the people cheering us on, but the truth is that we couldn’t do anything again this time. Although I was able to pass a car at the beginning, we can only participate in the race for the first 1 or 2 laps. We would have been left further behind without the safety cars, which were a blessing for us. I had the “illusion” that we could compete better at Suzuka, but at the end of the day, the finishing order follows the engine power, weight, and tire manufacturers exactly. We can only run steadily and wait for others to fall out during these races. It is a gloomy feeling of waiting and enduring until a good opportunity falls to us. I imagine that it is boring for our supporters, but please hang in there with us, because we will do something no matter what.