2020 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round5
2020 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round5 Takanokono Hotel FUJI GT300km RACE
Date: October 3rd-4th, 2020
Location: Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Spectators: No announcement
Driver Points: 3P
Driver Points Ranking: 13th (10P)
The 5th round of SUPER GT 2020, which is the start of the second half of the season, was held on October 3rd and 4th at Fuji Speedway. Due to the impact of COVID-19, this season has an irregular schedule, with many races being held in close succession in the latter half of the year. This season, races are only held at the 3 venues of Fuji, Suzuka, and Motegi, and this 5th round would be the 3rd race held at Fuji.
Each team heads into this first race of the second half with plenty of data collected from the 2 previous races at Fuji this season. For Drivers Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka from GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO, this was the round during which they can begin to mount a comeback, as well as a commemorative race. This was the 100th race since they joined the “Hatsune Miku GT Project,” including series races, special races, 24h Spa, SUZUKA 10h, and all other races. Furthermore, fans would attend the 5th round for the first time this season. Although entry was limited to 50% of the capacity of the venue, this became a spirited race with small flags waving around the grand stand.
The weight handicap based on the balance of performance (BoP) for this 5th round was heavy as usual. The vehicle weight remains at 1,350kg, the heaviest weight class for FIA GT3. However, in terms of the weight handicap applied based on performance, the handicap of 21kg for car No. 4 was relatively light, given that there are already 3 vehicles with handicaps of over 100kg. With the aim of taking advantage of this discrepancy, they took on the official practice on Saturday.
Regarding the conditions, the weather was fine, the air temperature was 22°C, and the road surface temperature was 30°C when the official practice session started on Saturday at 9:15 AM. Driver Kataoka took the wheel first and entered the course. He repeated short runs while checking the setup and improved the time to 1:37.967 during the final tire setup. After completing 21 laps, he handed the wheel to Driver Taniguchi.
Driver Taniguchi entered the track just past 10 AM. After checking each part and confirming the feeling, he was about ready to start a long run when… a different car fell off the course, resulting in a red flag stop. When the session restarted, he drove for a total of 20 minutes, with 10 minutes of mixed driving between the classes and 10 minutes of driving only within the class. He recorded a personal best time of 1:38.254 right before the end. Due to Driver Kataoka’s time, they finished in 18th position overall.
The grouping system was utilized again for the qualifying session in the afternoon, as each of the 29 cars were grouped based on their ranking in the series. Car No. 4 was included in group B, and the team entrusted Driver Kataoka with the Q1 session.
Although clouds appeared ahead of the start of the Q1 group A session at 2 PM, the air temperature and road surface temperature had hardly changed from the morning. When Q1 group A finished and group B started, Driver Kataoka immediately entered the course in car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG). He heated the tires at a high pace. His first lap making an attempt at a good time was the 3rd lap being measured, as he recorded a time of 1:37.887 that put him in 5th position.
Driver Kataoka repeatedly aimed to improve his time and recorded a time of 1:37.760 during the next lap. However, due to improved times by his rivals, he had fallen to 8th position, right above the cut-off line for qualifying, when he crossed the control line. Immediately after this, car No. 18 (UPGARAGE NSX GT3) and car No. 21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS) successively improved their times, meaning that the end of the session approached with the team below the cut-off line. As the team thought they were headed to another failure to advance beyond Q1, Driver Kataoka did his best to improve his time again for a 3rd consecutive lap. This time of 1:37.468 brought the team back to 8th position. The team advanced beyond Q1 with a gap of 0.459 seconds from 1st position and only 0.018 seconds from 9th position.
In Q2, the 16 cars that advanced beyond Q1 raced against each other for positions on the grid. Driver Taniguchi demonstrated aggressive driving from the start, recording a time of 1:37.695 during his attempt in the 3rd lap being measured. Similarly to Driver Kataoka, he repeatedly aimed to improve his time for 3 consecutive laps with extremely high precision, recording times of 37.227 and 37.374. He obtained the 9th position of the grid for a better start than the 2nd race at Fuji.
Although it rained at Fuji Speedway early in the morning on Sunday, the rain had stopped and the skies were cloudy by the time that the teams and fans arrived at the circuit. The warm-up started at 12:10 PM under dry conditions.
Driver Kataoka took charge as the driver at the start of the final race. The front left tire had a puncture during the warm-up, giving the team no choice but to have an emergency pit stop. Although this resulted in a shorter drive, it appeared that the driver could get a feeling for the changes to the setup that took place after the qualifying rounds the day before. In front of the grand stand that was half-filled with socially distanced fans, the final race of 300km and 66 laps started at 1:30 PM with an air temperature of 21°C and a road surface temperature of 29°C.
Following the formation lap, the GT500 cars flooded into the 1st corner after receiving the green signal. At that moment, there was contact within the group. The entire front cowl of a car flew off and fell onto the course on the inner side of the 2nd corner. Immediately after that, as the group of GT300 cars similarly flew into the 1st corner while jockeying for position, Driver Kataoka approached the obstacle head on. Unable to go on the record line, he selected the inside line and barely avoided contact with the obstacle.
As a result, Driver Kataoka could not immediately improve his position after the start as he normally would. However, following the safety car run to clean up the parts on the course, he closed the gap after the restart. During the 6th lap, he passed car No. 2 (SYNTIUM Apple Lotus) that was right ahead to rise to 8th position. Even after that, he chased the leaders with a powerful pace in the mid-1:39 range, overtaking car No. 96 (K-tunes RC F G3) during the 9th lap. He chased car No. 65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG), which is the same 2020 model Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Bridgestone tires.
Although he was driving at the same pace as car No. 65, he would continue to follow behind this car with a gap of about 4-5 seconds. He recorded his personal best time of 1:39.228 during the 18th lap. He continued to finish laps with times consistently in the 39-second range and entered the pit after the 24th lap. He left the rest to Driver Taniguchi.
Driver Taniguchi, who was entrusted with a long stint that was about 10 laps longer than the first half, returned to the course after replacing all 4 tires. Although his position had fallen to 16th at one point during the out lap, he improved to 14th position right away due to the routine pit stops and penalties of the other cars. He started his rally from this position.
After the 30th lap or so, he joined a group battle for 10th position. During the 41st lap, he got ahead of car No. 5 (Team Mach GNET MC86 Mach) and also passed car No. 25 (HOPPY Porsche) during the 44th lap, improving to 12th position.
Driver Taniguchi completed the laps with such force that he could have entered the 38 second range if things cleared up in front of him. After he improved to 11th position when car No. 9 (PACIFIC NAC D’station Vantage GT3) that was ahead of him took an emergency pit top, he also caught car No. 7 (Studie BMW M6) during the 48th lap to finally enter the top 10.
Having entered the point positions, Driver Taniguchi pushed even further. After recording a time of 1:38.992 during the 50th lap, he rose to 9th position after a car that was ahead of him dropped out. Furthermore, during the 55th lap, he passed up car No. 11 (GAINER TANAX GT-R), which continued to run well as if it did not have a 100kg weight handicap, after a battle over 3 laps to take 8th position.
Now that things cleared up in front of him, Driver Taniguchi improved his time further. After recording his personal best for the final race of 1:38.745, he passed the checkered flags after completing the final 4 laps with nearly identical times (38.952, 39.001, 38.995). With a race that wiped away the memories from the previous Fuji race that involved 2 issues with tires, they finished in 8th position. They were able to grab 3 points for the series.
■Comments from the Team
Our pace was not bad in the second half, so I think we could have had a chance to finish in the podium places had various pieces fallen into place for us. That part is disappointing. However, we are getting closer to finding a new methodology for speed, so I believe this serves as a turning point for the future. The upcoming 6th round in Suzuka will have tough restrictor limitations, similarly to last time, restricting the speed. With that said, we should usually be able to take advantage of the characteristics of AMG at Suzuka, so we have been talking with AMG to see if they can cooperate with us more. Since car No. 4 has not really shown the benefits of the new model, we believe we can improve on these points.
When we reexamined various settings this weekend, we were able to find good things. It gives us a good sensation to see that we were able to consistently record fast times at the end of the race when we were able to drive freely. However, since we are slow on the straightaways, we get stuck in groups because we cannot pass cars up. Considering this, we must make our strategies for races perfect. Since we were able to close the gap to under 8 seconds from the 7th position car ahead of us in the end, we could have competed for the podium places if we factor in that we were losing 2 or 3 seconds each lap before that. Since our rivals will have heavy weights again during the next race, we would like to produce results by reviewing the data and matching our car and our strategies well.
The place where I entered the course was bad. Also given that the tires were a bit hard, they did not warm up well, and I was swallowed up by other cars. Since the car is originally slow on straightaways, the following pack would catch up when there was congestion in sector 3 with repeated corners, and I would get passed in the subsequent straightaway… I had no choice but to repeat this pattern. After the tires warmed up, there was a lot of congestion behind car No. 5, but I think I was able to drive with a pretty good pace after this congestion cleared up. If we were driving alone, I think we would have had a pace that would put us near the top. Although we still finished in 8th position, I did not have the feeling that we could not come close to those ahead of us. What helps us is that we discovered something that serves as hope for the Suzuka race coming up.
We changed the setup a bit during the warm-up before the final race, which felt good, but we may have been greedy before the final race and done too much. We started in 9th position, and slowly improved our position during the first stint that I handled. Although the result was 8th position, I think it was good that we found a hint for the next races. Other than that, if our strategy was really a perfect 100 out of 100, we could have finished 1 or 2 positions higher. During the next race, we would like to aim for 100 out of 100 and finish in the top 5. Although it seems we will need to continue to hand in there, I will do my best again for the next race.