GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 6
2020 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round6 FUJIMAKI GROUP SUZUKA GT 300km RACE
Date: October 24th-25th,2020
Location: Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture)
Spectators: 28,500 (over 2 days)
Driver Points: 11P
Driver Points Ranking: 10th（21P）
The 2020 SUPER GT season has been held at only three circuits, Fuji, Suzuka and Motegi. Round 6 was held at Suzuka for the second time this season on October 24 – 25th.
For some reason, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka of GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO have never had much luck on this world-famous F1 track. Looking back at their past results at Suzuka, they managed to reach 4th place in 2019 but have never made it to the podium.
However, with just three races left in the series, they are currently ranked 13th, a full 40 points behind the leaders. They’re going to have to work hard to catch up. Naturally, they approached the race with great enthusiasm, hoping to set a new personal best at Suzuka.
The new Mercedes-AMG GT3, which was introduced in the opening of the 2020 season, is still subject to some severe performance adjustments. At 1340 kg the car is one of the heaviest in the FIA GT3, but comes with one of the thinnest restrictors at just 34.5 mm.
However, as the no. 4 car performed relatively badly in the first half of the season, its handicap was lightened to a relatively low 30 kg. The handicap in round seven is going to be halved, and will be eliminated in the final, so this race will represent the highest handicap for all cars. With 5 cars on the field sporting 100kg handicaps, a handicap as low as 30kg could be what they need to turn the tide.
With an ambient temperature of 18 degrees Celsius and track temperature of 24 degrees, the official practice started at 9:20 am. Kataoka will mobilize every sensor in his body to find out how he can run on this high-load circuit at Suzuka.
Towards the end of the session, car no. 244 (Takanokonoyu RC F GT3) went off the track going into the chicane and crashed into the barriers, which led to a red flag suspension. After restarting, Kataoka had another chance to attack the short run and logged a time of 1:59.146. The car handled well, but the times weren’t improving.
After a total of 19 laps, Kataoka was replaced by Taniguchi. Even in the GT300 class occupied slot, Taniguchi proceeded to check the race pace and showed a steady 2-minute flat driving style.
Kataoka’s best time put him in 22nd place. However, the new set-up was satisfying, and they were able to work out a strategy for the afternoon’s qualifying session.
After running in the Full Course Yellow (FCY) training session, which will be introduced next season, the Grouping System began at 2pm. Due to the order of results, no. 4 will again be running in the B class. Kataoka was in charge of the set-up in the morning’s official practice and was entrusted with the task of getting through Q1.
Immediately after the start of the B Class session, car no. 22 (R’Q’s AMG GT3), which was some way ahead of no. 4, span out of the hairpin. They stopped on the inside of the track and raised a red flag. When the race started back up it was expected that we would see a difference in grip from the tires on each car based on how much they were able to warm up. Kataoka was able to predict that this red flag would come, and so had been protecting his tires. This meant that he was able to warm up completely in the 8-minute session after the race resumed. He managed 1:57.522 in his first attack and was third fastest when he crossed the control line.
After that, the team’s time was bested by no. 60 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa RC F GT3), no. 360 (RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R) and the JAF-GT with its 100 kg handicap, getting the team to 6th position in Q1.
Q2 qualification was delayed as a result of the red flag. After the warm-up laps Taniguchi recorded 1:57.564 on his first attack lap, putting him in 7th position. He continued to attempt timed laps, but as he was unable to beat the time set at S3 he stopped to preserve his tires.
In the end, his rivals posted some excellent times, meaning he was finished Q2 in 14th position and will be ready for tomorrow’s race.
The weather at the Suzuka Circuit was mild throughout the 2 days. The wind coming down from the mountains was slightly stronger on the Sunday, but the conditions on the track remained sunny or dry. The first half of the season was dominated by rainy race days, but the latter half has been much drier. Spectators have been allowed since the 5th round, and at this 6th round we saw 19,000 fans come to watch to race.
Kataoka was the starting driver, and even though he took to the warm-up laps with vigor from the start at 11:40, his best time was a sluggish 2:01.084. It was a continuation of the situation from the previous day where “our slow speed on the straight is painful no matter how you look at it” (Taniguchi).
At 13:00, with track conditions similar to the previous day with an ambient temperature of 20 degrees, the surface of the track reached a high of 31 degrees. The race consisted of 52 laps (300 km).
Kataoka used his trademark talent for strong openings to quickly pass no. 52 (Saitama Toyopet GB GR supra GT) and no. 55 (ARTA NSX GT3) in the opening lap, gaining two positions to find himself in 12th as he passed the control line.
One of the cars ahead of him stopped on the 4th lap, allowing him to climb up to 11th place, but in the 7th lap car no. 52 crept up from behind, pushing him back to 12th. However, in the 10th and 11th laps, when the average lap time was around 2:03, Kataoka managed to eke out ahead with times closer to 2:01. In the 12th lap the group stretched out into a train, and on the corner known as “matchan” Kataoka once again took no. 52 and regained the 11th place.
In the 13th lap no. 52 overtook him for the third time, meaning he was once again in 12th place, but in the 14th lap he managed to catch both no. 9 (PACIFIC NAC D’station Vantage GT3) and no. 60 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa RC F GT3) to reach a new high of 10th place.
Kataoka also passed the pole-sitter with Dunlop tires, no. 96 (K-tunes RC F GT3), to take 9th place. The now familiar “Kataoka Play” played out, keeping him in the higher ranks during the first stint.
It was at this point, in the 18th lap (almost the minimum number of laps allowed), that car no. 4, which had been running a steady pace of 2:02, was pitted. This is where Taniguchi took the steering wheel and went for a long stint with four tire changes.
And then came the 19th lap. At the first corner, Taniguchi passes no.52 car. Then, at the S curve, no.52 got tangled with the GT500 car, and the car was pushed to the sponge barrier and stopped. The safety car (SC) was deployed and the entrance to the pits was closed.
This ended up making a big difference between those teams that had already finished in the pits and those that were still waiting to enter them to change drivers. Car no. 4, which led the SC at 18th position, will practically become 6th in the rankings. It’s a rare sight to see this team get the benefit of the SC.
When the SC was removed and the race restarted on lap 25, the cars all headed to the pits.
On lap 26, he passed no. 96 to move up to 7th place. On lap 28 no. 50 entered the pits, letting Taniguchi take 6th, and on lap 29 he caught no. 87 (T-DASH Lamborghini Gallardo GT3) on the Spoon 130R and passed him on the chicane. At the same time, the leader, no. 56 entered the pits, pushing Taniguchi up to fourth place. At last, the podium was within sight.
On the next lap Taniguchi recorded his personal best of 2:01.357. He kept a good lead over the GT500 leaders, and on the 35th lap he easily passed no. 5 (Mach GTNET MC86 mach) on the Dunlop corner and made it to third place.
At this point he faced car no. 6 (ADVICS MC86 muta) with its JAF-GT mother chassis and Bridgestone tires. This is where Taniguchi turned it up a notch and put in an impressive sprint to set a new personal best of 2:01.108 on the 37th lap. From the next lap he was putting in 2 minutes flat and set a race best three laps in a row. He had closed the distance with no. 6. After setting a time of just 2:00.646 on the 39th lap, he managed to maintain an amazing pace of just under 2 minutes until the 42nd lap. He had managed to make up a seven-second gap and closed in on no. 6.
On lap 44 the gap had closed to just 0.346 seconds, and all that was left was to finish. Again, however, the “slowness on the straight” that comes from their BoP reared its ugly head, and he was unable to make one final pass.
And so, the race came to an end. No. 4 GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO managed a third-place finish, their first time on the podium this season. This also marks the first time Suzuka has appeared on the podium as a team.
They may not be entirely satisfied with third place, but as Taniguchi, Kataoka and the rest of the team were worried that they might never make it to the podium this year, they did seem somewhat relieved.
What’s more, there is now a glimmer of hope for getting the series title, too. After gaining 11 series points the team is now just 30 points behind the leader no. 65 as they head to the seventh round.
■Comments from the Team
We hadn’t made any changes for a while, and the team seemed happy so from the last race we took advice from AMG and used their settings as a base for our set up this time. The team also wanted some help in getting out of our slump, so we brought in the Germans again to help us in our practices. A part of me remained skeptical, though. But I think we got away with it this time, especially with the safety car in play. We still don’t have the straight-line speed, so even with a good pace we struggle to pass. The drivers are getting quite stressed. I guess because we’re all getting older (laughs). Not making mistakes isn’t enough, we also have to be flexible and find a new strategy to win.
I had some hope at the start of the race after seeing the set-up, but our position was so bad that I started to think, “This is going to be tough.” The car had been balanced and set up properly, and the drivers told me they felt good, but the times weren’t improving. That was the only problem… Or at least the biggest one (laughs). The pace as we entered into the second half of the race gave me hope, that maybe we could qualify toward the front of the pack, but we still don’t have the speed. The extra weight will be cut by half in the next race, but as we didn’t have much to start with I’m not sure how much that will change things (laughs). Still, we’ve made a little progress, so we should keep working at it.
The small size of the restrictors really showed in this race, and our slow speed on the straights really kept us back. Both Kataoka and I are laser focused on qualifying. Still, even after performing nearly flawlessly we were still in 14th place. I really started to think that we wouldn’t make it to the podium at all this year. Perhaps someone was looking down on us as we struggled, because that safety car really helped us out. Once the podium was in reach, I started to get greedy. I wanted to take the number two! But in the end our lack of speed on the straights kept us from taking it. We really had luck on our side this weekend as well when it came to the weather. Anyway, we made it to the podium at last. This should give us the momentum we need to keep going for the next two rounds.
I felt good this time, like we’re almost there. It’s not the team’s fault. We’ve done what we can, and I’d say we’re at about 98%, but we’re still low in the rankings… The race laps went well, but I still struggled to pass the others. But the team was perfect at every step of the way, from bringing the car in to setting up, and we did what we could. Basically, we made it to the podium thanks to the safety car, and thanks to the fact that we’ve learned from our past mistakes and tired a new strategy. We gave it our all, and with a little luck made it to third place. It’s going to be a tough battle going forward, but this kind of thing happens from time to time, and we’re not giving up.