2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 2
Takanokono Hotel FUJI GT 500km RACE
Session: May 3/4, 2021
Location: Fuji International Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Attendance: Not announced
Points earned: 3 points
Series rank: 13th(3 points)
［May 03 (Mon)］Official practice, knockout prelims
Air/road temperature: GT300 Q1 start: 16℃／24℃
GT300 Q2 start: 17℃／29℃
GT300 Q2 finish: 16℃／28℃
The second SUPER GT 2021, the only long distance (500km) race for this season was held at Fuji Speedway. It has been two years since such a long distance race was held. Both Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka from GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO were forced into a difficult match in the first race at Okayama. However, they are good at long distances, and with their excellent relationship and team play, there were hopes for a very good result.
Similar to last season, the Balance of Performance (BoP) has been laxed as the Fuji Speedway is a high-speed circuit. The regular restricter is 34.5mm wide, however they use one that is 36mm wide. During official testing conducted at the circuit in March, there was massive improvement in top speed due to adjustments to the settings. The team hopes to make this race an opportunity to raise their profile.
The official practice was held on a Saturday morning, under a clear blue sky accenturating the beauty of Mt Fuji, and with the temperature at 16℃ and the road surface temperature at 22℃. Taniguchi was the first to take his steering wheel and he checked the settings and tires he brought.
At the start of the race, due to troubles with other cars there were multiple red flags, and he repeated several short runs. Taniguchi recorded another personal best at the 20th lap at 1:37:36. At this point, he was in 16th place and at 10am Kataoka took over.
Kataoka also checked the feel of the car in the short run and as soon as he checked the pace for the final race, he switched to a long run. During the race, there was a display of a Full course yellow (FCY) which has been adopted from this race, and he continued to drive for 10 more minutes in which the race was dominated by the GT300-class. He kept his pace at the 1 minute 38 second mark which comfortably qualified him for the finals, and he completed 18 laps.
Overall, during the official practice, due to Taniguchi recording his best time in the first half, he was at 18th place.
Based on the feeling during the official practice, he changed his settings and drove in the following FCY test. As Kataoka was feeling good behind the steering wheel, he was in charge of the attack in the qualifying round (Q1), diverging from the original plan.
A grouping system is used for qualifying for this season, and all 29 machines are grouped based on the series ranking up until their previous race. Car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) started in group B in the qualifying round (Q1).
Group A of qualifying round Q1 at 14:30. The temperature was 16℃, road surface temperature was 24℃, which were almost the same conditions as the start of the official practice.
After group A finished their session, there was an eight minute interval, and at 14:48, group B started their session. Kataoka, who rushed to the course as soon as it was open, wove repeatedly to put some heat into the tires. He recorded 1:39:796 in the fourth lap and came in tenth place. In the next lap, he recorded 1:37:067 and came in sixth place. With just one minute to spare in Q1, his rivals also improved their time to make it through to eighth place which is the cutoff place.
Kataoka continued his attack to further improve his time, but in the next lap he missed the peak of the grip and failed to improve his time. It was feared that he might end at Q1 depending on how well his remaining rivals did, but he just about managed to remain in eighth place by the skin of his teeth. He was able to avenge his defeat in the previous race where he was unable to pass Q1.
Taniguchi, who was in charge of Q2 taking over from Kataoka, similarily rushed to the course as soon as it started and pumped some heat into the tires. In the first lap, he recorded 1:37:120 and came in 11th place. Taniguchi also continued to attack as it was anticipated that his rivals would also improve their time right up until the chequered flag. In the final lap, he came in at 1:36:795, and marked his personal best in car No.4 for the day. However, he was unable to rank higher and he is eyeing a comeback from the 11th position on the grid in tomorrow’s finals.
【May 04 (Tuesday)】
Air/road temperature: Start: 21℃／35℃
Despite some regions declaring states of emergency due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19, the race was able to commence with an audience. Like yesterday, the sky was clear and the weather was in peak condition for a race here at Fuji Speedway. With the crowd at full capacity watching on, the last warm-up before the finals began.
Kataoka was, as usual, in charge of the starting session. He recorded his best time at 1:38:502 in the sixth lap. In this race, it is cumpulsory to change drivers twice and work on the pit in the finals. Therefore, they practiced changing drivers to Taniguchi and they did some simulations as a team.
Based on the results of the previous day and the official tests, Takanori Aki said he was “somewhat confident in the race laps”. The GSR team disliked confusion on the course due to the Safety Car (SC) so they chose a strategy of shortening the first stint. They chose the “to the back” strategy of prioritizing lap times on the course and trying to prioritize areas that are easier to drive in.
At 14:30, with the temperature warmer than the previous day at 21℃, and the road surface temperature at 35℃, the second formation lap started. With the signal turning green, Kataoka and the car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) headed for the first corner and finished their opening lap maintaining their position.
In the third lap, the SC was out due to problems with the GT500. When racing resumed in the seventh lap, car No.2 (muta Racing Lotus MC) headed to the pit, so Kataoka was able to finish within the top ten.
On the 15th lap, car No.5 (Team Mach GTNET MC86 Mach) entered the pit so Kataoka rose to ninth place, and in the 17th lap, car No.31 (TOYOTA GR SPORT PRIUS PHV apr GT) also had to take a pit stop which pushed Kataoka’s position to eighth place.
Car No.4 also went into the pit in the 18th lap. The team did not change the tires during the pit stop and sent off the car after only refuelling it and changing the driver.
Taniguchi, taking over, let slip that “Kataoka said that the car felt good during the warmup, but since getting into the course and starting the out lap after filling the tank, the performance was not so good. The car did not turn and it slipped at the start ……”, but he was able to complete the middle stint which is nearly 40 laps long.
In 28th place, he came back on the course and little by little improved his position while keeping an eye on his rivals who were heading for a routine pit stop. With car No.5 in front and car No.2 at the back, he maintained a perfect pace thanks to the incredibly light car comparable to its Mother Chassis running in the front.
Afterwards, in the 28th lap, the tires came loose from the GT500 on a straight road. Due to this, for the first time, the FCY was displayed during the final race. All cars reduced their speed to 80km/h and repeated the laps without being able to tighten the gap.
On the 31st lap, once the FCY was deactivated and the race was restarted, it became a battle with car No.65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG). On the 43rd lap, due to retrieving fallen objects on the course, the FCY was displayed again. After it was deactivated, the battle with car No.65 continued, and although Taniguchi maintained his position by skilfully taking a racing line, on the 51st lap, he was overtaken by both cars No.65 and No.2, finishing in 11th place.
There was a large change in conditions such as the tires losing temperature due to the FCY and on top of this the road surface temperature dropped to 27℃. Despite this, Taniguchi recorded stable lap times and continued drive with extreme precision.
In the 59th lap, there was a second pit stop. The team was going to change the two wheels on the left depending on their condition, but it was decided that the other tires were also unsuitable for the remaining laps, and therefore they changed all four tires. The steering wheel of Car No.4, which received a full service, was once again handed over to Kataoka, and he headed for the last long stint.
As the temperature going down was good for the brand new tires, car No.4 and Kataoka recorded 1 minute 38 seconds on some laps and overtook car No. 18 (UPGARAGE NSX GT3) by the 70th lap. At the 74th lap, it overtook car No. 360 (RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R), and entered the top ten once more.
Then the cars at the top, car No. 52 (Saitama Toyopet GB GR Supra GT) and car No.11 (GAINER TANAX GT-R) got into trouble just in front of the finish line and were disqualified. In the end, the Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG ended in eighth place, winning its first points this season.
The next race was supposed to be held at Suzuka, but due to the worsening situation with COVID-19, it was postponed indefinitely.
The next race will mark the 100th race for the Hatsune Miku project at the SUPER GT. The team was making some preparations in celebration for this, but they were forced to put the brakes on it.
There are still uncertainties over the next race, but hopefully they will be able to take home a good result on this historic race.
■Comments from the Team
I think we made significant improvements in tightening the settings. But I feel that there is still room for us to be more aggressive in tightening them. I think there is still room to improve on the fuel timing, and setting the speed limiter.
But even if we improve all of this, at best it only gives us a total gain of 20 to 30 seconds. That would not get us to the top. We need to do something more challenging to beat the fast JAFs and their rival tires.
If we have the speed, it would be all right for us to go with a normal plan. But what should we do when we do not have the speed and our rivals are so much faster than us? In the next race at Suzuka (*), there will be high pressure which means high downforce, but this will be much easier on the tires. We will need to take more risks and match the settings and the choice of tires with our reflexes.
We had thought about making up for the difference in the car by going with soft tires, but it ended up getting hotter than we expected, so we couldn’t use them. If soft ones won’t last, then we have no choice but to go with harder ones, but this time they were too hard. It felt like both of them were just outside of the optimal range. Once we fell in the prelims, we weren’t able to recover. Our overall pace in the finals wasn’t bad, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot this time. Looking back on it in its entirety, I hate to say it, but it pretty much feels like nothing clicked, including our choices, starting with testing.
The next race at Fuji is a long distance race. We are in a good position to really bring together all of our strengths and finally put up a good showing. We will do our best to not get in our own way like we did this time.
I feel like we were able to have a proper race this time round. Of course, there is a big gap between us and the top teams. But with foreign GT3 cars, we did our best for a team which does not have any of the so-called “four cards” of Bridgestones, GT-Rs, BRZs, or Supras. Our car did have few soft tiers, but does not mean that we lack punch. We started from 11th place in the qualifying round, and we got to gain points, so we were able to improve our position even if not by much. We were saved by the other cars being forced to retire. We are still not strong enough to win all by ourselves, so we are in no place to say that we want to win or get to the podium in the next race at Suzuka (*). Our goal is to go as far as Iskandar, but we want to work as hard as possible like last time.
As usual, we are in a state something like material warfare with the current regulations. With the things that we have at the moment, I feel it is hard to aim for the top. We worked hard together and as a result our set up process improved a lot this week. At the moment, I think we have been able to give our very best with what we have.
I think we were lucky to be in 11th place in the qualifying round and eighth place in the finals. We were able to get points in the long stretch, so we were able to avoid a worse result. The reason we had our best performance at the end was thanks to the conditions and because the car became lighter. The pace improved as the tires cooled down due to the FCY. It is regrettable, but I want to continue working hard in preparation for the day that our time comes.