2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 2
FAV HOTEL FUJI GT 450km RACE
Session: May 3/4, 2022
Location: Fuji International Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Attendance: 73,000 people（2days）
Points earned: 0
Series rank: 10 (4 points)
Fuji International Speedway played host to Round 2 of the 2022 SUPER GT during Golden Week, the first time it has done so since 2019.
In order to suit the Fuji International Speedway, the fastest course on the whole circuit, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 had its BoP modified as it was last year, with the diameter of the intake restrictor tasked with suppressing engine output expanded from 34.5mm in the previous race to 36mm. The BoP weight was 55kg, 10 more than the previous race, bringing total weight to 1340kg.
This year’s race took on a completely new format, running at 450km in comparison to the traditional 500km Golden Week race, where at least two driver changes were required. The race rules for this year’s 450km race require only two refueling pit stops (minimum) but the regulations around driver changes are the same as those governing conventional 300km races. In practical terms, this means that various different strategies are possible, such as having the driver take on a double stint rather than changing drivers at one of two pit stops.
Predicting the strategies that rival teams would employ was difficult. For Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka of Car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG), however, the day looked to be a lengthy test with a new format that would no doubt rattle a few cages and push one’s endurance to the limit, making it a race that they had long been aiming to win.
・［May 03 (Tue)］Official practice, Qualifying
Air/road temperature: GT300 Q1 start: 16℃／23℃
GT300 Q2 start: 14℃／20℃
GT300 Q2 finish: 14℃／19℃
With official practice runs beginning at 9 in the morning, Taniguchi was the first man to enter the machine that day. Due to some rainfall on the previous day, but chose to wait in the pits for 5 extra minutes before entering the course in order to let the unreliable road surface conditions improve and road surface temperature to rise.
On his 5th lap after his tires had warmed up, he recorded a lap time of 1’36.758, reaching 2nd in the class, after which he returned to the pits for some fine tuning of equipment. He then attacked the course once more on his 10th lap, recording a time of 1’36.228, leaping to the front of his class ahead of all 28 cars competing. His subsequent laps brought times in the 1’36 range until he returned to the pits after 13 laps and was replaced by Kataoka.
Kataoka completed 3 laps and then stopped in the pits to adjust the vehicle’s balance. He recorded a personal best of 1’37.016 on his 9th lap before returning to the pits to refuel for a long run, entering into continuous laps that allowed him to check the effect of such mileage on the tires they were using.
Kataoka maintained an average lap pace of 1’38-39, occasionally dipping down into the 1’37 range and then continued on into GT300 class driving practice starting at 10:25. Car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) once again did not run a simulation of a qualifying attack, focusing instead on monitoring and maintaining pace over the long haul, and took the checkered flag overall.
Taniguchi ultimately finished the practice session in 5th place with his time of 1’36.228 on the 10th lap.
Kataoka took charge of the longer-scale FCY test frame to prepare for the long race using tires that had stood up to a long run during official practice over many continuous laps.
Official qualifying was set to begin at 3:00 in the afternoon sorted by ranking with GSR starting in Group A. The attack driver for Q1 qualifying would be Taniguchi due to registering his team’s best time in official practice. As the course opened and all cars entered simultaneously, air temperature stood at 16 degrees Celsius and road surfaces temperature at 23.
Taniguchi warmed up in the middle of the pack, entering his attack lap on the 4th circuit of the Speedway. Because he entered into his attack at the same time as Car No. 65, the vehicle running directly in front of him, the attack began with Car No. 65 in front, but Taniguchi chalked up the best times in the whole field on both Sector 1, where straight-up speed and engine power are crucial, and Sector 3,a technical section with an uphill slope. With a lap time of 1’36.295, he put his team atop the leaderboard at that point in qualifying.
With just 2 minutes remaining, it was decided to finish off the attack and head to the pits in order to preserve the tires in anticipation of the upcoming final run. Although some rivals’ times later bested Taniguchi’s run, dropping him down to 7th in qualifying, he still cleared the cut successfully, assuring that he would advance to Q2.
Q2, the second round of qualifying that would decide the starting grid for the final race the next day, was set to start at 3:53, after the intervening GT300B-Q1 and GT500-Q1 runs. As Kataoka headed onto the course, clouds had filled the skies over the Speedway and both air and road surface temperatures had fallen since the beginning of Q1.
Once more, Kataoka chose to make an early push once his tires had warmed up, like Taniguchi, and he managed to improve the team’s time to 1’35.621 on his 4th lap, recording the 2nd fastest time as he passed the control line.
The team determined that no better time could be realistically expected, so it was decided that Kataoka should return to the pits to preserve the tires. While some rival cars then achieved better times and climbed the board above them, Kataoka and Taniguchi ended the first day having secured a single grid, the 9th starting grid, for the following day’s long haul race.
・[May 04 (Wed)]
Air/road temperature: Start: 20℃／33℃
The day of the final race brought clear weather and warmer temperatures than the previous day, with the Fuji International Speedway full of energy as it welcomed a large crowd of fans (44,000) for the first time in many months.
The pit walk began at 9:30 in the morning, with scores of fans milling along the pit road. Both Taniguchi and Kataoka have been involved in running the official SUPER GT YouTube channel that began earlier this season and both drivers entertained pit walk participants while simultaneously answering fans’ questions via the Internet. During the pit walk, the team also prepared a birthday cake for Kataoka, whose 43rd birthday was on May 1, marking the first time he had celebrated together with fans in three years.
Warm-up runs prior to the final race began in the early afternoon at 1:10. With an unfamiliar new 450km race coming up, Kataoka was careful to check the machine’s balance. As road surface temperatures rose to 38 degrees under the strong rays of the midday sun, Kataoka recorded laps consistently in the 1’38 range with his best lap being the 12th at 1’38.062.
At 1:48, the exit into the starting grids for the final was opened and Car No. 4 (Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG) left the pits and headed for the 9th grid. However, the moment after he exited the pits, Kataoka radioed the team saying he felt something was wrong with the car. Chief Engineer Kono listened to Kataoka’s description of the problem and discussed whether they should return to the pits or head straight to the grid. It was decided that the problem could be resolved at the grid before starting and so Kataoka was advised to proceed.
One of the mechanics met the car at the grid and began work immediately, solving the problem in time for a safe start.
The final race was set to run 450km with two obligatory refueling stops. It is necessary in such long-distance races to be ready for Full Course Yellow (FCY) and safety car dispatch due to the tendency of rough conditions to develop at some point over the long haul. The team had prepared a risky strategy where Kataoka, the driver in charge of the start, would be called into the pits earlier than the rest of the GT500 pack, allowing it to pass, and then sent out with a simple “Splash & Go” refueling, returning to the clean area on the course while consuming the first mandatory refueling, piling up laps without adjusting to the pace of other cars, pushing until 47 or 48 laps before switching to Taniguchi, who would then aim to seize the lead after completing the second obligatory refueling and tire replacement.
At 2:30, the final race began with the air temperature at 20 degrees Celsius and road surface temperature at 33. No sooner had Kataoka crossed the start line than he had pulled alongside Car No.88 (Weibo Primez Lamborghini GT3) and then slid smoothly into 8th place, braking through the first corner. On a subsequent lap, he passed Car No. 52 on the Coca-Cola corner, already in 7th place at this early stage of the race. After making the most of his talent for quick starts and early passes, Kataoka headed to the pit road as planned on the 5th lap and then returned to the course after a brief refueling session of only 10 seconds, after which he chased down car No. 52, who had also been in the pits on the same lap, engaging in a fierce one-on-one battle with a lap estimated at 1’38.
At around 20 laps in, rival cars began to make their routine pit stops and Kataoka, who had been running in 23rd place, began to make rapid gains. On the 24th lap, he passed Car No. 25 (HOPPY Schatz GR Supra) at the Dunlop corner, moving into 18th place. He might have continued to rise up the ranks at that point had his tires not begun to wear out sooner than expected. “If the grip had hung on, I wouldn’t have had to pull out, but the tires got harder to handle, so I let No. 52 have it (because of the difficulty with the tires),” Kataoka explained later on. On the 27th lap, he allowed his rivals past him into the lead.
Kataoka made the best of the situation despite his ailing tires, utilizing Car No. 52’s slipstream to sneak into the top 10 by lap 31. However, as the tires began to show further wear and his pace began to drop off, it was decided by lap 35 that their limit had been reached and Kataoka headed to the pits.
With just over 1/3 of the race completed, all 4 tires were replaced and the car fully refueled, leaving Taniguchi behind the wheel for the remaining 2/3 ahead.
Taniguchi returned to the course in 23rd position, but soon after, on the 38th lap, Car No. 22 (Earl Cues AMG GT3) crashed violently into the side of the track at the point from 100R into the hairpin turn, destroying the tire barrier and scattering parts all over the place. FCY was introduced, but the barrier was severely damaged and it was judged that repairs were necessary, prompting the introduction of a safety car (SC). This meant that the cars would be sorted by class on the 41st lap along the home straight, which meant as a result that Car No. 4, having completed two pit stops ahead of its rivals, would unfortunately be set back from its competition.
At 4:01, after 45 laps, a red flag was raised to indicate a temporary suspension to the race to allow for vehicle recovery and repairs on the tire barrier.
At 4:25, with the help of the safety car at first, the race resumed. Taniguchi hit a personal best of 1’37.652 on lap 51 before slipping past Car No. 30 (apr GR86 GT) on the straight, negotiating Corner 1 and moving into 18th place. On this lap too, he nailed down a time of 1’37.927 and roared further ahead. On lap 54, he overtook Car No. 5 (Mach Vehicle Inspection Air Buster MC86 Mach) of the obligatory pit stop group, again at Corner 1, then passed Car No. 60 on a hairpin curve to move into 16th.
However, soon afterward, a car fighting for the lead in the GT500 class lost its balance running near maximum speed while avoiding a GT300 car running slowly along the home straight, sending it spinning into the fence on the straight out side and causing a massive accident.
The car shattered into pieces and there was severe damage to the guardrails, with pieces of debris even flying into the spectators’ seats.
This led to the red flag being raised for the second time on the day with the race suspended again with the GT300 leaders on their 55th lap and GSR on their 54th.
Fortunately, the driver in the crash was not hurt, allowing course officials to remove the damaged vehicle and repair the course, but with the suspension set to last an hour and a half, it was going to be impossible to finish the race by 6:20, the latest time allowed for the race to finish (set in advance of the race).
The race resumed at last at 6:10. However, with temperatures having dropped during the long suspension, resulting in cold tires and breaks, it began under the guidance of the safety car. By 6:20, it essentially became a parade run for the checkered flag. According to competition rules, if a race runs over 2 laps but under 75% of the total specified laps, the race will count but only half the points awarded. However, a special judgment was handed down stating that the obligatory refueling stops would not be factored in. As a result, teams that had completed only one pit stop grabbed the top places, while GSR, which had already fulfilled its two obligatory stops, finished in 16th place.
■Comments from the Team
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the tires could have held on just a little longer. The original plan was to switch over to Taniguchi later, which might have led to us being in a much more advantageous position upon the first introduction of the safety car. Yesterday morning (when temperatures were low), our tires suffered some graining, so to predict that our tires would hang on in the warmer temperatures of the final…well, this seems like an error to me. Today, when we had to enter the pits early, the competition was essentially over for us at that point. And the race itself sure didn’t end well either. Regarding the obligatory two…I mean, should we lose out at the end for fulfilling the obligation? I’d feel better if there were some sort of penalty or seconds added to the times. At Suzuka next, we need to protect our tires, and the rest depends on the restrictor.
Starting the day before, we were able to do long runs without any issue and understand how long the tires would last at each temperature, so I think we did everything we should have done. There weren’t any particular standout negative factors, but the starting tires were a bit…off. The drivers were also (from qualifying) really careful with the tires, but somehow they still didn’t last. In the starting grid, there was some concern about a problem with the car, which we checked. Fortunately, contrary to what we had all thought, everything was okay and nothing seemed wrong with the car. When the race started, I began telling myself things like “It’s nothing to worry about” but then soon realized that the tires were already overheating and starting to wear out, so we had no choice but to slow down. It was just a bit too hot today. It’s disappointing…we had the chance to make performance adjustments and get results here at Fuji, which we desperately wanted.
It was a rough race with two restarts midway through. I wasn’t initially aware of the details of what had happened, but there were fortunately no serious injuries to drivers or fans so it seems catastrophe was avoided. Overall it’s a silver lining amongst some pretty dark clouds, as things have maybe heated up a bit too much, maybe boiled over, in the last few races. As for our own race today, everyone had quiet expectations that we could make something happen, but obviously when you think it through, it was always going to be tough. Lap times were poor, as we expected, but the tires wore out quicker than we thought they would. Even using the safety car to our advantage did not work out for us as a strategy. The original plan was for me to take charge of the last 45 laps without needing to refuel, but there was no option but to change the tires again. At that point, we were pretty much out of the running.
Essentially, I adopted an aggressive “attack strategy” from the outset. If you don’t at least try to attack the course, you’ll have no chance of achieving good results or scoring high numbers of points. During official practice, I was able to prove that the tires could last long enough for the time we required. However, in the actual race, I could feel when I refueled on the 5th lap that things were already getting a bit risky. Even back on the course, running at my ideal pace, the same feeling crept in, that feeling that continuing the race without protecting my tires could go from risk to outright danger. Once you lose the grip on both front and back tires, your situation in the race will only continue to get worse even if you keep driving the same way. Anyway, our biggest failing today was that we did not get the tires right for the conditions. So to be honest, no matter what happened in the race today, maybe it was always going to be difficult for us to pick up points.