2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 3
Takanokono Hotel SUZUKA GT 300km RACE
Dates: May 28th-29th, 2022
Location: Suzuka Circuit(Mie Prefecture)
Attendance: 33,000 people (2 days)
Series rank: 16th（4pts）
Round 3 of the Takanokono Hotel SUZUKA GT 300km RACE series was held on the last weekend of May.
Suzuka circuit is globally famous as a driver’s circuit with high difficulty. As a result, the circuit also takes a toll on the tires. The weather forecast for the weekend forecasted out-of-season heat uncommon for the end of May. We anticipated challenging races for all the teams.
The balance of performance (BoP) assigned to Mercedes-AMG GT3 changed round 2 Fuji’s Φ36mm back to the opening round Okayama’s Φ34.5mm, limiting the engine power. Also, the BoP weight was slightly lighter at 50kg than the 55kg last round, but the total weight was 1,335kg, one of the heaviest in the GT300 class. Car #4 HATSUNE MIKU AMG was also added with a success weight of 12kg from the previous two rounds. The heavier a vehicle is, the stronger the negative impact on the tires from the heat becomes. Drivers Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka headed for the venue anticipating a tough race.
[5/28(Wed)] Official practice, knockout prelims
Air/road temperature: GT300 Q1 start: 28℃／44℃
GT300 Q2 start: 28℃／38℃
GT300 Q2 finish: 28℃／38℃
The official practice on Saturday started at 9:30 a.m., five minutes later than scheduled due to an accident in a support race. The air temperature was 26℃, and the road temperature was 36℃ at the start of the session, which was already summer conditions. The course opened with Kataoka’s drive.
COVID-19 quarantine measures for visiting foreigners were partially lifted for this Suzuka round. As a result, engineers from HWA.AG, in charge of Mercedes AMG’s customer sports division, visited Japan for the first time in two years. They obtained and analyzed field data in real-time and conducted a setup with the team.
The team began by checking the two types of tires that were brought in. On the course, Kataoka finished with the time 1’59.398 on the 4th lap with the first tires. For the second set of tires, the time was 1’58.621 on the 8th lap, which was within the top 10 at the time. After that, he continued out-in and frequently gave feedback on the car to the team. The setup was conducted more carefully than usual, driving 18 laps for about an hour before handing over the seat to Taniguchi.
Taniguchi took over and conducted a long run simulation keeping steady laps from exactly two minutes to two minutes 0.01 seconds. New tires were put on before the exclusive running slot for the GT300 class at 10:55 p.m. Following the out lap, he recorded a record time of 1’58.184 for the first measuring lap, coming eighth, and finished the official practice.
Taniguchi continued with an FCY test, and the qualifying round started ten minutes later than scheduled at 2:55 p.m. The GT300 class Q1 was separated into Group A and Group B. Car #4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG was put in Group B. The Q1 driver was Kataoka, taking on the ten-minute race from 3:13 p.m.
At 3:00 p.m., the air temperature was 28℃, and the road temperature was 44℃ due to intense sunshine. Due to the effect of the high road temperature, Kataoka gained tire grip early and started an attack on the second recorded lap. Kataoka steadily improved the time in Sectors 1 and 2, but on the west course, a slight unexpected behavior resulted in lost time. As a result, Kataoka passed the control line at 1’58.807 and could not break the official practice time. At that time, he came in sixth, but he went ahead to continuous attack anticipating rivals speeding up. However, the following lap time was 1’59.196, and he could not break his record. The rivals speeding up meant that his position fell quickly, resulting in the season’s first Q1 elimination, ending up 12th in Group B.
In Q2, #10 (TANAX GAINER GT-R ) was thought to have won the pole position recording the fastest time but was disqualified after scrutineering, dropping to the lowest position to start. As a result, #4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG started the final race on the following day from Grid #22.
Air/road temperature: Start: 30℃／50℃
The sunshine was strong on Sunday from the morning, and it was only expected to get even stronger as the day went on.
After the support race, a pit walk was held. There were still restrictions on the number of people allowed and a ban on getting in touch with drivers. Still, many fans walked and enjoyed the pit road and the home straight like the SUPER GT before COVID-19. On the second round pit walk, people celebrated Kataoka’s birthday. For this pit walk, many fans celebrated Taniguchi, who had a birthday on the 18th, and Team Manager Katayama, who turned 59 on this day.
Warm-up driving started at 1:10 p.m. The air temperature was 27℃, and the road temperature reached 50℃. Kataoka was in charge as the starting driver. For the final race, he headed to the course to check the machine balance and tire status of #4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG.
However, 12 minutes after the session started, #20 (SHADE RACING GR86 GT) had a major crash against the in-side guardrail just past the Degner curve. There was a red flag to collect the crashed car and repair the course facility, and then the session was terminated. #4 only had completed four laps before finishing any checks. Because of the repair work, the final started 10 minutes late at 2:40 p.m. #20 did not participate in the race, and #4 went up a single position to start the 21st, but this was only a start of a chaotic race that was coming.
The course repair was successful, and the final race began. The air temperature was above 30℃ while the road temperature stayed 50℃. After two formation laps, Kataoka demonstrated his usual “aggressive opening lap” from the 21st position. He went ahead of #25 (HOPPY Schatz GR Supra) at the first spoon corner to rise to the 20th position.
Immediately after, a GT500 class car stopped, and the day’s first FCY was announced. After the FCY was lifted after a single lap, Kataoka went after #9 (PACIFIC hololive NAC Ferrari), passing it when there was a slight arch on the second spoon during the 3rd lap to get ahead to be the 19th position. He then chased the #52 (Saitama Toyopet GB GR Supra GT) that was ahead.
The first turning point happened on the 10th lap. #18 (UPGARAGE NSX GT3) that was driving right behind #4 lost balance going into the chicane and crashed into the outside crashpad, narrowly missing #4. As this accident occurred, SC was introduced to collect issues that had occurred in other sections.
Based on the team simulation in advance, the car took form in the home straight. Kataoka quickly headed for the pit on the 12th lap, which was a pit lane open during the SC run. The strategy was that while the course was slowing down, he would switch two front tires and do “splash” by adding slight fuel so that routine work could be shortened when the driver is changed.
The strategy was successful. He returned to the course going only two positions down at 21st. After SC left, he went up positions each lap while rivals received penalties and conducted pit work. After 18 laps, he rose to the 12th position, had a second pit, and then switched with Taniguchi.
The team had a short refueling session and changed the rear tires that were not changed during the first pit in. Driver Taniguchi was then sent to the course at the 17th position. Because the road temperature was still 50℃, Taniguchi wanted to consider the tire, commenting, “I’m going to wait until everyone gets in a tough spot in the second half. I’m going to keep the tire temperature as low as possible by saving on the use of brakes.” He continued laps with the strategy, “I’m going to get ahead when everyone is worn out in the second half.”
On the 25th lap, another accident occurred. GT500 came into contact with #8 (Weibo Primez Lamborghini GT3), and #8’s parts were scattered on the course. The second FCY was announced to collect the debris as a result. The race would become even more chaotic from this point on.
After FCY was lifted on the 26th lap, Taniguchi went up to the 16th position due to a rival’s pit-in. On the 33rd lap, he passed #2 (muta Racing GR86 GT) to claim the 15th position. In the lap after that, #11 (GAINER TANAX GT-R) had a tire deficiency issue, so #4 went up to the 14th. While it was a situation that required patience, the position was going up slowly.
Furthermore, on the 35th lap, as #55 (ARTA NSX GT3) and #65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG) were engaging each other, #65 went too much to the outside at the 130R, so #4 overtook the position to be the 13th.
Immediately after that, FCY was called to collect a stopped car. However, a GT500 car that could not handle the countdown to an 80km/h limit crashed into #244, and a second SC was introduced as a result.
When the race restarted on the 41st lap, driver Taniguchi marvelously went ahead of NSX GT3 #55 with superior straight speed on a corner. With the drive-through penalty of #10 that was driving ahead, Taniguchi went up to the top 10 range that gets points.
Still, he said, “With this many FCY and SCs, everyone’s tires could be revived…” Despite challenging conditions, he said, “Everyone’s got their tires changed, so I’m not going to hold back on my tires anymore.” He decided to use tire grips until the end and go all out on a final stretch. With less than ten laps remaining, he kept his position while keeping somewhat over two minutes and two seconds pace.
Then, it was the final lap. When the car was driving back straight, the situation was “#55 at the back was behind, so 10th place is certain if it goes like this.” However, cars got tangled up at the front with GT500, and cars getting stuck involved the 6th place #34 (BUSOU raffinee GT-R), 7th place #30 (apr GR86 GT), 8th place #96 (K-tunes RC F GT3), 9th place #60 (Syntium LMcorsa GR Supra GT), 10th place #4, and 11th place #55. They were in a tight group as they went into the chicane. Here, Taniguchi was blocked by #60, which lost slight speed at the start of the chicane after battling with #30 and #96. As a result, #55 caught up on the in-side at the final corner. In the end, #55 went ahead on start due to superior acceleration, and #4 went down in position right before the goal. #4 lost to #55 by only 0.048 seconds and was checkered at 11th place. It was disappointing as points were so close but could not be obtained.
■Comments from the Team
As usual, we lacked speed. In particular, we lacked the speed and power needed in Suzuka. Still, with that premise, we did what we could do. For the qualifying round, we ended up with a low rank, unable to take advantage of a particular phenomenon. However, we strategized knowing our superior race pace, and successfully executed the plan. We simulated in advance, so we changed the two front tires as we calculated they wouldn’t last. We were also able to calculate the amount of fuel so we could finish the second full routine with just the driver replacement time. We weren’t bad, but it got chaotic at the end (laughs). Ultimately, we are no match if it’s a battle of acceleration. This time, two engineers came from HWA and were obviously helpful. We plan to be thorough from this point on, including tests.
The qualifying round was a bit of a big failure. We are always driving on edge, so sometimes, it cannot be helped. The straight course is always hard for us, so we try hard on corners, which causes the tire’s surface temperature to rise and overheat, with speed going down due to thermal degradation. We really need to be patient. For the first pit-in, we could gain time, so I thought, “this is good.” We could reduce the time for two rear tires and refuel for the regular pit, but BoP’s shortcoming came out in the end. Our planning went well, and our performance and tire usage are excellent because we plan. However, we still could not do a race. We couldn’t help but lose in a straight line, so we could only contain it. Also, trying too hard in corners is straining for the tires… That’s the only thing.
We went from 22nd to 11th, so we worked hard going up. Still, we were 10th until the final lap, so losing a position at the end was very disappointing. When it gets this chaotic, plans stop working. Kataoka went in with a minimum, and I went in with long, preserving the tires, but cars that are at a disadvantage in a straight have a hard time. Even though our tires may not be fresh, I tried hard, thinking everyone would eventually be in a hard spot. But we struggled not only in the end but from the qualifying round. The pole position was so far I thought it was “Iskandar or India (very far).” Japanese GT3 and GT300 cars are strong, but now BMW, Lamborghini, and Ferrari are getting faster too. Everyone should know Mercedes AMG is having a hard time now.
For Q1, I would say, “we could have passed if we did better.” Still, we are always at our limit, so our attack has no leeway. As a result, not only did we fail Q1, we ended up on the back grid of 22nd place as a result. We selected hard tires and hoped for chaos in this hot race, but there were many safety cars, so everyone could run without their tires overheating. It might have been different if we were out of the pole position, but whether we were 6th, 7th, 17th, or last, we might be in this position anyway. We did what we could in terms of the race, but we can never fight with this BoP. If it were just a matter of speed, we would always lose for sure because of acceleration. I hope things improve in the interval period (two months until the next race).