2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 6
SUGO GT 300km RACE
Dates: September 17-18, 2022
Location: Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Prefecture)
Attendance: Prelims: 8,300 Finals: 17,000
Points Earned: 0
Series Rank: 8th (24 points)
During the 5th round held at Suzuka Circuit, GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO were able to win for the first time in 5 years, and it was also the first win for the Hatsune Miku Project at Suzuka, making for a double breakthrough for the team.
With this win, Taniguchi and Kataoka’s Car No. 4, the GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG, gained 20 driver points and rose in the series ranking from 18th to 5th. The team was in a good position to further move up in the rankings coming into the sixth round at Sportsland SUGO.
The performance tuning (BOP= Balance of Performance) for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 for this go around was as follows: the inflow restrictor, which limits engine power, remained the same size at 34.5mm x 2. The BOP weight was the same as last year – 35 kg, and the maximum weight for this model was the usual 1320kg as specified by FIA GT3 regulations. Car No. 4 added another 60 kg in success weight (=SW) because of the 20 driver points they obtained thanks to their win in the previous round, bringing the total to 72 kg.
Due to race regulations, in the upcoming 7th round the SW would be halved, and the 8th round would be no weight, so the 6th round would be the highest weight for the entire season. Because of this, the focus for this particular weekend was to gain points heading into the final two races, which would have decreased weight limits.
Saturday, September 17 (Official Practice, Official qualifying)
Air/Track Surface Temperature: Q1 Start: 25℃/36℃
Q2 Start: 25℃/34℃
For several days, the weather forecast had been calling for caution due to Typhoon 14, and western Japan and the Kanto region had been hit by heavy rain. Sportsland SUGO, located in Tohoku, wasn’t affected much by the weather. While skies were mostly cloudy, some blue sky could be seen. The official practice started at 9:25 AM with a dry track, the air temperature at 24°C and track surface temperature of 30°C.
Kataoka was in charge of starting off the practice and set out from the pit just after the course opened to begin his checks. They measured their 7th lap at 1:19.893, and then returned to the garage to check the other set of tires they had brought along.
With the new set of tires on the car, their time improved to 1:19.446 on the 14th lap, placing them in 10th. From that point on, based on Kataoka’s feedback, the team began adjusting the setup. “We had a few things we needed to test, and we were hoping to make this weekend the event where we could do those tests. We needed to deal with the weight and wanted to try a new direction heading into SUGO,” said Aki.
On the 19th lap, Kataoka recorded a personal best of 1:19.355 and from then on out kept running a single lap and returning to the pit while adjusting the machine settings. Kataoka continued throughout the time set for mixed practice with the GT500 class and finally switched over to Taniguchi just before the GT300 class’s time slot began at 10:50 AM. With just a short 10 minutes, Taniguchi checked the car’s balance. He continued in the driver’s seat preparing for the afternoon’s prelims during the FCY (Full Course Yellow) time slot, which started at 11:20 AM and lasted for 20 minutes.
Under the difficult BOP, it wouldn’t be easy for Car No. 4, the GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG, carrying a SW of 72 kg to breakthrough in Q1. The Q1 driver would be none other than Kataoka, who had been in charge of all of the machine settings in the official practice. For this session, Q1 would be split into two groups based on point ranking, so Car No. 4 was to race in group B.
Q1 group B began at 2:48 PM. Once the starting signal changed to green Kataoka entered the course in no time at all. At 13 cars, group B had one less car than group A, and Kataoka continued the warmup in 4th position. Increasing his attack in the 4th lap, Kataoka recorded at time of 1:18.968 and was provisionally in 4th place when he crossed the control line.
After that, the rival teams began to improve their times and the team began to gradually sink in the placings. Kataoka continued to attack, but the tires were already past their peak, and he wouldn’t be able to improve his personal best time. However, in the end, he was just able to cross the finish line in 8th place to qualify in Q1.
“Up until now, there’s been a big gap between what I want to do and what the engineers say we should do. There was also a difference of opinion while choosing the settings for this race, but because I was quite confident in various areas, I was able to get my opinion pushed through on some good parts. Perhaps it’s harder for the engineers to notice because they use the data… but there are some areas where since I’m actually driving in the car, I can notice them easier, so I’m glad I could show some direction,” said Kataoka. Using the machine with settings he pushed for, he was able to push aside the 72kg SW and qualify for Q2.
Following such a good performance from his partner, Taniguchi was excited for Q2, which would start at 3:23 PM. Despite the fact that the morning session had been a bit of a gamble without being able to practice in new tires, Taniguchi began his tactics quickly as the second of 16 cars on the course. On the third lap, he recorded a time of 1:18.867, putting him in third place and on the 4th lap recorded a personal best time of 1:18.653, crossing the line in 9th place.
However, after that, a slight change in track conditions and the lighter rival teams putting up better times led to the team falling to 15th place. Following the race, Car No. 96, which had put up the top time, was disqualified during the post-race car inspection, so Car No. 4 would start in 14th and aim for the top in the final.
Sunday, September 18 (Final)
Air/Track Surface Temperature: Prior to Start (1:55 PM): 28℃, 36℃
Early Race (2:30 PM): 27℃/32℃
Mid-race (3:30 PM) 26℃/30℃
End of Race (3:58 PM) 25℃/28℃
On Saturday night after the qualifyings, the team members were out for dinner in Sendai. During the meal, Taniguchi began not feeling well. “He didn’t have much energy and looked like he was in a lot of pain, so I told him ‘Please leave early,’ and sent him hotel. But it looks like after that things got worse…” revealed Aki. Taniguchi’s stomach pain worsened during the night, and he was rushed to the emergency room. Doctors diagnosed him with appendicitis. After undergoing surgery, he would have to remain in the hospital for a few days.
On Sunday morning at 10:30 the team released a statement on their official Twitter account announcing to fans about Taniguchi’s condition and that they were working with the GTA so that Kataoka could participate in the finals solo. However, according to the race rules, one driver is allowed to complete at most 2/3 of the race distance. There was also not enough time left to register a substitute driver, so this automatically meant that the team would not be able to complete the entire race.
In spite of this, the team began preparations on Car No. 4, the GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG, for the final race “for all the fans who came out to meet us at the circuit, all the fans who came to see the race, and all the fans who cheer us on watching at home.” The team ran their usual program during the warmup that began at 12:40, and then completed the final checks including checking the degree of wear on the tires and the machine balance.
As the start of the race drew closer, dark clouds began to appear in the sky, and during the start occasional raindrops began to fall, but luckily it held off and the cars left the grid and headed for the parade lap led by the Miyagi Prefecture Police on a dry track.
GSR, which had planned from before the start of the race to retire in order to keep the impact on the race results to a minimum, returned to the pit lane during the formation lap, choosing to start from the back of the pack and put some distance between them and the field.
Aiming to run 56 laps, which was 2/3 of the 84-lap total for the race, the signal at the pit road exit turned green and the team began the race. On the second corner of the opening lap, Car No. 9 (PACIFIC hololive NAC Ferrari) crashed, causing an early appearance of the safety car, allowing the team to catch up to the pack. The confusion led to lap times of 1:21-1:23, and the team rose to 20th place at one point.
Around the 12th lap, rain began to fall on the track, and while the other teams were forced to change into wet tires, Kataoka stayed out of the pit and remained in slick tires in order to collect some valuable data. “We were able to check a number of things about performance, like the concerns we had had up until that point, and also check different track conditions like it being just slightly wet, or wet but about to dry. And the performance was quite good,” said Kataoka.
Kataoka continued in slick tires, even while Car No. 87 (Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3) got stuck in the gravel, and FCY was in effect. However, the rain had picked up, so Kataoka headed into the pit after the 26th lap. From there on out, Kataoka posted times in the 1:31 range, the same as during the wet tire tests, and continued to complete laps with times that were in line with the leaders.
As the rain began to subside, and the amount of water on the course began to decrease, the rival teams began to change back to slick tires one step ahead of Kataoka. Once the course had returned to normal conditions on the 46th lap, the team posted a time of 1:26.341, which was the fastest on the course at the time.
In the 48th lap, Kataoka collided with the GT500 car at Rainbow Corner, and while there were some situations where there was some spin, posted times of 1:21.166 in the 53rd lap, and 1:21.201 in the 55th lap, which were approaching the personal best time (1:21.107) recorded in the 8th lap. Kataoka returned to the pit as planned on the 56th lap.
The final results were that since more than 70% of the specified laps (top finish was 79 laps) were completed, the team was considered as having completed the race in 26th place and received 1 point.
The 7th round is to be held at Autopolis, which was a great track for the team last season. There they were able to show some impressive overtakes and finish in the top 10. The team looks forward to being able to take advantage of the decrease in SW and returning to a normal race setting with Taniguchi.
■Comments from the Team
Taniguchi is just fine. He came out of surgery before the final race, and called me himself to say, “I’m out of surgery.” It sounds like he has some stomach pain, and while we were worried, we’re able to breathe a sigh of relief for the time being.
That being said, this weekend was a great test overall. It’s not very often that we’re able to use a final to be able to test the set up, so from that point of view it was a good thing. We had a good response as well. We would have been in a good position if we had been able to race. The pace was really good, and I think maybe we could have placed 5th or 6th. As we headed into this weekend we weren’t really thinking “We’ll throw this one away,” but rather testing was more important than the race. In the midst of that we were able to see the light and make the decision to change the way we fight. We qualified in Q1, and the pace of the race was really good, so we got a lot out of this weekend.
Before he was taken to the hospital, Taniguchi ate a huge salad at a certain famous Italian restaurant in Sendai… maybe that’s the source of his troubles – haha! We certainly weren’t expecting appendicitis. We thought he had just eaten too much and gave him some stomach medicine. Jokes aside, we were able to race really well on Saturday. Taniguchi racing without new tires in the first qualifier was really quite something.
Our entry into the race followed the regulations and we verified that we could run 2/3 of the race. Before the start, Mr. Bandoh (Masaaki Bandoh, GTA Chairman) said “You should just run the entire race,” but from the judges’ standpoint that was a no-go. We had been planning on testing a number of things during this race to begin with, but without Taniguchi, we gave up on racing and just focused on testing. From that point we were able to gain a lot from the race, so it was good.
I’m relieved that Taniguchi’s surgery went well, and all is okay. This round we were trying new things and exploring a new set up starting from the practice round. Although it had gotten better, I still felt on Sunday like I wanted to try out various things. However, Taniguchi and I both drive the car, so we weren’t planning to do anything overly drastic. But with Taniguchi not being able to drive, we were able to switch completely into test mode. I was able to test out some things that I wanted to and was able to get some good results, so I was able to make the best of the fact that he couldn’t drive. We didn’t want to interfere with the race so we started from the pit and gave way to Car No. 96, but had we been able to really race today, I think it would have gone well. It was an irregular situation, but we were able to do everything we needed, and I really felt like this team can overcome anything… like punctures, victory, and appendicitis – haha!