SUPER GT Round 1 Okayama International Circuit
- April 5, 2014 Qualifying: 2nd
- April 6, 2014 Finals: 1st
Good Smile Racing’s Hatsune Miku Z4 is the SUPER GT opener champion at Okayama!
■ The 2014 BMW Z4 GT3 model’s spectacular form in the qualifying round
April 5th—the 2014 SUPER GT series has opened at last.
The temperature was low the day of the first qualifier, to the degree that snow was called for, but the sky was clear by the time the first qualifier began, and the time attack commenced with dry-weather conditions.
The person in charge of the first qualifying session’s (Q1) time attack was Nobuteru Taniguchi. He only rode in the new BMW Z4 GT3 MY14 during the joint test on 3/23–24, but he commented that it felt quite good. He set the best time at 1’ 27.077 with just a few laps, jumping to provisional first place. However, Studie BMW Z4 (#7) surpassed this time, and Taniguchi passed the first qualifier at second place.
Tatsuya Kataoka was in charge of the second qualifier (Q2). Surpassing Taniguchi, he pushed out a 1’ 26.869, but the OGT Panasonic PRIUS (#31) surpassed him by a few split seconds, with Kataoka finishing in second place overall. From this, they were set for second in the front row for the final starting grid.
■ Greeting the final from the comfortable second starting position
April 6th, the day of the final—With it raining during the free run, the announcer declared an allowance for rain tires. Between the Circuit Safari and Pit Walk events, the final race begins.
By this time the weather was completely clear, and while quite chilly, the race started with dry-weather conditions. Kataoka worked as starting driver.
The two formation laps for warming up the GT500 breaks hastily becomes three, and the nearly 2 hour race begins, starting this season. The GT500 machines begin with a delayed rolling start. The pole positioned OGT Panasonic PRIUS (#31) is neck and neck at the first corner, and just as the corner finishes, is passed for first place. #31, who had become second, chases after Miku Z4 and the split-second gap continues.
The race continues on, passing 15 laps without the margin between second place widening much. Amazingly, it starts raining down a hail and rain mix. As all the cars worry about whether to change into rain tires or not, they drive with slick tires on the drenched road. In the midst of that, like a fish that was given water, GAINER DIXEL SLS (#11) catches up. He passes #31 in an instant. And practically no sooner did he reach Miku Z4’s rear that he took the lead at the 20th lap.
The race continues. At the 23rd lap, #31 stops due to trouble, and from there, retires from the race. Three vehicles—#11, Miku Z4, and Studie BMW Z4 (#7)—are in the middle of a fierce competition when, as they pass the 30th lap, the leading #11 suffers a tire blow out and largely retreats. From here, it became a One-Two formation between Miku Z4 and the BMW Z4 called #7.
■Good Smile Racing (GSR) declared winner by narrow margin in fellow Z4 battle!
After that, Miku Z4 makes a pit stop at the 40th lap. Along with exchanging drivers from Kataoka to Taniguchi, tires are exchanged. At that time, only the two left tires are exchanged in order to keep the time loss minimal. At #7’s pit stop, the amount that #7 had pulled ahead was once again reversed. Miku Z4’s place for first was secured.
The race rushes into the second half in that way. When they realized it, #7 in second place had built nearly a 10 second lead. However, around the 60th lap, the #7 that Jörg Müller was driving gradually began closing in the gap. The tires seemed close to giving out, but at the 70th lap, that gap had already become only a single second.
However, Taniguchi continues to protect first place, and reaches the goal with a margin of 0.329. Incredibly, BMW Z4’s One-Two Victory became a reality in the opener. Furthermore, it was an overwhelming victory with all those under third place a lap behind.
For the next round, Fuji Speedway will be held in the middle of Golden Week, May 3rd and 4th.
I am proud that we won the championship at our first entry since becoming a new team. This was also Mr. Ukyo’s first win as manager. The choice of tires before the race was good, and there were improvements made on the car, all which helped us to take a good position. But, there is also a portion where we were helped by luck; the next round at Fuji Speedway will probably show the true value of each car. We cannot have too high expectations like we did in 2011 yet. I learned that we will be able to have good races throughout the year, but also that we should absolutely be on guard.
We won as I had predicted, but I never would have thought it would be a race that would feel like years were being taken off of my life. My heart was weak before going to Mt. Everest. But, I think this year’s races will continue like this. We had a rival drop out, but we had areas of trouble increasing the pace. Of course I am happy about the opening championship, but there are some parts that need to be rethought.
I would say that more than being faster, today’s win was helped by luck in many places. I was especially aware that the driving of #7’s Jörg will become a future threat. I think it is important to take the win when you can, and winning from the opener is an extremely good outcome, but our rival has become clear, so we must fight with that in mind.
Kataoka did a great job during the first half; he perfectly carried out the most difficult part. Thanks to that, he returned to the pit in first place, exchanged only the left tires, and after that it was a clear stretch, but the tires were strained beyond expectation. We were pretty cornered, but with the result of the calculations of the gap from the rear and lap time, we thought we could win. So, without panicking, without any hasty mistakes, I was able to carry the car all the way to the goal line. I am happy we started off well with this sudden win.
I aimed for the first corner; after that, I intended to pull away from behind. It was not easy to raise the pace. In the middle when it rained hail, the pace dropped quite a bit. On the way, #11 passed me. But, in that situation, the tires and the road did not match; I vigilantly aimed for openings. It seems that #11’s pace did not raise either. While keeping the distance without getting too close or too far away, he withdrew due to some trouble. After that, it was a battle with #7; somehow we made a pit stop keeping a large margin. This year, 2014’s model is doing well, and I think winning when you can win gathers momentum toward the goal of reclaiming the throne.