SUPER GT Round 6 Suzuka Circuit
- August 30, 2014 Qualifying: 17th
- August 31, 2014 Finals: 5th
Taking 5th place in the legendary Suzuka 1000km race and reclaiming the top ranking!
- August 30, Suzuka preliminaries, round 1
The International Suzuka 1000km—6th race in the circuit and the longest on the entire SUPER GT.
The Suzuka 1000km already has more than 40 years of history and is one of the biggest events of the summer. It has been part of the SUPER GT circuit now for several years.
In the August 30 preliminaries, Nobuteru Taniguchi took the wheel first. In addition to the 96-kg weight handicap, the GoodSmile Hatsune Miku Z4 was more than 100 kg heavier with the addition of a 20-kg BoP (balance of performance) adjustment right before the start. This had a major impact on the car’s time.
Taniguchi shaved off every possible second and posted a time of 2‘01.483, though nearly all the top cars were battling over tenths of a second and the team ultimately landed in 17th place in the preliminaries. This was their result for the prelims, which did not put them in the top 13. Their grid position was 17th. Last year’s result was also 17th place in the prelims, starting them off in 17th in the grid.
- August 31, Suzuka finals
Heading into the championship race
With the change to late August for the race schedule, the temperature did not climb much, which reportedly had a major impact on tires and strategies. Additionally, other teams had a third driver at the ready, but GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO were competing only with Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka.
Kataoka was the starting driver. The long battle of 160 laps in the GT300 class got underway. In the starting first-lap melee, they dropped to 19th then moved up to 18th in the 5th lap. After that, efforts to pass car 21 (Audi R8 LMS ultra) were not effective and the battle entered the 16th lap. Other cars made pit stops in the 16th lap, allowing a gradual move into 17th, then 16th, place.
- Finishing in 5th place after a focused race without mistakes or other trouble!
Miku Z4 took its first pit stop on the 22nd lap. After a change of tires and drivers, Taniguchi took the wheel and sped off. Although he dropped to last place, 24th, after the pit stop, teams who had not taken their first stop exited one by one, allowing him to jump to 15th place on lap 32. Stubbornly unable to pass car 86 (Crystal Croco Lamborghini GT3), he would catch him on the corners, but 86′s quick acceleration let him pull away again and again.
The battle with 86 continued. Although Taniguchi moved up to 12th in lap 41, he still remained stuck behind 86. With consistent patience, he managed to rise to 8th place. However, strong surges from those behind bumped him down to 10th as he broke for the second pit stop on lap 56. Now, it was Kataoka’s turn again.
He slowly inched his way toward the leaders. His position was 10th in lap 65, moving up to 6th in lap 75, then falling to 9th, but he stoically raced to defend his spot. Courageously pausing for the third pit stop on lap 90 gave Taniguchi the chance to jump back in the driver’s seat.
Despite falling to 13th when returning to the track, he climbed to 5th on lap 106. But this time he came up against car 65 (LEON SLS). Clocking a nearly identical pace, he was not able to close the gap. He wanted to jump up one spot, but the battle turned fierce. It was then that car 65 ran into trouble and surprisingly had to drop out.
This left car 7 (Studie Z4) out in front, but the gap was already over a minute. Given the number of laps remaining and the likely lap times, any come-from-behind strategy would be a huge challenge. The gap actually widened, possibly because of the weight difference. Miku Z4 headed into the last pit stop on the 125th lap. The final stretch was in Kataoka’s hands.
He gradually gained back the progress lost from the pit stop and rose to 5th on lap 133. Car 55 (ARTA CR-Z), which had been comfortably cruising in 2nd up to that point, suddenly slowed and entered the pit. Although this allowed a jump to 4th place for Miku Z4, car 10 (GAINER Rn-SPORTS SLS) posted a faster time by nearly 3-seconds to come up from behind and force him into 5th.
That would be the end result, giving Miku Z4 eight points. Since car 11 (GAINER DIXCEL SLS) fell to 10th place, this allowed a return to the top spot in the point rankings. The result meant Miku Z4 had 56 points, but only a slight lead ahead of car 11 at 54 points, so the remaining two races would be hugely significant for the rankings. The next race was the first staging of the Buriram International Circuit in Thailand. It would be a test of each team’s strength, since none would have any data to work from.
There is a two-point difference, but we managed to regain the top ranking. Having this position puts pressure on the teams around us and I think it is important in terms of being out in front. Looking back on how the race went, it was great that we were able to make it to the end without any mistakes. Considering our weight handicap, all I can say is these guys lived up to their reputation over the full 1,000 km. Although our strategic “under cut” approach did not play out as hoped, pushing up to 5th from 17th in the prelims showed the team’s strength.
I have to say that, judging from the results, it was great to become the points leader again, but we did receive a helping hand from our championship rivals not being able to push the pace. We have to have more discussion on the factors that played into this. Was it the weight, the setting, or the direction of our development up to this point? Being atop the rankings right now is undeniably an advantage, but there is still the danger of a role reversal from any small hiccup. Going forward, we want to drop some weight and regain our speed. The gap between us and 2nd place is slim, so we feel the pressure not to allow any mistakes at all.
Becoming the point leader again is really huge. With a long race like this, a lot happens, which I think the drivers and the team would agree with. But we were able to make it to the end and achieve our goal, so I think we can definitely be happy with that. It is a good step leading us to the next stage.
Last year, we were also 17th in the prelims. This year, we had a totally different weight, so the race was a real battle. We definitely were not running at a great pace, but our persistence thankfully landed us in 5th place. And, our return to the top of the rankings is thanks to car 11 coming in at 10th. The race was a tough one and I sum it up with a phrase like “slipping downhill.” We did grab the top ranking, but the remaining two races will still be harsh. Thailand is up next and it is a total unknown for everyone involved, so we want to pull through with good results.
This time, we had 96 kg of weight, which made it just as tough as expected and put us in 17th in the prelims. In the finals, we predicted that we would be able to make it towards the top of the points board. As expected, we could not push the pace, but we did make it through without any mistakes. I assumed that I would have three stints in the driver’s seat. My pre-race physical and mental prep let me finish with a bit left in reserve, though the car was maxed out… It was frustrating not to be able to push the pace at all, but I think we ran a nearly perfect race. The one drawback that did take place was both myself and Taniguchi getting stuck at the start, which robbed us of a lot of time.