2015 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round1 OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
- April 4, 2015 Qualifying：7th
- April 5, 2015 Finals：5th
Finished 5th in the opener in Okayama despite difficult conditions!
■Saturday, April 4 – Finished 7th after a hard battle in the qualifying round
Friday, the day before the qualifier, brought heavy rain to the Okayama International Circuit. The day of the qualifier started off cloudy and the track dried off just before lunch time. This year’s qualifier used a two round, knock-out style system. The two rounds were Q1 and Q2.
Q1 saw Kataoka on the attack. Putting up a personal best time of 1’27.580, Kataoka was able to grab a spot in the top half of the placings. As time went on, the other drivers also showed their speed, and at the end of racing, Kataoka was in 10th place and had secured a spot in the second round (13th place and below were eliminated)
Taniguchi took over driving for Q2. By getting to the inside, Taniguchi was able to post a personal best for this number of laps of 1’27.288. This temporarily put him in 1st place, but other drivers had times in the 26-27 second range, and more than 10 drivers posted times in the 27-28 second range, which made for an extremely close race. Taniguchi ultimately managed to maintain the 7th place spot.
These results meant a grid position of 7 for the start of the final.
■Sunday, April 5 – Rain plays a hand in determining the outcome of the final
The morning of the final was rainy, but the rain let up before the grid walk. Drivers were left with the difficult decision between using slick tires or intermediate (shallow groove) tires. Even though the rain had stopped, the track was still wet, and more rain was forecasted before the beginning of the race. The team stated off with slick tires for the warmup, but seeing that it would impact performance, switched to intermediate tires just before the start of the race. There were other drivers who raced on slick tires, but this decision would end up deciding the fate of the race.
The starting driver was Kataoka. He started off the race with a rolling start and began to battle for top position from the very first lap. Staring at gate position 7, by the end of the first lap he had jumped up to 4th place. The drivers who had decided to race in slick tires all fell behind at this point.
Kataoka was able to maintain position for the next few laps, but in the 9th lap he was passed by Car 21 (an Audi R8 LMS ultra), which had also shown great speed in the qualifying race. In the next lap, he was passed by one more Audi, Car 86 (Racing Tech Audi R8), leaving him in 6th position.
Feeling the need to catch up with the faster drivers leading the pack, Kataoka tried his best to shave off time where he could, but the hybrid and Audi cars’ lead kept getting wider and wider. The only car that was able to sufficiently shave off time was Car 10 (GAINER TANAX GT-R). Despite trying to catch up with Car 10, Car 77, the Good Smile Hatsune Miku SLS (KSF Direction Ferrari 458), came from behind and swooped in to the space.
Car 77, which had shown impressive speed in the pre-race tests, showed that its speed was alive and well in the final race. After getting passed by Car 77 in the 25th lap, Kataoka was bumped down to 7th, the same position he had started in. Kataoka maintained 7th for a while, and when Car 10 stopped in the pit, moved up to 6th. Kataoka stopped in the pit in lap 39.
■A 5th place finish after keeping up with constantly changing track conditions
The team exchanged a lot of different predictions just before Kataoka arrived in the pit. Just before the pit stop, the rain had stopped, and the track was beginning to dry, but around the same time as the pit stop there was new information that it would begin to rain. The team had hoped to change to slick tires to finish the race, and had slick tires prepared on the pit road, but had Kataoka continue as they debated once again between slick, intermediate and rain tires.
In the end, the team decided that there would likely be rain at the end of the race and settled on the rain tires (deep groves). The rest would all be up to Taniguchi.
During the out lap, Taniguchi was able to keep 7th position. In the 44th lap he passed Car 77 and moved up to 6th. The distance to the first 4 cars was quite large, but Car 10, which had stopped in the pit before the Miku SLS, had dropped again in the standings. Around this time the rain also began to pick up, and in the 65th lap Taniguchi passed Car 10 to reach 5th place. The time difference between Taniguchi and Car 86, which was in 4th place, shrank to 6 seconds.
While being careful with the tires, Taniguchi begins a spurt to advance up the leaderboard. At this time there were around 10 laps left. Even if the team didn’t reach the podium, Taniguchi begins chasing after Car 86, to try and move up in the standings, even if just by one spot. What started as a 6 second gap had shrunk to just 1.5 seconds by lap 72, and by lap 73 was just .5 seconds. However, in lap 74, Taniguchi got caught by a car that was a lap behind and the gap increased back up to 3 seconds. With two laps remaining, Taniguchi managed to close the gap to 1.5 seconds and in the final lap drew very close to passing Car 86. When the checkered flag went up, however, he was still .2 seconds behind.
As GSR, this ended the record of placing in the top three in Okayama that had been continuing since 2012, but given the difficult, constantly changing conditions of the track, being able to finish in 5th is a good start to the series. The team will get 6 points from this finish and are currently in 5th place in the season rankings.
The next race takes place May 2 and 3 at Fuji Speedway, where there is a good chance to win. The team hopes to earn a lot of points and gain momentum from the season opener.
As the opening race of the season and with the unpredictable conditions, I think they put up a good fight. The tire change at the pit stop caused a pretty extensive debate between some of the team members. Some thought the weather would clear up, and others thought the rain would continue to fall. They lined up all the types of tires and had Kataoka drive a few extra laps while they talked it over. In the end, they went with the rain tires, and that turned out to be the right choice. Had they chosen differently, there would have been another pit stop and they would have lost 40 seconds. From this race we’ve had the chance to get a look at the other teams, so going forward I think it will be easier to form a strategy.
Looking at just the 5th place finish might be a little disappointing, but I think it’s the result of everyone coming together and cooperating that let us finish that well. I especially think that we could have gotten around Car 86 towards the end, but when thinking about the entire season, it might not have been worth the risk to try and pass then. From that I think it was a good 5th place finish.
At Fuji we’ll have the advantage of the straight speed you can get at Fuji, and we’ll know the settings of the SLS. I also think that there is a chance to win because the car that won today will have the disadvantage of adding weight. I think avoiding any unexpected losses will be key to this season as the competition has become fierce.
Today’s race really kept everyone on the edge of their seats right to the end. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get in front of the Audi, but I think we got the best result we could hope for. It came down to traction, tires, and speedy crew for the cars that made it to the top.
There are a lot of teams that are the complete package this year, so it’s important that we try and keep from tripping up and losing out on points.
Honestly, this time I didn’t really have the feelings of “Let’s go win this thing!” but rather, “It’d be nice if we made it on to the podium.” We finished 7th in the qualifying race and given the impact from the rain and the difficult race today, I’m glad we could get 5th. The group out front had completely different speed, and even though it seemed like we could get around Car 86, it would have been risky to try and pass. Some of our opponents lost out on points today, so I think it’s a big deal that we were able to get 6 points. I think we have a better idea of this year’s field after today.
Focusing only on the placing, we finished 5th and my chance of standing on the podium for the 7th year in a row was lost. However, when thinking about the speed of the JAF, 5th place is a good showing and I’m satisfied. We placed 3rd among the GT3 cars.
Our team stays strong even if our car changes, and given the car’s potential, I think we had the best race we could today. The SLS is not great with the track here at Okayama, so I’m looking forward to the upcoming races.