2015 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 5 44th International SUZUKA 1000km
- August 29, 2015 Qualifying：17th
- August 30, 2015 Finals：8th
An 8th place finish to a tumultuous 1000 km race that was transformed by rainfall.
■Saturday, August 29: An unexpected start—failure to advance past the first round of qualifying.
Held at the end of August, as summer vacation was coming to a close, Round 5 of the SUPER GT was the annual 1000 km racing tradition that has taken place at Suzuka Circuit since 1966. For Goodsmile Racing & Team Ukyo, who had finished the two previous races without points, the bonus points added because of the extra distance made this race an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.
In a typical year, the high temperatures are a source of concern, however this year brought unexpected rain. On the 29th, the day of qualifying, the track conditions were already declared wet for the morning practice run. Because the tires selected were well suited to these conditions, the car’s practice times were constantly near the top, creating high expectations for this race. The team’s time of 2’00.381 was at one point as high as 3rd place, but ended up as the 8th fastest following several cars posting times in the 59 second range.
The first qualifier was driven by Kataoka, who looked to continue the momentum from the successful practice. His time of 2‘00.412 was initially above the 13th place cut off line, but gradually fell as the competition posted times in the 59 second range. Despite Kataoka’s best efforts, he wasn’t able to break the 2 minute barrier, finishing in 17th place, and failing to advance to the second round of qualifying. Coincidentally, this result marked the third consecutive year the team qualified 17th at this track.
The team would begin the race positioned 17th in the starting grid.
■Sunday, August 30th: A podium finish was within reach, until…
The race took place on the 30th. Because of the 1000km distance, and support races involving F4 and the Porsche Carrera Cup, the schedule did not include time for free practice, with the race beginning following pit work.
The race began under sprinkling conditions, with Kataoka taking the wheel of the machine that had been fitted with rain tires. On the first lap, the car quickly passed five competitors, moving up from 17th to 12th. The car maintained this outstanding pace, and by the time it pulled into the pit stop during the 29th lap, it had risen to 8th.
Taniguchi took over with the car in 23rd place following the out-lap after the tire change. By lap 55, he had moved up into 7th before making a pit stop on the following lap. By this time the rain had stopped, and the race line had begun to dry, so the team made the decision to switch to slick tires before sending Kataoka back out. An accident immediately following the pit stop brought out the safety car until lap 62. A car going off course on lap 68 caused the safety car to make a second appearance. When racing resumed on lap 73, the team was in 7th place.
As the race proceeded to the later half, cars began falling off the pace due to various mechanical issues and violations leading to penalties. Kataoka’s driving was mistake free however, as he brought the team into podium contention, breaking into the top 3.
The next pit stop occurred on lap 94, with Taniguchi again taking over. However while he was battling with the vehicle ahead of him, a GT500 machine joined the fray, which left Taniguchi with no other option but to go off course. As a result, a piece of turf became caught in the car’s front air duct, forcing an emergency pit stop and leading to the team falling out of the top ten.
This situation was compounded after Taniguchi suffered a spin out, which further widened the gap between the lead group. After the final pit stop on lap 124, the car gradually climbed the standings behind Kataoka’s aggressive racing. Near the end of the race, the team found themselves back up to 8th place, pulling to within decimal points of the car in 7th place, but was unable to overtake it before the checkered flag.
Unfortunately, a high point total escaped the grasp of the team, and its series ranking of 12th remained unchanged from prior to the race, but the team hopes to capitalize on the positive momentum from this result in the upcoming SUGO race.
■Comments from the team members
This was a very unfortunate outcome. Taniguchi was aggressively trying to pass the other driver, but as a result the GT500 got caught up in the action, leaving him with nowhere to go. But I think we were able to show what we’re capable of, climbing from 17th to as high as 3rd. The tires, machine, and drivers were all performing at their best today; everything was lined up for a victory, but things didn’t turn out like we thought they would. We had to force things a bit in order to keep up with the speed of the other cars, which put us in a tough spot. Our usual style is to drive mistake free and pick our spots when the other cars slip up, but today was a bit out of character for us.
Today was the first time I’ve seen Taniguchi spin out in a race. Along with the wheel trouble last time, we have been experiencing a series of mishaps and accidents that we didn’t last season. While we haven’t fully settled on our car yet, we might have tried to be too aggressive because of the high point totals at Suzuka. It was a plus that we were able to recover for an 8th place finish.
Matching the tires to the changing conditions was quite difficult. At first it was alright, but things got difficult as the rain picked up. Taniguchi was running on hard wet tires, which was a struggle as the temperatures wouldn’t go up. But once the track started drying in the middle of the race, the slick tires worked perfectly, and we were putting up times that were several seconds faster than the competition. In hindsight I think we could have switched to the slick tires slightly sooner.
Our weight won’t increase too much for the next race, so we’ll be gunning for first!
We came into Suzuka with a strong desire to win this time, but we ended up qualifying 17th yet again. It was a difficult situation, but we hoped to be able to move up in the ranks since it was such a long race. Thanks to Kataoka’s efforts in the rainy weather, we were able to do just that up until the third stint. I was motivated to drive hard as well, but I got caught up among the GT500 and GT300 on the high speed corner before the Spoon Curve, and had to bail out, which led to having to make an unnecessary pit stop to remove the turf. I tried to make up for the lost time, but ended up spinning out. It was an embarrassing race on my part.
Although we eventually managed to climb back to 8th, I want to apologize for my errors which led to us missing out on what was a winnable race.
I’d like to first thank everyone for their support during this lengthy 1000km race. Despite starting in 17th, the team didn’t give up. We came together and battled the elements to the best of our efforts. For some reason we keep getting bad breaks this season, and haven’t been able to achieve the results we think we should. It must be frustrating for our supporters to watch, but we intend to finish out the remaining races without giving up, so I hope our fans will continue to support us.