2016 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 1 OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
- April 9, 2016 Qualifying: 8th
- April 10, 2016 Finals: 2nd
The preliminaries were harsh but the team ran splendidly in the final race and grabbed 2nd place on the podium.
■April 9 (Saturday): 8th place in the preliminaries because of gear misalignment
The SUPER GT 2016 Season Finally Gets Off to a Start The Okayama International Circuit was the again the customary stage for the opener. The team had won on this circuit in 2014. The last few years had brought rainy conditions, but this time around, the weather was looking great.
On the day of the preliminaries, the team was not able to come to a firm decision on the settings after the morning runs, which kept them from faster times. Nevertheless, Tatsuya Kataoka was able to post the fastest time (1’27.179) on the fourth lap, temporarily bringing the team into 8th place. They were later knocked down into 12th, but managed to advance into the second round of the preliminaries. Although 14th place and below were cut in previous years, this year allowed the 14th place team to advance.
Nobuteru Taniguchi took the wheel for the second prelims. As the track’s surface temperature gradually rose, the team was running with the best tires for the conditions, but other teams started re-writing their fastest times. This was the backdrop for a time of 1’26.643 and an 8th place finish. With the 8th position on the grid in the finals, the team would be starting in row 4.
Heading into the Championship Race Day Despite the low temperature, the great weather from the prelims continued. Kataoka took the wheel first and was interrupted by several red flags before handing off to Taniguchi who posted a time of 1’28.161 and pulled into 3rd place.
■April 10 (Sunday), Shaking off the Troubles from the Prelims and Coasting into a 2nd Place Finish!
Kataoka got the assignment as starting driver in the championship race. Although the forecast had called for clear skies, it was cloudy at the start and the track’s temperature had not risen much. The team started out in 8th, but the race was deadlocked early on and they rounded the 15th lap in the same spot, following nose to tail behind #21 Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS.
On the 16th lap, he passed #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3, who had been gradually slowing, and took over 7th place. On lap 21, he also pushed ahead of #61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT, who had similarly slowed, which boosted him to 6th place, then finally 5th place after catching a persistent #21 on lap 23.
As lap 32 came around, the top three cars made pit stops, leaving only #7 Studie BMW M6 out in front. It was here that Kataoka posted some best-in-class times to really put the pressure on #7. Both cars paused for pit stops on lap 34. The team gained some time in the pit by only changing out the two left tires and pulled ahead of #7.
Although they had temporarily lost some spots coming out of the pit, they climbed back to 6th in lap 40 and ran in 3rd place among cars that had already made their pit stops. Kataoka passed the car in front to pull into 2nd place on lap 43.
This left him with more than a 10-second gap with #65 LEON CVSTOS AMG-GT out in front. Although Taniguchi then posted a best-in-class time to try to close the gap, #65 also rewrote his fastest time and Taniguchi could not make progress due to the lap count and some tussling with the GT500. He was able to pull away from #7, who had been riding his tail, but #65 basically matched him pace for pace, meaning a 2nd place finish for GoodSmile Hatsune Miku Z4.
The crew grabbed a second-place finish to open the season, but the race left them with many tasks to work on since they were outpaced by a similar car running on similar tires. They will aim for the top spot at the next go around: the Fuji Speedway (May 3-4).
■Comments from the crew
The preliminaries were harsh in several ways because of our setup and tires, but the team ran fast in the finals and that was great. At the same time, though, we honestly cannot be completely happy since our rivals slowed and #65 outraced us with the same package. It looks like we would be challenged on a straight-line battle, so it was tough to lose in Okayama.
A 2nd place finish bodes well for us, though, so our choice of cars was not far off the mark. Our two drivers were really excellent. And, we are truly grateful for the fan support as well.
Well, this was a good start for us in the opening race. We were shuffling around a bit in the prelims and the finals and the car was not up to its usual form, but the mechanics and drivers worked hard for us. I think it is quite significant that we grabbed 2nd place in the opening race.
However, we have a lot to work on and our top speeds were not where we needed them. Luck was in our favor in some ways since the other teams slowed down. Heading into Fuji, we have to solve these issues and get our strength where we need it to be. Also, this was more of a “tough miss” than a “delightful success.”
Starting out in 8th after the prelims made me totally unable to predict where we would end up. Early on, Kataoka helped by passing the cars that slowed down and a huge factor was our being able to maintain our pace. Now that it is over, the result is 2nd place, but we would be happier if the 1st place car had been different. Having a rival with the same car take the top spot makes it more frustrating than pleasing. We have a debt that I would soon like to erase.
If this were 2nd place in the championship over the course of a year, that would be a great result. There is still a lot I would like to try out with the AMG GT3 and I cannot call it a really fast car in all honesty. But, looking at the final race, it was a strong car. I do not know if we can keep up this performance from here on out, though I am relieved a bit since the car is not bad on the long runs.
This was a new car for us to open the season with and we started off in 8th place. I could tell that the tires and the long runs were up to par. Our rivals were fast too, though, and there was deadlock early on from the quick pace. Some dropped off with time, while we were able to hold the pace. We cannot say that we were in peak condition, although we were able to catch and pass the lead cars. Before we knew it, we were in 3rd after the pit stops and Taniguchi was able to bump us up one more spot.
I was thinking at the start that we would be lucky to get on the podium, but we did get there and 1st place would have been great. The 1st place car was running with the same package as us, so that was frustrating! I saw that the AMG GT3 is real race car. As long as we can get a good spot in the prelims, I think the races will stay interesting.