2016 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round2 FUJI GT 500km RACE
- May 3, 2016 Qualifying：10th
- May 4, 2016 Finals：18th
Flat tires end in tears on the track and a dramatic drop to 18th place.
■May 3rd (Tues.) Ranked 10th in qualifiers, despite acceleration problems
RACING ＆ TeamUKYO。
Fuji Speedway welcomed more drivers than ever before this season thanks in no small part to its placement during the Golden Week holiday, with team GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO coming in high from an earlier second place finish in Okayama.
The team set to work the morning of the qualifiers performing test after every possible test as practice commenced, but tire issues spelled trouble right from the starting line. As the team concentrated their resources on dealing with the tire situation, practice time drew to a close with other potential improvements falling by the wayside.
After more fans than one might usually expect from a qualifying race were ushered from the pit walk, the first qualification round was ready to begin, with driver Taniguchi taking the wheel as he launched into a ferocious assault. Despite claiming a top position during the 5th lap with a recorded time of 1:37.028, rival drivers one after the other claimed times closer to 36 seconds, landing the team at 10th place at the end of the first round.
Driver Kataoka took to the track for round 2 of the qualifiers, where he drove away any doubts the underperformance of that morning’s practice run may have invited, recording an astonishing best time of 1:36.893 and earning yet another 10th place result for the team, guaranteeing them a place at number 10 on the starting grid.
■May 4th (Wed.) Miku AMG takes home 18th place after a series of mishaps
The threat of torrential rainfall relaxed early in the morning, with bright and sunny skies welcoming the day of the final race. Despite the strong winds kicking up prior to the free practice session, the track was well on its way to drying out with the rain’s subsiding.
Spectators came out in droves to sandwich the grid walk as the second longest race in the series, clocking in at 500km, went underway. With teams required to take a minimum two pit stops for the duration of the race, teams were hard at work putting their heads together to formulate strategies on everything from tire selection to starting driver lineups.
Selected to first get behind the wheel of the Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG was driver Kataoka, for his strength in managing the chaos of the opening laps. The race was lead off with a rolling start, where driver Kataoka, true to form, was able to pull ahead of the crowd. However, disaster wasn’t far behind as his car failed to accelerate. As Kataoka was overtaken by driver after driver, he cried out over his headset, “I can’t keep up!” dropping down to 18th place, and taking an early pit stop in the 21st lap. Here, the car’s tires were swapped out and driver Taniguchi hopped in the seat.
Despite an initially dismal 24th place position on the out lap, driver Taniguchi was able to steadily overcome competing drivers to claim an incredible 10th place by the 46th lap, well on track to claim points for the team. But once again, bad luck seemed determined to keep pace as the car’s front driver tire unbelievably burst during the 52nd lap. Left with no choice but to take another emergency pit stop, the racer had his tires swapped out then and there, and he returned to the track. By this point, the team had dropped to 22nd place, having been lapped twice by the top drivers.
As surrounding drivers clocked in times of 1 minute 40-41 seconds, racer Taniguchi consistently clocked in times of 1 minute 39 seconds, moving quickly in a bid to sweep his previous losses under the rug. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as a second accident took place. During the 63rd lap, the GT500 suffered extreme body damage from the shock of the burst tire, and the safety car came out for a run. This season saw the introduction of a new rule stating that pit stops were not allowed during a safety car run, so the Taniguchi patiently bided his time and slipped in for a routine pit stop on the 69th lap once the safety car had cleared the track. Tires were swapped out, and racer Kataoka took to the track once more. Although the team clocked in at 18th place on the out lap, 3 laps separated him from the other top drivers.
Equipped with new tires, driver Kataoka maintained a lap time of 1 minute 39-40 seconds. However, his drive to catch up to competing drivers went unanswered, as the checkered flag finally came down with the team still at 18th place.
In stark contrast from their initial 2nd place win, the team ended their second Fuji race with zero points. The next race was initially scheduled to be held at Autopolis (Oita), but the venue was canceled in the aftermath of the devastating Kumamoto earthquakes and relocated to Sportsland SUGO. This is another technical circuit in the same vein as Okayama, and the team expects to be in good form for the race.
What a rough race. It was pretty tough seeing those other drivers overtaking Kataoka one after the other right at the start of the race. We have one race, if not two, left in the Fuji series, and running away from whatever we don’t want to deal with isn’t going to do us any favors. We need to put our heads together and come up with a solution. The main issue wasn’t just with the tires, it was with the acceleration failures. Point is, we know what we need to fix, but there’s this feeling that it’s not in our hands. We’ll get together with YAMAHA and Mercedes Benz and figure out what needs to be done from here in time for the 2nd Fuji race.
There we were, minding our own business when our placing started dropping like a rock. I don’t think I’d ever seen Kataoka get overtaken like that before. We’re still not sure of the full cause behind it, but it’s really frustrating knowing that we could have at least qualified for points if it hadn’t been for that fiasco at the starting line or the tire problems. But when there are a bunch of little kids lining the pit walk telling you good luck and fans waving their flags back and forth, you know, it makes me feel like we have to keep pushing on, even if there’s another situation like this.
Between the tire issues and the machine problems, everything that happened out there was outside of the drivers’ control. But if we want to keep them motivated for the next race, we need to take a good, hard look at the underlying issues and do something about them in time for the next one. Watching the other teams, it was clear that their machines would have buried us in the rankings even without any trouble on the track, but if we were able to hit the track without any issues, the speed of our machine could vastly increase our chances of winning. Put another way, it would be tough to get in the top 10. I feel like the bar has definitely been raised this year, overall.
From the usual initial read, we could tell that, while the other drivers were in good form, we’d have to grin and bear our way through the race. I figured we’d be able to at least pull ahead through the initial trickle of other drivers, but once things started moving, Kataoka, who is usually an expert at leaving people in his dust at the starting line, getting passed car after car, and he wasn’t getting any speed. Once I got into the driver’s seat I was able to stick it out pretty well, when all of a sudden I popped a tire. I’d noticed earlier that something seemed off from the way the car was vibrating, but I figured I’d stick it out for as long as I could since Kataoka had just been in the pit a few laps before. Sure enough, the tire blew and the race was as good as over. We’ve had accidents at Fuji for three years in a row now, and it’s about time we figured out what was up.
I don’t think I’d ever been passed that much before in my life. I’m not sure what the problem was, but once I passed that starting line and hit the straightway, I couldn’t get any speed to save my life. After that, I don’t know, maybe it had to do with the tire set-up, but I just couldn’t get the machine to full performance. I’m sure there are loads of different things that went wrong, but the one thing I can say for sure is that it wasn’t getting any speed. That was what kept us from getting better times and keeping up with the other drivers. I figured we’d be able to pull in some points at the end, if nothing else, but then the tire burst and that was the end of that. Luck just wasn’t on our side.