2016 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round4 SUGO GT 300km RACE
- July 23, 2016 Qualifying：8th
- July 24,2016 Finals：7th
As SUGO once again this year features ups and downs and twists and turns, the race ends with a 7th place finish
■July 23rd (Sat) In a tight battle against rivals’ speed, the preliminaries are cleared with an 8th place finish
With Round 3 at Autopolis cancelled due to the “2016 Kumamoto Earthquake,” there has been about a two month break since Round 2 at Fuji going into this event at the SUPER GT 2016. The return to the racetrack takes place at Sportsland SUGO in Miyagi prefecture. Ever since the Hatsune Miku GT Project started this circuit has produced one tough result after another. In the seven seasons from 2009 to 2015 they were only able to finish in the points a meager two times, with the 6th place finish in 2011 as the best result, so they are hoping this is the year they can make the winner’s podium.
Saturday, July 23rd. From the morning the temperature is lower than expected, and during the practice run the road surface just wouldn’t heat up. The top teams all put up times in the 1 minute 18 second range, and to advance in the first preliminary (Q1) a time in the low 19 second range or better seemed essential.
At 2:30pm the preliminary began. The driver for Q1 was Kataoka. Right off the bat he got a time in the 19 second range, but his rivals also put up fast times, and he kept slowly falling toward the 14th place cut line. However, this is where Kataoka showed what he is made of by staying calm and taking his best practice run time of “1‘19.626” and significantly improving it to a “1’19.011” mark, clearing Q1 in 10th place.
In the second preliminary (Q2) Taniguchi was on the attack. However, just before his run it started to rain so things were in disarray. It was advantageous to post a time early with slick tires, so he got on the course right away. He was able to improve on Kataoka’s time with a “1‘19.005” time of his own, and since the top 7 cars all had times in the 18 second range he finished Q2 in 8th place. The start position for the finals would be the 8th place grid.
■July 24th (Sun) Shocking finish. 7th place result in the finals
Every year the weather at SUGO shows a tendency to change quickly, so it is no surprise that this year once again the weather was a concern. On Sunday the circuit saw light rain from the morning, with the weather forecast predicting the rain would stop around 10:00am. However, contrary to the forecast the rain picked up in intensity, and at the practice run a wet declaration was made, so they changed to rain tires for the race. The team predicted that the rain would stop before the start of the finals, so without waiting for the race to finish they made their pit in and began preparing for the finals.
Up until the finals started at 2:00pm the rain kept stopping and starting. For the support race FIA-F4 Series the road surface was dry along the record line, but even so it could not be called dry conditions. Once again this year the tire choice was a difficult one, but just before the start of the race the rain all but stopped, so every team went with slick tires to begin. Kataoka was in charge of starting the race.
Right after the race began, on the 1st lap he moved up into 7th place, but with 4th through 7th racing at an almost identical pace, the narrow course at SUGO doesn’t offer many points to pass, so there was a stalemate with no room to overtake anybody. Kataoka’s steady driving prevented the gap in front of him from growing, and with no accidents and a good pace the laps kept going.
The race changed on the 23rd lap. The GT300 machine went off course, and the safety car (SC) came out so that it could be retrieved. Last year in the race at SUGO while the SC was out a rush of cars headed for the pit, resulting in congestion at the pit exit, causing a large number of cars to fall behind. Due to this event, starting this year a pit in is no longer allowed while the SC is out. However, as soon as the SC leaves every team could make a pit in at the same time, so there was worry that in the end there might be the same type of congestion in the pit as the previous year. Kataoka and Chief Engineer Kohno discussed the pit in timing over the radio, and they decided to make the pit in immediately after the SC left.
At the pit in the congestion that was feared did not arise. The team reduced their pit work time by only changing the two left tires, and without a problem Taniguchi took over and returned to the course. At the time he was passed on pit road by #55 (ARTA BMW M6 GT3), but right after that #55 spun and crashed, forcing it to withdraw. The next car in front #21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS) saw its pace slow, and on the 39th lap Taniguchi had settled into 10th place.
After that he was caught in a battle with the rival GT500 and for a moment his pace was thrown off, but on the 42nd lap he reached 9th place, on the 50th lap he reached 8th place, then on the 52nd lap he reached 7th place as he continued to climb. He got mixed up with a machine in its out lap on the 63rd lap and fell to 8th place, but #18 (UPGARAGE BANDOH 86), which had been battling for first, saw its pace fall, and on the 66th lap Taniguchi once again moved up into 7th. The car in front was #88 (MANEPA Lamborghini GT3), and as Taniguchi closed the gap to just fractions of a second, he looked for his chance to overtake it.
Then came the 71st lap. With only 6 laps remaining #18 went off course on the final corner and crashed. The final corner at SUGO is a dangerous corner known for causing cars to go off course, so instead of the SC a red flag came down. At this point the results were finalized, so the race ended just like that.
When discussing a race it’s taboo to talk about what might have happened, but knowing that it might have been possible to pass #88 just ahead made it a disappointing finish. However, they were still able to earn 4 points, maintaining their position of 5th in the series ranking.
There was now a 14 point separation from the top spot, so they hoped to be able to close that gap at the next race at Fuji Speedway.
With #4 we have done all we can at this time. We were able to keep up with the power of the GT3, but we were not able to match the power of the JAF, so the issue is how we can tackle that difference. Losing the battle to #11 by about half a second is tough. You don’t want to go down the “what if” path, but if we had exchanged all four tires you can’t help but wonder what would have happened. At the end we needed just a bit more to pass #88, but it is what it is.
This was just the type of wild race you expect at SUGO. We can’t do much about the JAF being so fast, and with a bit more luck it feels like #4 might have been able to move up one spot. When Taniguchi was driving he got caught in a battle with the 500 and got tangled with the car in front, things happened that normally don’t happen with Taniguchi driving, and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t get our pace up. Looking at the developments from the preliminaries, I was thinking that if things went well we could probably reach about 5th in the finals, so I guess it went about as expected.
We were able to complete the race without incident, but compared to our rivals we didn’t have quite enough speed. Our race pace wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that fast either. During the race we got swallowed up in the GT500 group and lost quite a bit of pace, but it isn’t like there was really any contact. The race ended with a red flag, but with just one more lap we might have been able to pass #88, so it was disappointing.
For this race we decided to go with firm tires, but the temperature during the race was lower than we would have liked. Even during the formation lap we had trouble warming up the tires, and despite us somehow improving our position by a spot, we weren’t able to move up any more after that, but at the same time we weren’t losing ground either, and it felt like to move up we’d need a bit more power. Personally I feel like with the package we have now we’ve been able to harness quite a bit of performance. We can’t say that our team is operating at 100%, but I feel like this race was better than a 90%, and we want to improve on our weaknesses as we get ready for the next race.