2016 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round6 45th International SUZUKA 1000km
- August 27, 2016 Qualifying：7th
- August 28, 2016 Finals：5th
Round 6, perfect race process at the legendary Suzuka 1000km course yields a 5th place finish
■August 27th (Sat) Overwhelmed by the power of the JAF, a 7th place finish in the preliminary
The SUPER GT Round 6 is the longest race of the season in the crucial “45th International Suzuka 1000km.” The legendary Suzuka race had been shortened due to recession and earthquakes, but these past few years it has returned to 1000km.
For GOODSMILE RACING it is on par with Sportsland SUGO in terms of being unfavorable for the team, and it is one of the few circuits which have yet to yield a single trip to the winner’s podium (a 2nd place finish in 2013 was later disqualified). As of now, the best finish was 5th place achieved in 2011 and 2014.
The weather forecast for the race week called for bad weather, and the preliminary day on the 27th was cloudy. There was also a sprinkling of rain, but there was not enough to cause the track to become slippery.
In the first preliminary (Q1) Kataoka was in charge. He attacked the 3rd lap with a “1’59.180” time and then made a pit in. Other racers had times in the 58 to low 59 second range, so he ended Q1 in 7th place.
In the second preliminary (Q2) Taniguchi took the wheel. After entering the course his second lap produced a “1‘59.024” time, and he improved this on his 3rd lap with a “1’58.981” time, moving into the 58 second range with the top group. However, the top 4 places were in the 57 to low 58 second range, so while the GT3 produced a 2nd place time Q2 ended with a 7th place, and the start position for the 1000km race was set as the 7th place grid.
■August 28th (Sun) Safety car decides the outcome in a 5th place finish
The day of the finals on the 28th was rainy from the morning on. During the support race FIA-F4 in the morning the rain was severe enough that the race began with the safety car, and all morning the rain kept starting and stopping. The warm up race was wet, but before the finals the rain lifted. Also, this year there were a required 5 pit in at Suzuka (until last year it had been 4).
The temperature was 27 degrees and the road temperature was 30 degrees, making for relatively cool weather for Suzuka in the summer. With the mostly dry road surface the team went with slick tires, and the first driver up was Kataoka. During the formation lap the road surface was dry.
Immediately after the race began on the 1st lap he was passed by #33 (Excellence Porsche) and dropped one spot, but on the 2nd lap he passed #31 (TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT) and reclaimed 7th place. After that he was locked in to a nose to tail battle with #25 (VivaC 86 MC) in front of him and couldn’t get by him, then on the 26th lap he made the first pit in. After exchanging all four tires and switching drivers, Taniguchi got back on the course. On his out lap he fell as far as 18th, but with other cars needing a pit in and receiving penalties he slowly climbed back up, and on the 34th lap he was in 3rd place.
At this point the gap to #31 in front of him was about 10 seconds, but on the 37th lap #31 made a pit in and he moved into 2nd place. The 1st place #18 (UPGARAGE BANDOH 86) had a lead of about 15 seconds, but with a fierce push by Taniguchi the gap diminished, and while this was happening the rain picked up and #18 lowered its pace. Being an expert at “slightly wet surfaces,” Taniguchi seized this opening and overtook him in one go. On the 53rd lap he was in the top position.
On the 57th lap he made a pit in, and Kataoka took over driving for the second time. On his out lap he fell to 10th place. On the 68th lap a battle emerged with #31, and by skilfully taking advantage of #25 being unable to increase its pace on its out lap he overtook him, showing off a glimpse of the technique of veteran driver Kataoka. At this point he was in 4th place, when #11 (GAINER TANAX AMG GT3) in front of him suddenly had machine trouble and had to stop, and with the top position #0 (GAINER TANAX GT-R) making a pit in he pulled into 2nd place.
On the 82nd lap, when it was almost time for a pit in, #2 (SYNTIUM APPLE LOTUS) crashed, bringing out the safety car. This year the rules say that you cannot pit in while the safety car is out, so there was no choice but to remain on the course. This caused a deviation from the planned pit in timing, and when the safety car exited on the 86th lap the Miku AMG made its pit in. Taniguchi took over behind the wheel and returned to the course.
On his out lap he was in 9th place, but on the 109th lap he had risen to 3rd. The car in front of him was once again #18. They were racing at almost the same pace so the gap was not shrinking. On the 111th lap he made a routine pit in and Kataoka took over. On the 117th lap severe rain struck the course, but it did not impact the race. After that he continued to press on steadily, and on the 131st lap he returned to winner’s podium ranks in 3rd place, then on the 136th lap he made the final pit in.
The final stint was entrusted to Taniguchi. On his out lap he was in 8th place, but on the 146th lap the smoothly running #25 had trouble and fell back, and while other cars made their final pit in he climbed all the way up to 5th place on the 150th lap. At this point there were 10 laps remaining. The top three cars #61, #0, and #31 were about a minute ahead. The 4th place #18 was 48 seconds ahead, and as rain fell the gap decreased significantly, but he was not able to overtake them, and the 1000km race ended with a 5th place finish.
The 5th place result was the same as in 2011, and including the bonus they claimed 8 points. With this they moved to 33 points in the series ranking, dropping to 6th place. With a different team having won each race this season, the standings are chaotic, and at this point almost every team is in the battle for the championship heading into the final three races.
Up next all the teams will head to the scorching hot Buriram Province in Thailand for a full weight handicap (point×2) race. They will need to survive the race until the end as they move closer to the championship.
Even if the safety car couldn’t be helped, the speed of the MOTHER CHASSIS is becoming more and more conspicuous. This time I feel like the machine settings, the drivers’ attacks, and the tire matching were all pretty much perfect. We are reaching the potential of the AMG GT3, and our strategy is not bad. With all of that we achieved our best result with a 5th place. Under the current rules I wonder how we can improve any more. I feel like we are doing all that we can…
We got unlucky with the timing of the safety car. With that the winner’s podium got further away in an instant. Our strategy was not bad, we allocated our fuel evenly, and we ran so as to keep down the wear on the tires. We did all we could, and on top of that the drivers made every attack they could. I don’t know if there’s anything else we could have done. In this race luck wasn’t on our side. We got unlucky.
We gave it everything we had, but we were unable to finish in the top group. The timing of the safety car was unfortunate, and while at the time it felt like we were really falling behind the top 3 teams, I feel like even if the safety car hadn’t come out the final positions wouldn’t have changed much. This season things are tough as far as the rules go.
My first thought after the race ended was that the rule is kind of a bummer. This race we didn’t make any mistakes or run into any trouble, and we were able to bring everything together this race, but winning on your own strength is difficult. If it hadn’t been for the safety car we might have ended up on the winner’s podium, but then again maybe we wouldn’t have… Even if you work to create a time gap on the course, things are tightened up in the pit. It was a tough race.