2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 1 OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
- April 8, 2017 Qualifying：2nd
- April 9, 2017 Finals：1st
The preliminaries were tough, but the finals went smoothly with a 2nd place finish and a trip to the winner’s podium
■April 8th (Sat) Came up just short in 2nd place, but a good feel for the car in the preliminaries
This was the season opener for the 10th year of the Hatsune Miku GT Project in SUPER GT. The weather forecast called for a chance of rain, but the rain let up at the practice run in the morning, and while the road surface was wet, the temperature was steadily rising. The tires were well matched, and things went smoothly with good times in the 1 minute 37 second range to the 35 second range. Part way through they changed to slick tires and further improved their pace, reaching the 27 second range and finishing with the 3rd best time.
It was time for the first preliminary (Q1). A push could be made as far as 14th for the second preliminary, but recently the time differences were pretty even, so they had to stay sharp. Kataoka started off with a “1’27.346” time good for 2nd place, but due to a machine going off course a red flag was raised and there was a stoppage. After the preliminary started back up every team across the board improved their pace, and Kataoka finished with a “1’26.120” time to clear Q1 in the top spot.
The second preliminary (Q2) was Taniguchi’s. Searching for his chance to attack, he kept on increasing his pace. On the 8th lap he produced a “1’25.679” time, but #65 (LEON CVSTOS AMG) using the same machine took to top spot with a “1’25.044” time. Taniguchi did all he could to beat this time and recorded a “1’25.166” time of his own, but unfortunately the preliminary ended with him coming up just a bit short.
However, with their first 2nd place start in a while there was an energy around the team, and they felt good going into the finals.
■April 9th (Sun) A perfect start to the finals
Starting this year there would no longer be a free race on the morning of the finals, so the only chance to drive before the finals would be the warm up run. With that as the backdrop, the team approached the grid without any particular troubles. The starting driver was Kataoka. On the formation lap the GT500 NSX kept on stopping, and following a stoppage from a red flag the race started with the safety car out.
Right off the bat a battle unfolded with #65 right ahead of him, but in the early stages #52 (Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave MARK X MC) crashed, so there was another red flag and the safety car came out. On the 10th lap the safety car left and the battle with #65 resumed. He closed the gap down to just fractions of a second. Then on the 18th lap he passed #65, moving into the top spot. From there he slowly increased his lead on the 2nd place car, and on the 25th lap he had stretched the gap to approximately 10 seconds.
On the 29th lap he made a pit in. Taniguchi took over as driver, and after only exchanging the left two tires to reduce pit work time he went back on the course.
While warming up the tires Taniguchi reclaimed his position. On the out lap he was in 16th place, but among teams who had already made a pit he was in the lead. His pace kept steadily climbing, and he posted a 1 minute 26 second mark that was 2 seconds faster than any other car. On the 49th lap the 1st place #50 (Ferrari 488 GT3) crashed. For the third time the safety car came out.
On the 57th lap the safety car left, and the race moved into the final 20 laps. Taniguchi once again stretched his lead over the 2nd place car, and he solidified his chances at victory. After winning a battle with #25 (VivaC 86 MC), #65 improved its pace, but with the time difference there were not enough laps remaining, and #4 (GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG) remained in control until the end, easily claiming 1st with the checkered flag.
This was the first victory for GOODSMILE RACING ＆ TeamUKYO since 2014 Round 2 at Fuji. For the first time in almost three years, their devoted fans were overflowing with delight at a victory.
The season opener at Okayama finished as an almost perfect race. The next race would be held on May 3rd and 4th at Fuji Speedway. With a 40kg weight handicap, they would aim to open the season with two straight victories just like they did in 2014.
After everything went well in testing, there was tension heading into the race. If we could avoid mistakes and finish the race, then our first victory in two years might be within reach, and that pressure was felt by everybody on the team. We had been waiting for this for a long time.
Despite several instances of trouble during the race we never relinquished our position of superiority, and the drivers and mechanics performed better than anybody could have imagined in every difficult situation, and that made me so happy.
We were able to open up the season with a good result.
I don’t think things will go this smoothly moving forward, but we want to protect the points we’ve earned in the first race and continue racing for the championship.
Anyway, I feel relieved that we won. These past two years there have been several races we were near the top and could have won, but we had some bad luck and let some opportunities slip through our fingers, and the tough seasons continued.
This year we are facing several of the same machines (AMG GT3) with various tire manufacturers, and I am happy that we were able to cross the goal line first. From everyone at Yokohama to all of our fans, all of the support we received from everybody helped us win today.
Every year we go out there with the goal of winning the championship, but getting a victory right of the bat like this should be a good sign for this season. More precisely, we need to do whatever we can to win. For now we’ve once again made it clear that we are a winning team. When we won I said, “Serves you right,” but I wasn’t really saying it to anybody else, it was more said to myself after being unable to win for so long, like saying, “See, we can win.” (Haha)
Ever since the Okayama combined test the car has felt pretty good. At the preliminaries we were wondering whether we should aim for the pole or focus on the finals, and we decided to go with hard tires that would help us to win in the finals. Having said that, with these tires we still had the second best time, and it seemed like we might have a chance at the pole, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way.
In the finals the first part went as expected with Kataoka passing the 1st place #65 and handing things over to me in 1st place. In the pit we exchanged just our left two tires to reduce our time, and we were able to return to the course still in the top spot. After that we were able to get a good performance out of our machine, but at the red flag things were reset, and due to one accident after another the race end time got pushed back later, so the temperature dropped and we started worrying as the tires started to grow cold.
Our preparations for the finals were perfect, but the way things unfolded it seemed like it might not be our day. Despite all that we were able to claim victory, and that made me truly happy. These last two years we’ve been so patient, but my stores of patience were running out, so I’m glad to be able to let that go all at once.
We sure made everybody wait for a long time. We finally won! For this race right from the practice run things were feeling good, and our machine balance and tire performance were great. As we approached the preliminaries we made our tire choice planning for the finals, but despite that we were in a situation to challenge for pole position. We ended up 2nd, but it was a start position that would give us a chance at victory.
I was in charge of the start, so I was focusing on getting the top spot and creating a lead, and I was able to do this successfully and hand things over to Taniguchi. During Taniguchi’s stint the lead diminished due to the safety car so there was a lot of pressure, but he held the position until the very and and crossed the finish line in 1st place. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a race before where I felt we had as good a chance to win as I did today. That’s how amazing our machine and tires were. I’m glad we were able to take that performance and stay sharp in turning it into a victory.
We will do all we can to maintain this level of power moving forward, so thank you everybody for your support.