2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 2 FUJI GT 500km RACE
- May 3, 2017 Qualifying：1st
- May 4, 2017 Finals：11th
Two unlucky tire bursts at Round 2 at Fuji cause drop to 11th
■May 3rd (Wed) Jubilation at first pole in 6 years
Right in the middle of Golden Week, the SUPER GT Round 2 at Fuji Speedway was held on May 3rd and 4th. Fresh off a victory in Round 1 at Okayama, GOODSMILE RACING ＆ TeamUKYO was hoping to keep that momentum going and was once again aiming for the top spot.
The practice run on the morning of the preliminaries started off smoothly, and even though Fuji Speedway is thought of as difficult for the AMG GT3, they posted a good “1’37.280” time and finished in 6th. The first preliminary was entrusted to Kataoka, and he improved on the practice run with a “1’36.189” time, clearing it with the 2nd best time.
The second preliminary, which would decide the grid, was the responsibility of Taniguchi, and with his “1’36.156” he jumped into the lead for the moment, but soon after a machine broke the 36 second barrier and he fell into 2nd. However, he readied himself for another attack and produced a “1’35.824” time, clearing the preliminary with a magnificent 1st place. Claiming the pole position with a weight handicap of 40kg sent waves of excitement through both the team and their fans. It was their first pole position in about 6 years, since 2011.
■May 4th (Thu) Cruising at the top when a tire bursts for the second year in a row…
The finals was a 500km race, making it the second longest of the season. Because of that it had two required pit in. The starting driver was Kataoka. With 14 years of GT on his resume, this was surprisingly his first start from the pole position.
With a rolling start the 500km race was underway. Kataoka showed off one of his special start dashes, and he returned to the home straight without surrendering 1st place. Right behind him #11 (GAINER TANAX AMG GT3) passed #9 (GULF NAC PORSCHE 911) for 2nd place as the order changed around.
Though the tires were different #11 was a similar AMG, and as the two locked in battle with an almost identical pace, the gap between them neither grew nor shrank. The race appeared to be a standstill, but around the 27th lap the gap between them started to decrease, and they found themselves nose to tail. The Miku AMG was at a slight disadvantage, but Kataoka somehow held him off, and while still in 1st place he made the first pit in on the 29th lap. They exchanged four tires and Taniguchi took the wheel and returned to the course.
On his out lap he fell as far as 21st, but then he started to climb once again. On the 31st lap he overtook #11 on its out lap after a pit in, and once again he was essentially in 1st. On the 46th lap he returned to 1st, and he created a 10 second gap on the 2nd place #11. As the gap to the rest of the pack continued to grow, right when it seemed like a second straight victory was going to happen, everything changed as a nightmare occurred on the 61st lap. His left front tire burst. The silver lining is that the tire burst on the back half of the course, so he was able to pit in quickly and the damage was limited as much as possible.
With this being the second pit in, Kataoka took over driving. The burst tire was exchanged, and considering the number of laps left the car needed more fuel added than usual, so the pit work took about a minute. On the out lap he fell back to 12th, but on the 71st lap he had moved back up into 4th.
When the 3rd place #18 (UPGARAGE BANDOH 86) made its final pit in he should have moved into 3rd and into a spot on the winner’s podium, but #33 (D‘station Porsche) was closing in fast from behind, and it settled in right behind him. Looking at the lap time it was clear that #33 was faster, and on the 75th lap he was overtaken.
After falling down to 5th, when #18 made its pit in he returned to 4th, then on the 98th lap with under 5 laps remaining a second nightmare occurred. Once again the left front tire burst. With this he had no choice but to make a third pit in, and with the large drop in position he finished in 11th at the checkered flag.
Following the opening race victory and the pole position in Round 2 it looked like everything was going well, making this result all the more harsh. However, leading late at Fuji, where the course was thought to be difficult for them, could be taken as a positive moving forward.
The next race would be on May 20th and 21st, at the Autopolis where last year’s race was canceled due to an earthquake. This is a technical course that is well suited to the AMG, so the team will have high morale and be thinking, “Next time we’ll finish on top.”
It was such an unfortunate result. Our pace was good, we had created separation from the machines behind us, and we ran the race without making any mistakes. In each stint if the tire had just held out for a few more laps it would have been an interesting race. The second time with Kataoka driving it was going to be a long one, so we had to put in extra fuel, and that might have had an impact. After claiming our first pole position in 6 years, the race was harsh. I think the Autopolis suits the AMG well, but I hear that other machines are also fast. Strong opponents are showing up one after another, and I think our good rhythm is still in tact, so we’ll give it our best.
At Fuji we had a special load and had some hard braking, so the strain on the tires was large, but despite that the second puncture was unexpected. We need to pin down the reason for this incident. Our strategy was good at the start, but in the first stint the tire was worn down more than expected, so having no choice but to pit in early everything fell apart. We actually wanted to keep Taniguchi out there longer, but with the burst that stint also had to be cut short with a pit in. Despite Fuji supposedly being a difficult course for us, we were running at a pretty good pace, and we can take the fact that we were in 1st in the middle of the race as a positive.
After capturing the unexpected pole in the preliminaries, the atmosphere was great, but Kataoka said that in the practice run before the finals the feeling wasn’t all that great. Despite that Kataoka drove well in the first stint and defended 1st place, but then he had to make an early pit in when the tire didn’t hold up. After that I took over driving, and I pushed as hard as I could while the machines behind me also battled hard, then when I was about 4 or 5 laps from the next pit in the left front tire burst. We didn’t just lose the lead we had built up, but our position also fell. The silver lining was that because it burst at the entry to B Corner, it didn’t end everything for us right there. On the final stint Kataoka was holding on to 4th, and if nothing happened he should have been able to finish in that position, but then there was another burst. As a result we ended up with no points from the race, but at least we got 1 point from being in pole position. This really was an unfortunate race.
Even though the first stint was difficult I was able to do surprisingly well, but the feeling was worse than it might have appeared and the tires were wearing quickly, and with #11 closing in from behind, I had no choice but to make a pit in earlier than we had planned. Taniguchi also got off to a good pace, and in normal conditions things should improve during the second and third stint and the demands on the tires should lessen, but as soon as I started to think that the pace was dropping the tire burst. After that it was the third stint, but we just couldn’t get our pace up. With all that going on, #33 was moving at an exceptional pace, so there was no way we could hold it off… On top of that, to have another burst at the same place. Originally, considering the 40kg weight we were thinking that a 4th place finish would be great, but it turned out to be a wasted race.