2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 3 SUPER GT in KYUSHU 300km
- May 20, 2017 Qualifying：6th
- May 21, 2017 Finals：5th
5th place finish in the 3rd Autopolis race held for the first time in 2 years
■May 20th (Sat) 6th place finish in qualifying despite uphill battle against the setup
The Super GT 3rd race at the Autopolis is held around 2 weeks after the previous race. The only race taking place in Kyushu was the first race held in 2 years after it was suspended in the aftermath of the Kumamoto earthquake last year.
This year’s race week portended sunny skies at the Autopolis without a hint of rain, which was a rarity. The sun shone strongly early on the morning of the qualifying round, and road surface temperature. The top times during practice laps were recorded and qualifying teams proceeded to the 1st qualifying road. Taniguchi led the attack this time around. Right after starting there was a red flag stop of the race; while the team partitions were redone, immediately after the race resumed we recorded a time of “1’44.707” to finish in 2nd place. It was decided that the team did not need to aim for a faster time and the car headed to the pit. The rankings remain unchanged and the team proceeded to qualify with a 2nd place finish.
Kataoka was in the driver’s seat for the 2nd qualifier. He recorded a time of “1’44.800” during the second lap to place in pole position, but the rival teams gradually improved their time and he ended up in 6th place. Like the first qualifier, the car was returned to the pit as soon as possible and he ended the race at 6th place overall. During the final race he was placed in the no. 6 position in the grid at the 3rd row. While he did not clinch the pole position unlike previous races, he plans to vie with the top contenders for a good finish and has great expectations for the final race.
■May 21st (Sunday) Time loss due to accidents at the pits was minimized for an overall 5th place finish
While clear skies continued from Saturday, the sky started to become cloudy after noon and the temperature started to drop. After the 20-minute warm up completed, the 300 km race commenced via rolling start. The starting driver was Kataoka. During the first lap he overtook one car to cruise through the home stretch for a 5th place finish. It was expected that his good form would continue and he would advance further, however a GT500 collided with a GT300 in the 4th lap in a devastating accident. This triggered a safety period. While it took some time to recover damaged cars and clean the track surface, the safety car exited in the 11th lap and the race resumed,
The no. 5 car leading the pack (mach5 MC86 GTNET) stepped up its pace and gradually widened its lead. In the 20th lap the no. 5 car made a pit stop, increasing its lead to 4th place, and Miku AMG also made a pit stop in the 27th lap at 4th place. While it was expected that all 4 tires would be replaced and Taniguchi would be swapped in, the pit operations ended taking more time than expected and 10 seconds were lost. Entering the outer lap at 14th place, the car managed to enter the race in front of the no. 5 car but the loss in time meant that eventually the no. 7 (Studie BMW M6) and no. 11 cars (GAINER TANAX AMG GT3) overtook the car, resulting in a 6th place finish.
The race became deadlocked from here on out. The no. 11 car in 4th place, no. 7 car in 5th place, and the Miku AMG in 6th place became a 3-car train. The no. 7 car leading the pack completed several laps in tail-to-nose fashion, with time decrements on the order of a few sub-comma seconds. The Autopolis track is known for being difficult to overtake opponents on, and the lap time so eagerly sought for failed to materialize. In the 59th lap the car seemed sure to become the checker. During the final 2-3 laps, the no. 11 car in 4th place had an accident and was out of contention. The rankings were advanced and we finished in 5th place overall.
While we did not have a podium finish, our 5th place finish earned us 6 points for a series ranking of 3rd place at 27 points. The first-ranked team was ahead by 2 points, so we are still on the frontlines of the championship. The next race will take place more than a month ahead from now, from July 22-23 at the Sportsland SUGO in Sendai. We want to earn many points and boost our rankings.
In this race it was hard for us to catch up with the top 2 cars but 3rd place was within reach. Therefore it was too bad that pit stops took up that much time. If the pit stops were faster we might have finished one place ahead. We did all we could to excel in the race, and the drivers did not drop in position. Because it is hard to overtake opponents on the Autopolis track, not being ahead in the qualifiers will make it harder to win in the finals, but I think that it was good that we achieved our goal of improving our placing in the qualifiers. There were no mishaps in the end, and we will work hard to do well in the next race at SUGO by learning from the mistakes made this time around.
While what happened at the pit stop was certainly disappointing, human error is inevitable. One can only prepare oneself to respond to it whenever it happens. Because only 2 points separate us from the top-ranked team in the championship, you can say that we are within striking distance of the top placing. Winning in the initial stage and placing 5th this time around is a big thing in terms of earning points. I believe that the 1P pole position earned in the previous race is gradually showing its effect. Without being conceited, we will brace ourselves for SUGO.
While Kataoka had a good pace starting from the no. 6 position, he could not catch up to the top two. Also, the BMW M6 turned out to have a surprising fit to the track. We thought that one of the FIA GT3s would place in the top positions but this was foiled by the 2 BMW cars. During my turn the tires were incompatible with the road surface and it was like the car was being dragged down; it was very hard. While I could catch up with the driver Yorg in front of me it was impossible to overtake him. While my position did not drop neither did it go up, so this race was quite disappointing. I would like to make SUGO a more interesting race.
As a team we did all we were supposed to do. Although there were mistakes in the pit operations, even if there were no mistakes our rankings would have improved by 1 place at most, and we would not have been in contention for pole position. We already took into account the settings for the current car and noticed the parts that needed to be focused on, so this weekend has not been a waste. It wasn’t that bad of a race, and while it was too bad that we did not have a podium finish we still managed to advance to the next round.