2017 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 8 MOTEGI GT GRAND FINAL
- November 11, 2017 Qualifying：1st
- November 12, 2017 Finals：3rd
A 3rd place finish at Motegi, the final race, and our dreams come true as we acquire the Championship!
■ Saturday, November 11th Kataoka gets pole position for the first time in his GT career!
The final race of the long 2017 season finally arrived. By coming in 2nd in Thailand, we were able to challenge the Twin Link Motegi as point leader with a 9 point lead.
The team was unanimous in saying, “it’s going to be tough if it rains,” but unfortunately the weather forecast was showing a 50% probability of rain…However, in the morning there was a light shower, but from the time of the morning practice run it was clear, and the road remained dry. Thanks to that, Kataoka ran “1’47.139” and marked top time. We finished our practice run with that.
Taniguchi was in charge of the first qualifying run from the afternoon. After arriving at the course, he slowly warmed up the tires. Then, on lap 5, he began his attack. He recorded “1’46.825,” continuing the top time recorded in the morning.
The second qualifying run was driven by Kataoka. Just like Taniguchi, he slowly warmed up the tires before launching the final qualifying attack of the season. No. 55 (ARTA BMW M6 GT3) came in at “1’46.300” and rose to the top, but then Kataoka posted “1’46.076,” which exceeded it, winning pole position and updating the course record. Since the existing course record was “1’46.760,” it means that we updated the record by 0.7 seconds. In addition, it was the first pole position in Kataoka’s GT career.
Thanks to the pole position, the team gained a point, and the 9 point lead became 10, a big advantage. Starting the deciding race at the front is extremely advantageous for winning the championship.
■ Sunday, November 12th – 3rd time on the 3rd place victory stand, after 3 years.
The final run of the final race, where all teams will contend for the total statement of their activities over the year. Three rivals still lay claim to the championship: No. 51 (JMS P.MU LMcorsa RC F GT3), No. 65 (LEON CVSTOS AMG), and No. 55; but even the rivals not in this group are watching vigilantly for any opportunity to seize victory, so it is imperative that we don’t let down our guard.
The weather was clear from the morning the day of the race, so first of all the weather problem was solved. During the pre-race warm up there was a sudden contact which caused the red flag to be interrupted, but still the race began on time.
Kataoka was the starting driver. The weather was sunny, but the road surface temperature didn’t rise, so more webbing (swinging the car right and left to warm the tires) was done than usual. And then, at last the final pistol of the season was fired, and the race began.
Ahead of the race, Kataoka was worried about the life of the tires, but still he rapidly increased the distance to the cars behind. Without any real trouble he established a lead of 4.3 seconds to the 2nd place car and below, and went for an early pit in on lap 15. Taniguchi stepped in as driver, 4 tires and the oil was changed, and we returned to the course. The surrounding rivals, in response to Miku AMG’s tactic, replaced just 2 tires or chose to go without replacing any.
Despite being passed by No. 33 (D’station Porsche) on the out lap, on lap 19 No. 33 went for an emergency pit in due to trouble and left the front. The real battle for the top boiled down to three cars who had been in the pit at this point: No. 25 (VivaC 86 MC), No. 65, and Miku AMG.
No. 65 passed No. 25 early, and fought with No. 55, who had come out of the pit ahead. No. 25, who was running in 3rd place, seemed to be grappling with some trouble and didn’t pick up their pace, but this seemingly inescapable situation was prolonged, and then suddenly No. 9 (GULF NAC PORSCHE 911) was right behind us.
On lap 39 we lunged at a split-second mistake made by No. 25, and succeeded in overtaking them. That brought us up to 3rd place. When we had entered into the final 10 laps, the gap to 2nd place was more than 10 seconds, so reversal was difficult, but with a steady run we were able to hold on to our position at 3rd and pass the checker, exceeding the total points of the winner of this race, No. 65, and thus shining as 2017 Series Champions.
Following victories in 2011 and 2014, the team was now crowned for the 3rd time. In addition, it was Hatsune Miku’s 10th Anniversary, the 10th season of the Hatsune Miku GT Project, the 50th Anniverary of Mercedes-AMG, and the 100th Anniversary of Yokohama Rubber; in 2017, GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO closed the curtain on this Anniversary year in the best form, shining as champions.
It was a race that had to be won by any means. It may have appeared that we were in a good situation up to the qualifier, but we didn’t have many options. On top of that, I was thinking that No. 51 and No. 65 would probably go without exchanging tires. We couldn’t use that strategy. We were constantly thinking about how to protect our ranking within those constraints. If it was a 1 win race, we probably would have made a different decision. Thanks to all of your support, our dream of taking the championship has come true, and I’m very grateful for all of our individual sponsors, corporate sponsors, and Yokohama.
I’m honestly thrilled to have been named champions, and though this time only we may have seemed to be in an easy-going mood after winning pole position, that wasn’t the case, and I was hoping for 3rd or 4th place in the final. I was worried about how many cars would pass us due to pit timing, because we were unable to think of any other way than to change all 4 tires. The race developed as expected and we were passed in the pit, the cars ahead didn’t lose position, we were pressured from behind; this is what is meant by “walking on thin ice.” As I recall we took 1st place in the opening race, but after that we were unable to continue in a leading role in the races that followed. Even so, thanks to all of our supporters we were able to become champions in this milestone year. I’m deeply grateful to you.
I’m relieved we were able to take the championship. After the race in Thailand we reached top rank and were able to contend in the final race. Because of that, there was real pressure that we had to take the championship, and when we arrived at Motegi we weren’t in a state of ease at all, but rather in a pinch. And just as we thought, the final race developed into a painful ordeal. Still I was glad that we were able to come in 3rd and clinch the championship. My deepest thanks go out to Mercedes-AMG, Yokohama, the team staff, of course Kataoka, and Representative Aki for listening to my selfish complaints!
I’m so happy! That basically sums it up. This year was a turning point for so many things, with Miku GT’s 10th season, Yokohama Rubber’s 100th Anniversary, so we threw down the gauntlet this season with our eyes on the championship. We entered the final race with the top ranking, so it may have looked like an easy victory, but the reality is that we had no wiggle room, and for us it was a race where we had to defend and at the same time attack. Still, we managed to win the championship somehow, and I would like to thank everyone who cheered for us. 2017 was a really great season. 2011, 2014, and now 2017. Feels like the next championship will be in 2020, right? (laughs)