2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round5 FUJI GT 500mile RACE
- August 4, 2018 Qualifying：4th
- August 5, 2018 Finals：2nd
2nd place finish in 800km long distance race yields this year’s first trip to the winner’s podium
■August 4th (Sat) Starting with the preliminaries, the machine and tires are in good condition in 4th place finish
The SUPER GT Round 5 at Fuji Speedway would be the first race since Thailand about a month ago. This summer Fuji is a long distance race of about 800km, returning as the “Fuji 500 mile” race for the first time in 26 years. SUPER GT races over 700km long include bonus points, so more than ever a trip to the winner’s podium is the goal this week.
On the day of the preliminaries the skies were clear from the morning with a temperature over 30 degrees and a road temperature over 40 degrees, making this a tough battle for both the fans and the teams.
The first preliminary was entrusted to Taniguchi. Right after his out lap he put up a “1’38.906” time and for the moment he was in the top spot, but then his rivals started posting times in the 38 second range one after another and he gradually fell. After that on his 7th lap he posted a “1’38.313” time and safely cleared the preliminary in 7th place. This session was a fierce battle with 19 cars all bunched together in the 38 second range.
The second preliminary featured Kataoka. On his 4th lap his attack yielded a “1’37.891” time that shot him right up to the top. He was passed by three other cars also posting times in the 37 second range, and he ended the preliminary in 4th. For the finals they would be starting in the 2nd row, on the 4th place grid.
■August 5th (Sun) Frontal attack in 500 mile long distance battle results in 2nd place!
This day the race would be a total distance of about 800km, making the contest 177 laps. When the GT500 reached the finish line to signal the end of the race, the GT300 class was just a few laps in, and with over 160 laps remaining it was going to be a tough 5 hour long race. Every team was required to make 4 pit in, and the timing of those as well as the work done would have a large impact on the race.
Just like the previous day the weather was good. The forecast called for temperatures as high as 40 degrees, but during the morning the sun dipped behind the clouds and there was a breeze, so the temperature stayed pretty comfortable.
The start driver for the finals was Kataoka. Right after the start on the first corner he was passed by #21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS), but by the time he returned to the home straight he had repassed it and was back in 4th as he started his 2nd lap.
In front of him were #55 (ARTA BMW M6 GT3), #25 (HOPPY 86 MC), and #10 (GAINER TANAX triple a GT-R), and all three cars had a fast pace, so his separation from them was growing. However, #0 had a decent pace itself, and gaining separation over the cars behind it, for a few laps he was essentially by himself on the course. On the 21st lap he caught up with #25, which was seeing a gradual decrease in its pace.
He continued to be unable to find an opening to pass #25, and on the 29th lap he made his first pit in. Taniguchi took over, and they exchanged four tires. However, due to trouble with the pit work he suffered some time loss, and on the out lap he fell back to 18th.
Taniguchi completed laps with an even faster pace than the top group, and on the 44th lap his position was back up to 5th. On the 52nd lap he passed #10 to move into 4th, on the 54th lap he passed #31 (TOYOTA PRIUS apr GT) to move into 3rd, and on the 65th lap #25 made a pit in, so he moved up into 2nd.
On the 66th lap he made the second pit in. Exchanging four tires, Kataoka once again took over driving. On the out lap he was in 5th place, and he returned to the course in a decent situation. After that he improved on the best time and closed the gap to the lead. On the 74th lap he was in 4th, on the 82nd lap he was in 3rd, and on the 88th lap he passed #25 to once again reach 2nd.
On the 102nd lap he made the third pit in. They exchanged four tires and Taniguchi took over for the second time. Because Kataoka had opened up a lead of about a minute on the car behind him, when Taniguchi returned to the course he was still in second place. However, the 1st place #55 had a large lead of 39 seconds. While his pace hadn’t fallen at all since the start and his lead over the cars behind continued to grow, he was not making up any ground on #55 ahead. As a result, he was once again piling up the laps while essential driving by himself on the course.
On the 133rd lap he made the fourth pit in. Here they again exchanged four ties, and Kataoka took over for the final stint. He returned to the course still in 2nd place, with a gap of 40 seconds to the car ahead and 30 seconds to the car behind, so once again he was running alone.
With #55 showing overwhelming speed he was ultimately unable to catch up with it, and with a large separation over the 3rd place car behind, he reached the checkered flag on the 163rd lap.
The first Fuji 500 mile race at SUPER GT produced a 2nd place finish, good for the first trip to the winner’s podium of the season. With this they moved up to 6th in the standings, and they were right back in the thick of things in the battle for the series championship.
The next race would be in August at Sportsland SUGO. For GSR this seems to be an unlucky circuit, and for some reason every time out at this course something bad seems to happen to ruin their result. Having said that, the course suits their car well. They will do all they can to wipe away the bad luck, and this will be the season they aim to finish on the winner’s podium.
■Team personnel comments
The 2nd place finish is disappointing, but the speed of #55 was amazing, and this is one of their best circuits, so I guess it can’t be helped. It was a long race, so everybody made some kind of mistake, and in that unfavorable situation, we are lucky that we got through it with nothing more serious than an impact wrench breaking. Also, it was interesting to watch things develop after exchanging four tires and having one all out driving stint after another. We really passed a lot of cars. I understood just how effective a frontal attack can be in a race like this, and we have added new variations to our strategies. There are just three races left this year. We’ll try to win all three!
I’m happy that we got our first winner’s podium of the season, but I’m not exactly satisfied with it (haha). This circuit with its long straightaways brings out top speed differences of over 10km/h, so there was no way we could catch up with #55. However, in the GT500 and 300 Yokohama showed its power by dominating the winner’s podiums, so that was a plus. We were able to lessen our deficit in the championship point standings, so we are still technically in the hunt, and I hope we can keep this positive momentum going into the final three races. We still have a chance!
This was the first 500 mile race in SUPER GT, so each team debated their strategy, and we decided to exchange all of the tires every time, which let us run at a good pace. The Yokohama tires were good, and while there was some wear we were able to keep running without a drop in our time until the very end, and we were able to pass a surprising number of our rivals, so from a driver’s perspective it was a really fun race. Finishing in 2nd leaves me half happy and half disappointed, I guess. We were able to make the podium for the first time in a while, and being able to earn 18 points here was big. We need to keep up this intensity as we battle through the final three races.
First of all, I’m glad we were able to safely finish the long race. Things have felt good since the previous race in Thailand, and we were able to carry that feeling into this race. I had expected #55 to be fast, but I never thought it would be that fast… We gave 100% effort in this race, and even though we raised our level of performance so much we were still 2nd, but I guess that’s the way it goes. However, if we can carry forward this performance then every remaining race should be a good one. We want to keep moving up in the championship standings so that we give ourselves a chance entering the final race.