2018 AUTOBACS SUPER GT
Round 7 AUTOPOLIS GT 300km RACE
October 20, 2018 Qualifying：5th
October 21, 2018 Finals：19th
Car tires that didn’t match the road conditions lead to the first zero point finish of the season
■October 20th(Sat) A burst of speed results in a 5th place qualifying position.
Following recovery from the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, Kyushu’s Autopolis race, which was held in May last season as the third race, returned to its former position as the seventh race of the series, taking place in October. For the seventh round, regulations lowered the weight handicap from twice the amount of total points to equal to the total points. With the weight reduced to almost half of what it was for the sixth race, the machine’s performance would improve. However, the difficultly of predicting the weather at Autopolis this time of the year made selecting tires for this race a difficult task.
The weather for qualifying was sunny. While the air temperature was a cool 15 degrees Celsius, the beating sun brought track temperatures up to 35 degrees. Kataoka took the wheel for the first round of qualifying. After taking to the track and bringing the tires up to temperature, he began his attack lap. After clearing the third corner at a good pace, a car that was ahead of him spun out, blocking the course and bringing out the red flag. Following this incident, Kataoka was able to record a lap time of 1’44.078 with five minutes of qualifying time remaining, a result that was good enough to get through the first round in 7th place. This red flag was a chaotic opening to the race weekend, leaving some of the top ranked teams unable to advance to the next round of qualifying.
Taniguchi took to the track for the second round of qualifying. After warming up his tires, he made his attack on the third lap. His time of 1’43.428 put him among the leaders, and he returned to the pits a few minutes prior to the checkered flag. With a qualifying position of 5th, the team would begin the the race in the third row of the starting grid.
■October 21(Sun) The two pit stop strategy failed to pay off, resulting in a 19th place finish
Race day was blessed with cloudless skies, however the #0 car would suffer as a result. The air temperature at the start of the race was 17 degrees Celsius, while the track temperature of 36 degrees far exceeded expectations. As the tires that were bought for this race did not suit these road conditions, the team decided on a desperation 2 pit stop strategy.
The race began with Kataoka behind the wheel. From the outset he challenged the #61 Subaru BRZ R&D Sport car. The two cars ran side by side for a while, with Kataoka taking a slight lead momentarily, but a slight understeer on the following corner led to him relinquishing this lead. On the third lap, the team was also overtaken by the #34 Modulo Kenwood NSX GT3, dropping to sixth place. The team decided to make their first pit stop ahead of schedule at this time. All four tires were replaced, but Kataoka remained in the driver’s seat as the car returned to the course.
The team had fallen to 28th following the outlap, just one spot from last place. The fresh tires paid off however, as the car’s pace increased, allowing it to overtake several cars. By lap 14, the team had climbed back to 23rd, however the safety car was brought out on lap 17 following one of the other cars going off course. As a result, the team decided to make its second pit stop following the return to green on lap 23. All four tires were once again replaced, with Taniguchi taking over driving responsibilities as the car emerged from pit lane. Although the car was 26th following the outlap, by lap 44 it had risen to 19th after steadily overtaking several competitors.
Following this, a long battle with the #117 EIcars Bentley that occupied the next position would ensue. In addition to the two cars having almost identical lap times, the narrow course offered few passing points, resulting in a prolonged stalemate where it looked like the team would be able to make a pass, but it never was able to. Although the battle lasted 17 laps, the team took the checkered flag on lap 61 while still in 19th place, unable to overtake the rival car. The team suffered their first zero point finish of the season, and their season standing dropping to 4th. Furthermore, the top ranked #55 Arta BMW M6 GT3 finished the race in 4th, gaining 8 points in the process. As a result, the team will head into the final race of the series 15 points behind the leader in the standings.
A zero point finish in the penultimate race of the season is difficult to stomach, but the team’s chances of winning a series championship haven’t completely vanished. The team will head into the final round at Motegi knowing they will have to give it their all in order for their slim chances to be realized.
■Team personnel comments
It was disappointing that we were unable to obtain any points. Our choice of tires may have been too aggressive. Our desire to secure a high point total in this second-to-last race might have been too strong. Our plan was to make our first pit stop before the tires went bad, but that happened faster than we could have imagined, and we were forced to make a stop on lap 3. The other teams seemed to have tire difficulties as well, so in the end it came down to which teams brought hard tires with them. The final round at Motegi looks like it’ll be a must-win, but I think we’ve got a shot, since we have “Motegi-Kataoka” behind the wheel. I expect it to be a close contest, which should be fun for everyone watching.
A lot of people were asking why we took that first pit stop when we did. Making a stop on lap 3 with tires that were only used once during qualifying would lead people to believe there was some kind of trouble, but that was how bad of a mismatch the tires were. That might have been the earliest pit stop I’ve ever experienced in my career. We decided to make two pit stops in order to help us get a better position, and the safety car showed up at a good time, but we made our second pit stop at a bad time, and there wasn’t anything else we could do after that. We might have been able to finish with some points if we had exited the pits in a better spot, but it’s hard to say we deserved better after making multiple pit stops in a race like this. Our hopes of winning the championship aren’t completely finished. Although our chances are slim, the only thing we can do is try our hardest until the very end.
We thought up a lot of different strategies, but I doubt any of them would have affected the outcome very much. We could see this coming during the practice run. Although we managed to finish 5th in qualifying, we knew the actual race would be a struggle. We tried everything we could in spite of this, but the end result ended up being what we had feared. Winning a championship will be pretty difficult at this point, but fortunately we still have a chance. We’re still the defending champions after all. We’ll try to put this result behind us and shift our focus to finishing in first place at Motegi.
Our choice of tires for this race was a huge mistake. Temperatures were far above what we expected, which sealed our fate in this race. If we had delayed our pit stop following the red flag, we might have been able to finish two or three spots higher, but either way it wouldn’t have gotten us points. There wasn’t much we could do with the cards we were dealt; it was a pretty tough spot to be in. The number 55 car getting such a high point total has almost entirely closed the window on our chances of defending our championship, but the final round is at Motegi, a track we’ve had success at before. We’ll try to go out with a bang!