GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 1
2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round1 OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
Dates: April 13th to 14th, 2019
Venue: Okayama International Circuit (Okayama Prefecture)
Spectators: 28,400 (over 2 days)
Driver Points: 1.5
Driver Points Ranking: 8th (1.5 points)
The 2019 SUPER GT Series kicked off on April 13th and 14th marking the 11th year for the Hatsune Miku GT Project, which has attracted fans both in Japan and internationally. The 2017 GT300 class champions, GOODSMILE RACING & Team UKYO, again featured their winning pair of drivers, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka. Racing in the 2018 Mercedes-AMG that was brought on board last season, the determined team fought their first battle in their campaign for a fourth series title. The Okayama International Circuit is traditionally the location for the first race of the season, and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is well suited to this track; we took the victory in here in 2017. Hoping to achieve this again, we began Saturday practice with Kataoka in the driver’s seat. However, despite the race’s scheduling being a week later than usual, the temperature was a chilly 10 degrees, the road temperature: 14 degrees. Due to this, we stood-by in the pit area continuously monitoring the conditions of the dry track. Then, GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG took to the track for the first time this season allocated as Car No. 4–it had been four years since–at the slightly delayed session start time of 8:50 am. At this point, weather forecasts were predicting rainfall for tomorrow’s final. Instead of conducting a long run, while evaluating tire performance and set up, and checking new parts, Kataoka recorded a 1’26.045 lap time around the middle of the session on soft tires. Switching to Taniguchi at 10:15 am, the start of the GT300 class-only practice session, in a refueling simulation he recorded a lap time of 1’26.518 on hard tires. Kataoka’s time stood as the 8th fastest in the class. Due to two successive years of success for the Mercedes-AMG GT3, which has seen it shine as the champion car in the class, pre-2019 it was subjected to rigorous performance tuning resulting in a weight increase of 50 kg to 1,335 kg; it’s now a GT3 heavyweight champion. Also, while it is the only car not turbocharged with a naturally aspirated engine, it has also been subject to power restrictions by throttling fuel, so we expected it to become a tough race. In addition to this, we forecasted a tough weekend for Car 4 as the tires we had were not a good match for the expected temperature range, compared with tires that have evolved in the Bridgestone camps for both the GT3 and Mother Chassis cars of our high-ranking rivals. Based on such a practice session, Kataoka took on the round 1 qualifier using soft new tires. For only the second time in series history, this first qualifier took place using a group allocation system for all 29 cars that disregarded ranking from the previous series; Car 4 was to race in group B. While when the race began at 2:45 pm, the ground temperature of 25 degrees was on a downward trend, Kataoka recorded a lap time on his fifth lap of 1’25.719 and finished in 4th place. In comparison with group A where only one car finished in the 1’25 range, the fastest seven cars in group B all finished in this range with a mere 0.405 gap between then. In these highly competitive conditions, Kataoka’s time secured qualification inside 8th place. Despite doubting, “We may or may not qualify,” before the race, he showed his mettle. With this momentum, Taniguchi took over for the round 2 qualifier competed by a field of 16 cars and recorded a 1’54 on his out lap followed by a 1’35 and 1’32, carefully warming up the tires and gauging how to attack the race. With a time of 1’25.488 on his second lap he secured the seventh spot on the grid, the highest position among GT3 machines with Yokohama tires. Both drivers ended the first qualifying race of the season commenting, “We did everything we could for now.”
On the day of the Sunday finals, although the cloudy sky had held back for most of the morning, it started raining on the circuit before the warm-up, and it was now certain that we would be racing in wet tires. Right up to the start of the race, we ran tactical simulations considering the best timing to switch to dry tires should it stop raining during its 82-laps, and minutes before the race was due to begin, it was confirmed that there would be a safety car start. Although in this season opener race Kataoka had confidence in his ability to vie for position on the first corner as a solid GSR starter, there was a sudden incident there just after the safety car withdrew signalling the start of the race on lap 4. Car 25 (HOPPY 86 MC) which started in 5th had slipped in the wet conditions and gone into a spin colliding with Car 5 (ADVICS Mach Shaken MC86) which was in 6th and crashing on the inside wall. The flipped Car 5 now lay right in front of Kataoka, whose usual maneuverer would be to move deeper than the rest of the field from the outside. Sensing the danger of spinning out, Car 4 took evasive maneuvers and while taking hits from the right side it was forced onto the gravel where it collided with the tire barrier but was able to return to the track. With the possibility that one wrong move and he could end up stuck in the wet grass area or sand trap, Kataoka, who claims to have always been a good evader, impressively maneuvered around the cars in the move of a lifetime. The accident saw a return of the safety car onto the track, and the race reverted to a slow pace. Car 4 had dropped back to 8th place, and following the restart gave way to Car 60 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa RC F GT3) which had been in pursuit thus slipping into 9th. This was a painful development which we could do nothing about and was due to the fact that the warming (grip) characteristics of our tires differed to the Dunlop tires of our rivals. forcing us to give way due to our tires which differed from the Dunlop tires of our rivals. All this time it continued to rain, and there was another multi-car collision on lap 13 on Moss ‘S’ that involved Car 10 (GAINER TANAX triple a GT-R), Car 7 (D’station Vantage GT3), Car 33 (Eva RT Shogouki X Works GT-R) and others. With car parts and barrier sponge strewn on the track the race was halted by red flag on lap 14. The cars awaited the restart of the race in lines divided by class on the home straight for 45 minutes. It finally recommenced from lap 20 after slowly being led by the safety car. At last, the cars were clocking a lap time speed of around 1’40. Although Kataoka recorded a personal best time of 1’39.433 on lap 22, the safety car made its return to the track due to the increasingly wet conditions and another accident that occurred on lap 24 at the first corner involving a GT500 class car. A red flag called off the race at lap 31; Taniguchi was yet to even drive. As the race was cut short at lap 30, points were awarded in half values. The cold April showers failed however to dampen the spirits of the dedicated GSR fans who stayed out in the rain to enjoy the events held as planned on the home straight. When the race result was announced at 5:47 pm, it was learned that due to penalty impositions Car 4 had been moved up to 8th place and was therefore awarded with 1.5 points (half of 3 points). This put it on pole position for 3 kg weight cars at the second race to be held at the Fuji Speedway. In an opening race affected by weather and drama, it is still too early to predict how this season will pan out. The Golden Week holiday season of May will bring the famous high-speed battle with increasingly warmer temperatures, and also a comeback fight from GSR.
■Comments from the Team
I looked forward to and was happy to see the new teams, machines, and lineup of drivers. Although I cannot say I have full confidence in our ability to compete, I felt that the fact we managed to complete a chaotic race was an indicator of our strength as a team, and there are positives there. We may have missed a chance through a bad choice of tires in the wet conditions, but we made the best of what we had on the day so there are no regrets. Kataoka also pulled off a superb evasive maneuver. We now begin our preparations for the second race; are we team that can compete for the championship? The time is short, but we will unite and do our best.
In the long 11-year history I have been racing with the GOODYEAR SMILE team, last season’s defeat by our rivals has asked us to what extent can we fight back to the top? The reality is that we went into the race without yet really solving the issues that arose in testing. The top finishers in qualifying chose tires in expectation of a rainy final, and under slightly unique conditions, cars using Bridgestone took all the top four places, and we were even beaten by the Mother Chassis teams. It feels like an unfortunate start to the complex competition that is GT that includes everything to BoP tests. This season there are some things which are difficult to call now so we will focus on the improvements we can make after the first two races. The only way will be to understand the tools we have now and do our best together.
In previous Okayama tests the temperature has been so low that it did not matter what tire you chose because none would warm up. In times like these out mentality has been to choose a tire to match the real race when by then the temperature will have risen. This time round it was only during the qualifier that the temperature rose, and we ran a good race, but it unfortunately rained for the final. This caused panic and we lost our focus; I am disappointed that we were unable to show our best to our fans. To be honest, as a team which uses Yokohama tires, I feel like we are currently at a disadvantage. We will need to work hard on tire development and hope to come out in full force when the temperature rises. I think we will be able to challenge the other makers.
It felt like we were constantly beaten on speed by our rivals this race. This season drivers and cars changed, and it was easy to judge the strengths of the field, but if we do not make improvements, especially to our speed output, it does not even look like we will be able to get good results. I drove in the round 1 qualifier and agree with Taniguchi who ran round 2 in that “that was the limit” – despite the 7th place finish. To say, “This is the limit,” in a situation where you are finishing in 7th place is unfortunate. I managed to avoid an incident that occurred right after the start of the final but dropped positions as a result. But would I have been able to stay in contention anyway? It became a comparatively tough weekend, but we will work on improvements and endure what we cannot do. I want to make sure our planning does not result in another weekend like this one.