GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 9
2019 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round８ MOTEGI GT 250km RACE
Dates: November 2, 2019 and November 3, 2019
Location: Twin Ring Motegi (Tochigi Prefecture)
Weather: Sunny and Cloudy
Spectators: 56,000 people (in total for two days)
Driver Points: 6P
Driver Points Ranking: 4th (47.5 points in total)
The SUPER GT 2019 SERIES Round 8, which concludes The SUPER GT 2019 SERIES, was held at Twin Ring MOTEGI on November 2nd and 3rd.
Driver Nobuteru Taniguchi and driver Tatsuya Kataoka from GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO, respectively, who have battled this season, which is the project’s 11th year, entered the final battle in third place in the driver rankings with the possibility of acquiring a fourth title in the series for the team.
However, it is not easy to win a come‐from‐behind victory from third place. It requires a difficult combination of having to acquire one point from the qualifying pole position, then, they have to win in the final while the No.55 car has to finish the race with no points.
The handicap weight by cumulative points is removed in the final race and the final race will be an unweighted competition. However, the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT3, which has struggled under strict performance adjustment (BoO/ Balance of Performance), as usual comes in with the heaviest model with BoP weight +40kg and vehicle weight 1325kg among GT3 regulation machines.
Driver Kataoka, who challenged in the last official practice of this season Saturday, entered the course a little later than the starting time of 8:50AM, waiting as he usually does for improvement of the road conditions. He recorded a middling time of 1:47.032 as soon as he started and did repeated short runs to get a feel for the car balance and tire conditions.
The essential requisite for a come‐from‐behind victory is acquiring the pole position in qualifying. However, after consideration including the final race, the tires brought in this time were an evolution version of the compound.
This tire causes graining in low temperature conditions with air temperature 14 degrees and road surface temperature 20 degrees, then, it had a pick-up problem (the phenomenon where residue from tire rubber adheres to the tread surface) as the road surface temperature starts rising. However, their rival competitors seem to have a tough time under the same conditions. In such conditions, driver Taniguchi took over from driver Kataoka just before 10:00AM.
Driver Taniguchi confirmed his race pace in anticipation of the final race around 1:49-plus and finished the session after recording 1:48:483, his personal best, in qualifying simulation.
The result of the official practice was 11th. They were going to challenge the assumption that our qualifying fate was set and “despite racing against some fast rivals, I felt that we had a chance.” (driver Kataoka)
Placing driver Kataoka, also known as “MOTE OKA”, which is familiar to fans and means “MOTEgi is the place where KataOKA is strong,” as a Q2 attacker and driver Taniguchi is in charge of the qualifying Q1 which is a knockout stage. They challenged the fate session with an expectation of “46 seconds flat is the target” (driver Kataoka) because they could see the time 1:46:4 by connecting the stage’s best records in the official practice. However, an unexpected situation happened here. “The front started to rampage as it went over 210km/h on straight line.” (driver Taniguchi)
The machine was involved in some kind of trouble and could not realize its full aerodynamics. It slid a lot when finishing a V-shaped corner as he struggled to handle the car as it violently acted up on the final victory corner and he knocked out the soft poles standing on the inside curb. However, driver Taniguchi, who looked back with a joke “Got a pole” (driver Taniguchi) later, had incredible control and placed 13th by recording 1:47:141 for the second charge after a cooldown. He brilliantly accomplished breaking through Q1 with a damaged car.
However, they could not improve the symptoms of the issues before Q2. Driver Kataoka recorded 1:46:410, which was equal to his best sector time in the official practice, even though he could not see the front with the shakeup on the downhill straightaway, and was second at that point.
He continued to charge without break to the target time of 46 seconds flat, however, the car was not in a proper state, and as a result, he could not do his best and could not acquire the pole position, which was the first requirement for a come‐from‐behind victory.
No. 720 （McLaren 720S） acquired the pole position with a course record 1:45:907. In second, the No. 56 (REALIZE NISSAN AUTOMOBILE TECHNICAL COLLEGE GT-R) recorded 1:46:033, and the No. 4 finally ended the qualifying in seventh as rivals set the fastest time.
The turbulent battle of the 2019 Championships ended here.
Sunday’s Final Race day came without possibility of earning a championship. They made sure the car was repaired during the warmup run and were going to the final grid this year.
With the 250km race length and 53 laps being the shortest length race in the series, it is more difficult to raise to a higher ranking at the Twin Ring Motegi where there is no place to pass under dry conditions. Therefore, the team went into the race with a “no tire change strategy” as an option in the preliminary strategy simulation.
There was a worry of rain based on the weather forecast, however, the sky over the circuit was only cloudy with not a drop of rain and race would be under stable conditions with air temperature of 20 degrees and road surface temperature of 23～24 degrees. Driver Kataoka started in the seventh grid position at the inside of the home straightaway, lined up with the No.33 (Eva RT Test Type-01 X Works GT-R) which was ahead at one corner, continued to overtake successfully and passed the opening lap’s control line in sixth place.
He repeated stable laps with 49 seconds-plus for solo riding, keeping 1:50～51-plus even after starting involving GT500 class, then got No.720 which fell from the top at the 11th lap and rose to fifth place.
At that time, at the first underbridge past the 5th corner, a GT500 class car stopped on the course side shooting flames from the exhaust pipe. The team thought about the possibility of having the safety car for a second, but the First Rescue Operation rushed in to extinguish the fire and the safety car which had disrupted things until now this year was avoided.
While top ranking cars were heading to change tires and the driver during the pit window, driver Kataoka improved his position to third place and changed with driver Taniguchi for the 20th lap.
The team which was checking the rivals’ situation before this pit stop decided to “change only the left two tires”, with no tire change to coincide with the driver change to Taniguchi. They took a safer measure due to a big gap between No.4 and the following cars. Driver Taniguchi who came back in eighth place would showcase his persistent driving.
As he jumped to fifth place on the 26th lap when the teams who never did a pit stop disappeared, he pursued the top ranking No.55 (ARTA NSX GT3) with Bridgestone Tires ahead of him. Moreover, he moved up to fourth by No.56, which was a 2nd-place runner until now, stopping temporarily due to electric troubles just before the back straightaway on the 31st lap.
However, Bridgestone Tires group was more powerful than ever this weekend. The No. 96 (K-tunes RC F GT3), which had come out of the qualifying in only 17th position by spinning out and losing in Q1 in the qualifying, had battled its way, caught up to the No.4 at the 90 degree corner on the 39th lap and took over, resulting in No.4 falling to fifth place again.
No. 96 displayed incredible speed by winning in a tight competition with the No.55 and moved up to third place, and the No.4 pursued the No.55 in fourth place with a gap of around two seconds, however there was a checkered flag on the 49th lap.
It was unbelievable to see the tragic event involving the No. 65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG), which was strong up until the very last lap of the race, but suddenly began to slow down right before the goal by running out of gas, and the No.11 (GAINER TANAX GT-R) took the victory. However, the No.4 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG finished the last race in 2019 in fifth place.
This ended their record of being on the victory podium back-to-back five times at the Twin Ring Motegi from 2014. However, with drivers ranking fourth and the team ranking third proved to be a “strong team” which once again can compete for championships in tough situations.
Two years since they won the title in 2017, “What we can do from now to next year is what we have to work on going forward.” (driver Kataoka) “We lost this year again. We will win next year.” (driver Taniguchi). Their 2020 has already begun.
■Comments from the Team
The absolute requirement this time was to acquire the pole position, so we were prepared and thought we could get it, however, it was unfortunate that driver Kataoka could not execute a sufficient charge due to the engine troubles.
However, I feel it was not an easy race to win as we saw the final. Although we were good at taking Motegi every year, ……there was big gap between tools especially this time. First place in Mercedes and first place in Yokohama Tire in the driver ranking in the 2019 season, so I guess our place would not be bad with our current package, but we were frustrated by the situation that “we could only endure” though out the year.
This season was the project’s 11th year, but it became the season which we competed worst. We will work hard to break through this situation for the next season.
The season was described by one word, regretful. Strategy was bad but we had a lot of bad luck this year. Being the top among teams which use the same tools proves that we work hard, however, championships have become more difficult as rival groups have evolved.
We gathered our efforts to get any possible points by doing all we could and get any points. If the draw where we dropped a point and the safety car timing at SUGO were different, I think the results must be different in a big way. There is no point to think about “What if?”
I think this team is truly strong and have good drivers in terms of being able to compete on the front line after everything, in spite of tough relative competitiveness.
Champion disappeared as we lost the pole position, but it was sketchy if we thought from the start that we had an ability to earn it. Objectively, we already lost the potential for this.
And, it rained every GT weekend this year and the safety car came out often, then, each timing of the safety car was bad. When I look back, I think we lost so much because of rain and safety car. For example, “If there was no rain at AUTOPOLIS, would we have won?” or “If the safety car did not come out while we were tied, would we have been ranked higher?” and so on.
Joining in the battle of Champion circle was a relief, however, even the second place is a loss for me if it is not a champion, so I want to win a champion next year.
I think the result of this last battle describes directly our ability in this season. Of course, we did our best, but our original ability was not enough and most of the races required us to be patient. As we kept being patient, we had a little bit of a chance later in the season. Coming to the final with the possibility of a championship when coming from the bottom through working together with the team was truly good.
I knew that we did not have an ability to aim for a win and had to work hard not to lose, but it was not easy. We could pass the car in front of us while tires were cold right after we started, however, it was a struggle after they got warm and the car ahead of us pulled away. The ups and downs of this race symbolize this year for us. It was frustrating. We have to execute after carefully think out about what we can do for the next year based on this situation.