GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO RACE REPORT 6
2019 48th Summer Endurance “BH Auction SMBC Suzuka 10 Hours Endurance Race”
Dates: August 23rd (Fri) – 25th (Sun), 2019
Location: Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture)
Weather: 23rd (Fri) Rain, 24th (Sat) Fair, 25th (Sun) Fair
Spectators: 51,000 (over 3 days)
The Suzuka 10 Hours Endurance Race was first held in 2018 to crown the world champion for GT3 cars. GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO welcomed Kamui Kobayashi as the third driver for the race in 2018 and participated as “Mercedes-AMG Team GOOD SMILE.” We finished 5th overall, which was the best result out of the Japanese teams, and won the Asian award, which was available to teams for which more than half of the drivers are Asian. Kataoka’s driving toward the end of the race aroused the spectators throughout the circuit and was talked about as the highlight of this competition.
In August 2019, Mercedes-AMG Team GOOD SMILE took on Suzuka 10 Hours Endurance Race for the second time in an attempt to better its results from the previous year. The drivers were comprised of the same trio of Nobuteru Taniguchi, Tatsuya Kataoka, and Kamui Kobayashi.
The car for the race was the Mercedes-AMG GT3, of course. It appeared at Suzuka Circuit with special colors for the 2019 Suzuka 10 Hours Endurance Race, which are based on the white and red of the Japanese flag that have been used since the 2017 Spa 24 Hours Race. On August 22nd, we participated in “Suzuka Motorsport Festival,” which was the largest race car parade on public roads in Japan, and entertained the visitors who lined the streets.
[Friday, August 23rd]
There were signs of rain on the morning of the first day of actual racing. Full wet tires were used for the 2-hour practice session that started at 10:00 after the bronze test session. The No. 00 car of Mercedes-AMG Team GOOD SMILE also completed its laps using rain tires, but finished with balance checks and adjustments, as the weather was expected to pick up on Saturday and Sunday. The order of drivers for this session, which involved 16 laps, was Katsuya Kataoka, Nobuteru Taniguchi, and then Kamui Kobayashi. The best time was 2 minutes 17.082 seconds posted by Kataoka while the road was dry, and we finished in 23rd.
The conditions were still wet for the session starting at 14:10. The order of drivers was Kamui, Taniguchi, and then Kataoka. The best time for this session was 2 minutes 14.442 seconds posted by Kamui, and we finished in 9th.
It was also raining during the night practice that started at 18:30, meaning that slick tires could not be used. Because there were regulations stating that all drivers must complete at least 1 lap, Kataoka, Taniguchi, and Kamui each ran 1 lap in that order using rain tires. Kataoka finished 2 laps at the end and posted a time of 2 minutes 17.009 seconds, as we finished the session in 20th.
Because it rained all day, we could not test out slick tires at all.
[Saturday, August 24th]
The rain, which continued to fall throughout the night, eased up early on, and the sun came out in the morning. Taking a complete turn from the previous day, the dry conditions that everybody was waiting for arrived on the day of qualifying.
After an hour of free practice at 09:15, qualifying would begin. Because no testing could be done on slick tires the previous day due to the rain, the settings for qualifying must be completed during this session.
We entered the course with Kataoka behind the wheel. The feeling was not good, as the conditions of the track would not settle. He took a pit stop right away and returned to the course after changing the settings, but unfortunately, there was a red flag stop 17 minutes after the start.
It was essential to complete the settings during the time given, but it was also important for each of the 3 drivers to drive under dry conditions. As a result, Kataoka handed the wheel to Taniguchi without having driven a sufficient amount, but there was another red flag stop after Taniguchi ran for several laps. At this time, Kamui took the wheel, and the crew continued with the settings. Through trial and error, Kamui recorded our best time of 2 minutes 3.491 seconds, allowing us to find our bearings ahead of qualifying.
Qualifying was separated into 2 parts. The first part, which began at 13:00, involved each of the 3 drivers doing a time attack of 15 minutes, and the overall ranking would be determined by adding up each driver’s best time. The top 20 from this part would move on to the pole shootout, which is the second round of qualifying starting at 17:35 that would determine the final starting grid.
Taniguchi was the first to take the wheel for qualifying. The strategy was to enter the course with used tires, make an immediate pit stop to switch to new tires, and then enter the course to begin the time attack. However, there was an unfortunate red flag stop due to an accident on the course during the time attack after changing to new tires. The best time at this point had not been good enough for the top 20, but when the session restarted, Taniguchi used his veteran savviness to post a time of 2 minutes 3.429 seconds, which was just enough for 20th, 1 minute before the appearance of the checkered flag.
Next up was Kataoka. Using the car that underwent fine-tuning based on Taniguchi’s feedback, he used the same strategy as Taniguchi of entering the course, taking a pit stop, and switching to new tires for the time attack. The conditions of the track had also started to settle, and he posted a time of 2 minutes 2.715 seconds on the 5th lap. Although he could not better this time during his challenge on the next lap, he returned to the pit with confidence. The final standing was 19th.
Last to go was Kamui. Engineer Kono further fine-tuned the settings to match Kamui’s preferences. Kamui made a pit stop and took on the time attack with new tires, as the first 2 drivers had, but the best time of 2 minutes 2.873 seconds during the 5th lap was slightly worse than Kataoka’s time. The last-second adjustments backfired, as Kamui was not satisfied with his time, but the total of 6 minutes 9.017 seconds for the 3 drivers was good enough to advance to the pole shootout in 18th.
Kamui, who had been chosen beforehand as the attacker, took the wheel for the pole shootout that started at 17:35. In response to Kamui, who stated, “I want pole position,” Engineer Kono replied, “In that case, I’m going to take a gamble.” Based on Kamui’s assertion, we would enter the shootout using the settings for the actual race. We did not have much to lose, as we would only lose 3 spots on the grid if our gamble were to fail. The team went out to battle.
Our gamble ended up paying off. There are only a limited number of chances to attack during a 15-minute session. Getting a good feeling as soon as he entered the course, Kamui succeeded in marking a good time of 2 minutes 1.024 seconds during his first attack and jumped out to 2nd.
Although we would then fall to 6th as a result of improved times from our rivals, we maintained the best grid position among AMG teams. Last year, we had to catch up from the back end of the grid at 21st, but this year, we would start from the 3rd row of the grid along with the best teams in the world.
After qualifying, Kamui suggested removing the cooling suit and reducing even the slightest amount of weight in order to keep up with our strong rivals during the finals. Given that the forecast called for intense heat, racing without a cooling suit would take a significant toll on the drivers’ bodies. However, Taniguchi and Kataoka both approved this suggestion that would reduce roughly 20kg. It was decided that a large pool would be set up behind the pit in order to prevent the drivers from getting heat stoke after their stints.
[Sunday, August 25th]
The day of the finals was blessed with fair weather from early in the morning, providing the perfect setting for a race. During the warmup, which started at 08:05, Kataoka, who would be the starting driver, ran 7 laps, recorded a time of 2 minutes 3.873 seconds, and got a good feeling ahead of the finals.
The race would start at 10:00 after the starting ceremony. During the 1st lap, Kataoka dodged the No. 777 Ferrari car and jumped out to 5th. Ahead of him was the No. 107 Bentley car that competed for the top spots at the end of last year’s race. He accomplished the team’s objective of “competing with the world’s best,” as there was not a significant gap between the No. 42 BWM car in the lead.
The race continued without any major accidents through the first stint, and Kataoka entered the pit in 5th after 54 minutes, handing the wheel to Taniguchi. We succeeded in going ahead of the No. 107 Bentley car during this pit stop and jumped ahead to 4th. Furthermore, when the No. 34 BWM in 2nd had to stop because of an accident during the 40th lap, we entered the podium places in 3rd.
Taniguchi completed our 54th lap in good condition and entered the pit to switch with Kamui. We were overtaken by the fast-paced No. 125 Audi car and fell to 4th.
During this stint, accidents on the course brought on the first full course yellow period. If we were to use a pit stop during this time, we would be able to save some time, but it would make time management for the remaining stints tougher.
The team decided to call Kamui in for a pit stop. Although this did not have as much benefit as expected because the other teams at the top ended up using the same strategy, Kamui raced with stability for 1 hour after the incident and handed the wheel to Kataoka again after a long stint of 1 hour 36 minutes in total.
At this time, the team was facing another issue. During Kamui’s stint, the No. 00 car was the only one that could not pick up its pace, while the other rivals at the top were picking up their pace, resulting in the group in front pulling away little by little. Was this because of the rising temperature or the inner pressure of the tires……? Tumultuous discussions took place in the pit, but we could not determine the cause.
While the temperature increased further, Kataoka and then Taniguchi each completed 1 hour 3 minutes for their 2nd stints and passed the baton again to Kamui. However, our position gradually fell, as we were getting caught by our rivals with a faster pace, and we had fallen to 6th – 7th by this time.
Around 16:00, when the heat began to wane, a full course yellow was implemented again due to an accident on the course. Kamui entered the pit again at this time. This resulted in another long stint, but Kamui completed it with no issues. There was contact with another car during this stint, but the car was all right, and there was no impact on the race.
Toward the end, as the sun began to set on the circuit, Kataoka and Taniguchi took the wheel in order. However, we still could not increase our pace, and our position continued to drop gradually. During Taniguchi’s sting, we fell to 10th.
The last pit stop finally came. Kamui, who was tasked with the last stint, cracked his whip on the car that could not increase its pace, and aimed to finish up while defending 10th. The No. 25 Audi car in the lead was right behind, but Kamui somehow entered the final lap without being lapped by the leader. However, as soon as we completed 10 hours, we were finally lapped by the No. 25 Audi car.
With the grand stand lit up by the glow sticks that were distributed at the venue again this year, Mercedes-AMG Team GOOD SMILE completed its 274th lap, which was a lap short of the group at the top, and passed the checkered flags at 10th overall. We had to defend 10th with all our might, as we could not keep pace with our rivals until the end. For the extra prizes, we won the SUPER GT award and were second for the Asia award. Because we did not have any clear mistakes and avoided major issues during this race, the team was disappointed to finish below our result from the previous year.
However, the results of our best efforts in a race with the same conditions for all cars were received with good grace, as was the case in the previous year. The only reason that we could not win was because we were not as strong as our rivals. It is not at all a bad thing that we are aiming high. Mercedes-AMG Team GOODSMILE will continue to battle to catch up with the best in the world.
■Comments from the Team
Excluding the start and end of the race, we were unable to increase our pace when the temperature was high, and the race was intense. I don’t think that our contact with another car during the race was the cause of this, so we don’t know what the cause was. I think we put a lot of stress on the drivers, as we were making them race in a state without the required competitive ability. Our expectations became too high during qualifying (laughs bitterly). However, it may be that we did not have enough strength to meet these expectations. The AMG teams struggled overall with this race, and there is still a gap that we need to close to reach our rivals. Although we can only go to Spa again if we save up some money (laughs bitterly), I would like to continue to take on this race as long as it keeps up its tradition.
This was unfortunate. We did great in qualifying, and we were in the podium places because Kataoka improved our position right after the start, regardless of our rivals’ issues. However, we struggled all the way after the midpoint. There may have been a fix if only 1 driver was slow, but all 3 of the drivers were slow. This is part of racing, but we need to thoroughly determine the reason why we could not increase our pace. We need to do our homework again, certainly on how to use Pirelli tires, but also on how to approach endurance races.
Kamui posted a good time attack during qualifying, and we were able to start at 6th, which was the best among AMG teams. However, once the race began, we were reminded of the strength of factory teams. We clearly did not have enough speed during this race. We were doing well at the beginning, but we could not increase our pace at all once the temperature rose. I thought it might just be me, but all of us experienced the same issue. Because we could not up our pace when everybody else was doing well, we must get to the root of this issue. I don’t know if we can get our revenge next year, but I honestly think the team that won this year was great, and I have a new understanding of our position. There were positives in our loss this year.
The weather was bad on Friday, and we started on Saturday with a bad feeling, but we picked things up from there, and Kamui had a wonderful time attack in qualifying. I took charge of the start, but I did feel the pressure of starting so far ahead in the grid. However, once I started, it was not as bad as I had feared, and I even felt like we could do something special. When the temperature rose though, we had the slowest pace in the top group. I think we were the slowest in the top 15. We were able to finish in 10th because we had a good starting position, but if we had started from the back (21st in the grid) like the previous year, we would have been buried in the back. We need to find out the cause of this issue. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have any exhilarating moments, but it was good that we completed the 10-hour race with no issues, finished 10th overall and 2nd for Asian teams, and won the SUPER GT award.
It was good that we finished qualifying in 6th. However, the final race turned out to be very difficult. To be honest, I am frustrated that things didn’t go well. We do not know the reason why, but we could not increase our pace at all. This was a tough race overall for AMG teams, but we had an especially hard time. It is unfortunate that we could not remain in the top places. I would like to try to get our revenge if we have the opportunity, and we need to do thorough testing.