2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 5
2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round5 SUGO GT 300km RACE
Dates: September 11th-12th, 2021
Location: Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Prefecture)
Attendance: Not announced
Series rank: 11th（20pt）
Round 5 of the SUPER GT, the halfway point of the 2021 season, was held at Sportsland SUGO. Held for the first time in two years due to last year’s being cancelled by the new coronavirus. The course is said to be compatible with the high downforce Mercedes-AMG GT3. GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO has gotten to the podium here in SUGO in 3rd and 2nd in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Following the 3rd place performance at the previous race at Suzuka, they were anticipated to reach consecutive podiums.
This Balance of Performance (BoP) this time was the lightest this season at 35kg in accordance with the course characteristics, and the total weight of the machine was 1320kg. However, a success weight (formerly known as weight handicap) loaded according to the results was imposed, with this season being earned points x 3kg resulting in a total weight load of 60 kg.
[September 11th (Sat)]
Air/Track surface temperature for the start of GT300 Q1: 24℃/27℃; at start of GT300 Q2: 24℃/27℃; at end of GT300 Q2: 24℃/27℃
Saturday, 9:20 am, at the start of the official practice, air temperature was 21℃ and road surface temperature was 23℃. Autumn was in the air. Kataoka was in charge of starting, and will repeat short runs. Car No. 4 “Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG” has evolved its settings to match the new spec Yokohama tires introduced from Round 4 Twin Ring Motegi in July. They were in the top 10 throughout the session. On the way, he encountered red flag interruptions and full course yellow (FCY) calibrations. He switched to Taniguchi after recording a personal best of 1’18.854 on lap 27.
Immediately after the time measurements, Taniguchi first recorded a personal best of 1’19.703, then returned to the pits and changed to new tires, and then began to check the race pace in the 1’20-22s range. Taniguchi ran for the GT300 occupancy time, and further refined the settings.
The session ended with a second red flag due to an accident by other cars, right before the end.
During official practice, Kataoka’s record of 1’18.854 was the best time, and had a good result coming 5th in the class. Kataoka felt good, saying, “The setup has been updated from Suzuka, and despite the fact that we were loading 60 kg, we are doing quite well in the FIA GT3.”
After the official practice, a 20-minute FCY test was held. Kataoka held the steering wheel, checked the FCY system, and confirmed the final settings for the official qualifying race in the afternoon.
However, something disturbing occurred. The front left tire went flat on the 5th lap of the session. Although he was able to return to the pits on his own, that was the end of the run. Fortunately, only the floor was scraped and the damage wasn’t serious, but the team were worried about the tires.
In the afternoon qualifying, they were to run in the Q1A group. Kataoka was in charge of Q1 and Taniguchi in charge of Q2.
14:30. The temperature range was lower than expected, with an air temperature of 24 ℃ and a road surface temperature of 27 ℃. Group A qualifying started, with 2 out of 14 cars withdrawing due to accidents during official practice. Kataoka warmed up slowly and recorded 1’18.563 in the first attack, and by the time he passed the control line, he was in 2nd place. After that, although he dropped one place, he ended the session comfortably through Q1 coming in 3rd.
15:23. For both group A and B, Q2 was a race with a total of 16 vehicles that passed Q1. Taniguchi recorded 1’18.279 in the first attack, at which point he was 3rd overall. Although he continued to attack, he could not get a better time and finished qualifying in 7th place. They started the finals from the 7th grid.
[September 12th (Sun)]
Air/Track temperature before start: 29℃/41℃ ＞mid-race: 28℃/41℃
Clear autumn weather from early morning. There was a lot of sunshine and temperature rose rapidly. At the time of the warm-up runs starting at 12:10, the air temperature was 28℃ and the road surface temperature rose to 48℃. Kataoka, who was in charge of starting in the finals, was using the 20 minutes to adjust to the different road surface conditions compared to the day prior.
The formation lap started at 13:30. An extra lap was added to the two-lap formation laps as there was too much space between the two cars. As a result, the final race time started by reducing down from 83 laps out of the 84 laps.
On the opening lap, Kataoka passed car No. 87 (GRANSEED LAMBORGHINI GT3) at the 4th corner and returned to the home straight in 6th place. However, another Lamborghini, car No. 88 (JLOC LAMBORGHINI GT3) was in front of him, just like during the 4th round at Motegi, and the 3rd round at Suzuka. As if to reproduce the previous race, the top group slowly moved away while the lap pace was held down.
On the 25th lap, in order to break through the stalemate before falling too far behind, the team called back Kataoka into the pits. Out of several strategies they had prepared, they decided to go with a full service of the tires. When Taniguchi was sent out to the course, he records a higher lap time at another position, aiming for an undercut.
Taniguchi, who returned to the track in 24th, overtook car No. 60 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa GR Supra GT) on the outlap on lap 28. He keeps up the pace and continues to pursue. While competing with rival routine pit stops and car No. 5 (MACHSYAKEN GTNET MC86 MACH GO) on the course, he maintains a good pace in the 1’21 range after the 30th lap.
On the 36th lap, he recorded a fast test of 1’20.071. Even after 40 laps, car No.4 was staying in the 21-second range, and was in 3rd and rising to the podium.
However, after the 43rd lap, an accident occurred in which a GT500 class vehicle was burning in the final corner-in side. Race control immediately deployed the Safety Car (SC), rather than a FCY.
After arranging the groups by class on the home straight and they restarted on lap 51, and the routine pits of all cars were completed on lap 54. On the timekeeping monitor, they were in 3rd behind the pole-sitter car No. 61 (SUBARU BRZ R & D SPORT) and 2nd place car No. 55th (ARTA NSX GT3), and the podium was finally becoming a realistic.
However, more unexpected trouble during the following lap.
“I think it might have been the 1st corner braking, but as I passed through the 2nd to 4th corners, I was losing air in the tires, and the warning lights came on after chicane. When I came to the high point corner I thought ‘Oh, I can’t turn’ “(Taniguchi)
The left front tire puncture that occurred in the FCY practice session the day before, happened again.
Although he managed to get back to the pits, after changing tires they had dropped down to 26th. Taniguchi, who maintained his composure kept up the same high pace as the frontrunners gradually regained his position. But there were just too little remaining laps, and he finally received the checkered flag on lap 76, in 23rd, two laps behind the first car.
GOODSMILE RACING & Team UKYO dropped to 11th place after getting no points at the turn of the season while they were approaching the top of the point ranking. They don’t have many opportunities to recover with only three races left. Let’s hope for a resurgence at the next race, Autopolis in October.
■Comments from the Team
We could had it, it was unfortunate. I think consecutive podium appearances was ‘almost certain’ (until the puncture). Coming in first might have been difficult, but I really wanted the 11 points in 3rd place… The minimum pit timing wasn’t bad, the undercut went well, pit work was good overall, and the left rear was very fast. This time, we reviewed the settings to a point where we usually don’t. In response to Saturday (the puncture during practice), we adjusted to the desired values that Yokohama allows, including how to use the tires but it wasn’t enough…
German engineers have also experienced SUPER GT for a year, and we are getting better at working as a team. They have come to understand the circuit and the tires. That’s good, but with the same tires, I’m still worried about the next race at Autopolis.
I returned to the team for the first time in two races (after the Olympics), but the performance adjustments are still not going well. There are cars that are fast even with weights loaded up. Among them, we are able to put up a good fight because the AMG engineers have improved their understanding of Japanese races and the German setting data has been utilized, and as a result, the number of missed opportunities has decreased. I think we were able to start in the best qualifying position in our current situation by controlling every element, including tire wear. Overtaking in SUGO is very difficult, so we have to start at the front. The choice of minimum pit stop also went according to plan. The race pace wasn’t crazy fast but stable at a high level.” I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to end up with no points’, but this time it’s a flat tire and ‘it can’t be helped’, but it hurts especially because we were closing in on the top in points…
I’m sure it looks like we have been doing well in the past few races, and we also feel we were able to drive a little better and able to race. But, today made me recognize that a ‘puncture’ is always just around the corner. In the current situation, 7th place in qualifying was a decent place, and the strategy went well, and I was really motivated to drive getting up to 3rd place in the latter half of the race… Since I was in charge of a lot of laps, I was managing various things while calculating them myself. It was difficult to chase the two cars in front with their abilities, so I need to keep car No. 60 behind me…Was what I was thinking, then got the flat tire immediately after SC. Breaking in the first corner killed it. Because of the flat tire on the same tire during the FCY test yesterday, we reduced the camber angle (which was thought to be the cause of the flat tire) as recommended by the tire manufacturer, but it still didn’t work.
Up until the puncture, we were racing the way we needed to and could see the podium. From the puncture on Saturday, we took measures with a setup that reduced the tire load but I guess it still wasn’t enough. Perhaps the load on the tires has increased due to the car getting faster, so we have to find the cause and think about solutions. However, reducing the load on the tires is difficult because it reduces performance. If you’re really in such a delicate area, setup can be a problem. The SUGO track can put a heavy load on the left front and I’m sure those factors played a role, but I didn’t imagine getting a puncture here. I wonder if the negatives of the various setups have come out here.