2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 6
2021 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round6 AUTOPOLIS GT 300km RACE
Dates: October 23st-24nd, 2021
Location: Autopolis (Oita Prefecture)
Series rank: 10th（25pt）
The SUPER GT 2021 season is now approaching the end. Round 6 was held Oct 23-24th at Autopolis. It was the first time in two years for it to be held in Kyushu.
Mount Aso erupted on the Wednesday right before the race week, leading to worries at one point that the race may not be able to be held, but luckily the location of Autopolis to the North-West of Mount Aso meant that there was little effect from the eruption, and the race could go ahead as planned.
For this race, the Balance of Performance (BoP) applied to the Mercedes AMG GT3 was increased 10kg from the previous race to 45kg, so that the total vehicle weight was now 1330 kg. The Success Weight (SW, formerly known as weight handicap) that is added based on competition success was 60kg, so the vehicle weight was among the highest in the class.
Following competition rules, the next race will have the SW halved, and the final race will be a “no-weight” race, with no SW, so this race would feature the heaviest vehicles of the year.
[October 23th (Sat)]
Air/Track temperature before start of GT300 Q1 (13:45): 14℃/26℃
The official Saturday morning practice started under a clear sky. Compared to other courses used in the SUPER GT, racing cars do not appear often at Autopolis. Because of that, there is not much rubber on the surface compared to other courses. Also, although it wasn’t enough to cause the cancellation of the race, ash from Mount Aso had fallen on the course, so teams waited in the pits and didn’t send out their machines for the first 15 minutes, waiting for the surface conditions to be improved by other cars.
First to take the wheel was Kataoka, driving the number 4 car Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG. As it was slightly cold, with an air temperature of 12C and a surface temperature of 19C, it seems as though the tires on all of the cars did not get a chance to warm up properly, and the surface conditions did not improve as much as had been hoped for during the 15 minute wait. In those conditions, the team worked on checking the tires and vehicle setup.
After 7 laps, however, car number 55 (ARTA NSX GT3) went off the course, causing the red flag to be shown, and the session paused. Immediately after restart, car number 18 (UPGARAGE NSX GT3) stopped at the side of the course, causing another red flag and pause. Due to this, the time allotted for practice was extended by 10 minutes.
In those conditions, Kataoka managed a best lap time of 1:44.254, before checking the balance of the car on a full tank and then handing the wheel over to Taniguchi. He head out to gather data for use towards a long run, and went about doing multiple consecutive laps. He quickly recorded two straight laps of 1:46, but then car number 18 stopped again, and the third red flag of the season was shown. When the session restarted with 8 minutes to go, Taniguchi managed his best lap of the session on the final lap, with a time of 1:44.388.
The best lap of the session for car #4 Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG was Kataoka’s time of 1:44.254, 11th best in the class. Based on this, preparations for the afternoon qualifying went ahead.
Because of the delays in the official practice session, the start of the Q1 qualifying session was delayed to 1:55pm. This session was also divided in to A and B groups, and in Q1 car #4 was in the A group. The surface temperature was 26C, and Kataoka, who had been assigned as the Q1 attacker, flew on to the course as soon as the pit lane exit opened. He carefully warmed up his tires, and when he sensed that the grip was ready on the third lap he managed a time of 1:44.258, good for fifth place when crossing the control line. He could not further improve the time, saying “because of the pausing of the practice, we couldn’t properly check the warmed up tires, leading us to not be able to perform as well as we hoped in the qualifying. As the rivals who followed him were able to speed up their times, so Kataoka fell to 10th place in Q1A, and did not proceed to Q2. Together with the results from Q1B, they would be looking to improve from a starting position of 19th on the race grid.
[October 24th (Sun)]
Air/Track temperature before start (13:25): 13℃/21℃ ＞Mid-race (14:25): 13℃/22℃ ＞Late stages (15:00): 12℃/19℃ ＞ At finish (15:45): 13℃/18℃.
Although there were a few more clouds than the previous day, it was overall nice weather from the morning. Running 9 laps during the warmup, Kataoka managed a time of 1:45.979. Next was to start the 65 lap, 300km survival battle from a rolling start. However, soon after the warmup, some problem with the gear shift was found, and car #4 (Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG) had to stay in the pit for repairs beyond the time allotted, so according to the rules would disappointingly have to start the race from the pit.
Fortunately the repairs were completed by the time of the race start, so that the car could compete in the race, albeit starting from the very back. Due to this, the team suddenly changed their strategy. Just as the race was starting they decided to switch to hard tires to begin the race, and reduce the amount of time spent on pit stops in order to change tires, depending on how the race proceeded.
The race began under similar conditions to the previous day, with an air temperature of 13C and a surface temperature of 19C. Kataoka watched from the pit road end as the ranks of the GT300 class finished two formation laps and then roared over the control line, before taking off from the pit as soon as the exit signal turned green. He started the race at the very end.
Due to starting at the back of all the cars, the leaders of the GT500 cars caught up with him by the fourth lap, but Kataoka managed to catch the end of the GT300 group by the seventh lap, and passed car #244 (Takanoko-no-yu GR Supra GT) on the third corner of the eighth lap. As he was working on moving up further, directly in front of him car #48 (SHOKUMOU Ks Frontier GT-R) made contact with car #22 (R’Qs AMG GT3), and #22 crashed hard on the second hairpin curve. Car #4 was following immediately behind, but managed to barely squeeze past the crash. He then overtook car #9 on the final turn, moving up to 25th position. After that, a full course yellow (FCY) was put in to place, limiting all cars to 80km/h, so that the #22 card could be cleaned up, with a safety car (SC) also entering the course to ensure that all parts from the crashed car could be removed from the course.
On the 11th lap the cars separated in to their classes on the home straight, and then the race restarted from the 15th lap. Because the gap between cars was reset, Kataoka was able to pass #7 (Studie PLUS BMW) immediately after restart, #25 (HOPPY Porsche) and #35 (arto RC F GT3) on the next lap, and moved up to 21st position by the 17th lap. However, at that point #35 (arto RC F GT3) made contact with #48 and crashed, causing the second appearance of the safety car.
During the SC, the race passed the minimum required length for drivers of 1/3 of the race, so the team decided to go with the minimum, and had Kataoka head to the pit immediately after the restart on the 23rd lap.
Because of the long amount of SC time in the first stint, the team listened to Kataoka’s words of “we were able to save quite a lot of gasoline and tire wear”, and saved time by changing only the rear tires before sending out Taniguchi in 19th place.
Taniguchi started immediately with a lap time of 1:47.363, and 1:47.227 on the 28th lap, renewing his personal records for this race and overtaking many cars, constantly moving up positions as the laps went by. Before the 40th lap, he passed #9 (PACIFIC NAC CARGUY), #6 (SYNTIUM LMcorsa GR Supra GT), and #18 (UPGARAGE NSX GT3), putting Taniguchi in to the top 10 places.
On the same lap, car #4 went on to also pass #21 (Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS) and #360 (RUNUP RIVAUX GT-R), which had been holding off on a pit stop, moving up to 8th position and attempting to close the eight second gap with #65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG) in front.
The rivals who had topped the grid during qualification were struggling with the Autopolis surface, seeing their grip suffer and dealing with pick up, and their lap times getting consistently longer. Amidst that, the car equipped with hard tires, #4 Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG and Taniguchi were consistently recording laps of 1 minute and 48 seconds, and quickly closed the gap with #65 while winning a battle against Mercedes-AMG GT3 on the 47th lap, and moving in to 7th position.
They also passed #10 (GAINER TANAX with IMPUL GT-R) on the second hairpin of the 55th lap, and moved up to 6th. With few laps remaining, Taniguchi wasn’t able to move up any more positions, so finished the race on the 61st lap in 6th position.
Taniguchi and Kataoka ran a fabulous race, presenting an overtaking show in which they passed 23 cars from the start of the race, on the Autopolis course known for being difficult to overtake on. The 5 ranking points won from the race have moved them back in to the top 10. Next we can expect an exciting race at the Twin Ring Motegi, with the weight halved and an exciting course.
■Comments from the Team
The effect of not being able to take advantage of the Saturday practice was large. We had a chance to check the tires we planned to use for the race, and were somewhat confident in them, but weren’t able to check them enough during the qualification. On top of that, the trouble before the race meant that we had to suddenly change our race strategy. We figured that if we only changed the rear two tires, the front two would be warmed up enough, and that we should be able to make it through, so were just dependent on whether the other teams’ tires would hold up. Ideally, if we could have done a splash pit stop for fuel and a tire change only when the safety car appeared, we could have saved another 10 seconds or, which might have put us in the battle for the podium. Anyway, we can’t win lots of points if we don’t do better in qualifying, and we need to do a better job of proceeding with races in a more careful, digital way. I want to work on improving many areas, including equipment and engineering skill.
This was a really tough weekend. Things were feeling good in practice, but we made a bad misread of Q1. As the road conditions improved our balance worsened, strengthening under steering so that we could not put out a good time, and did not make it through Q1. Further to that was the problems with the gears, meaning that we could not start from the grid. We decided that if that was the case, we would switch to hard tires and aim to attack with pace. If I can ask for more, I wonder if we could have done better by working while the safety car was out, but in the end I have to admit that I can’t really say whether this is a good or bad result. In the end many things have gone well, but the core problem of not being able to produce good times in qualifying has not been solved, and going forward the weight reductions and dropping temperatures will only weaken our position. The tough fight will continue.
Normally it is impossible to overtake GT-R, but on this circuit the graining and pickup mean the tires fall apart. Our basic plan was to start with soft and then switch to hard tires for me to run on for a long time, but the trouble that had us starting from the pits led us to choose the remaining hard tires. These hard tires don’t have that high of a potential, but luckily the effect of the graining and pickup did not show up very much, and we were able to run at a decent speed, although not as fast as the top cars, who were running at a minute and 44-45 seconds. It was just a matter of a tortoise overtaking while the hare was resting. But last race we got a flat tire while running in third position, so at least with this result we’ve been able to extinguish some of the stress from that time out.
This time out we suddenly found ourselves starting from the pits, so decided that we had nothing else to do but switch to a strategy that would see us using tires that have proven to be able to hold up for long times. I also wanted to overtake more during my stint, but whenever I got near somebody, the safety car would appear… I wasn’t able to improve our place very much, but overall the gap did shorten. Because we only changed the two rear tires, I was a bit worried about the wear on the front tires, but figured that since I had hardly a chance to race, it should be okay (laughs). After changing with Taniguchi, he was able to drive more or less as expected, while those around us slowed down. It was good that we were somehow able to win some points after the bad luck that led us to the pit start.