2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 1
OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE
Dates: April 16th-17th, 2022
Location: Okayama International Circuit (Okayama Prefecture)
Attendance: 19,100 people ( 2days)
Points earned: 4 points
Series rank: 7th(4 points)
The 2022 SUPER GT Series was scheduled to begin in the 3rd week of April, which is later than usual, at Okayama International Circuit. GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO decided to continue with the golden pair of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka, who each have 3 titles in the GT300 class, and prepared for the season with a new vehicle, although it is still a Mercedes-AMG GT3, as the team’s vehicle has been in past years.
As is customary, the team participated in official tests, tire manufacturer tests, and various other test sessions before the start of the series in order to work on the tuning and tires of the vehicle while spiritedly racking up miles.
In terms of balance of performance (abbreviated BoP), which aims to establish parity between the performance of different vehicles, the situation continues to be tough for the Mercedes-AMG GT3, as it has been in previous years.
With regard to the weight of the vehicle, a BoP of +45kg is added to the vehicle weight of 1,285km. Furthermore, there was a special BoP for safety at Okayama, where the course and escape zone are narrow compared to other circuits, resulting in an extra addition of +39kg for a total weight of 1,369kg, making this vehicle the heaviest in the GT300 class. However, this was still a decrease of 5kg from the first race of last season, in which we struggled.
The output of the engine is adjusted using an air restrictor, which limits air intake, and in the same way as last year, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 must use a restrictor with a diameter of 34.5mm, the smallest among naturally aspirated (NA) engines.
[April, 16th (Sat)] Qualifying
Air/road temperature: GT300 Q1 start: 17℃／21℃
GT300 Q2 start: 16℃／27℃
GT300 Q2 finish: 17℃／29℃
The first official session of the season began at 9:20 AM on Saturday, April 16th under sunny skies with an air temperature of 13°C and road surface temperature of 18°C. Kataoka, who was in charge of getting things started, remained in the pit for about 10 minutes amid gusty winds, waiting for the temperature of the air and road surface to increase for better conditions, before entering the course as the 24th of 27 vehicles just after 9:30.
After warming up the tires, he produced a time of 1’26.248 during the 6th lap being timed to reach 7th position and entered the pit to make minor adjustments to the tuning. He then repeated short runs to adjust the tuning and handed over the reins to Taniguchi after completing his 15th lap.
The No. 4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG, which now boasts a brilliant combination of lime green and white after a complete design overhaul for this season, repeated long runs with times in the low 1’28 range. Taniguchi completed 17 laps, with his personal best time of 1’27.636 coming in his 13th lap.
Kataoka took the wheel again for the exclusive run for the GT300 class, which took place during the final 10 minutes of the official practice. He went for the best time possible while conducting a simulation of the qualifying rounds, but could only produce a time of 1’26.372, failing to improve his personal best time. The time of 1’26.248 from early on in the official practice ended up being the best time for the team, which finished the session at 17th position overall.
Then, after a full course yellow (FCY) test, a pit walk was held for the first time since 2019. Although it was still prohibited to give out autographs or samples, fans and drivers were able to interact, giving the circuit a friendly atmosphere.
Qualifying began at 2 PM under conditions that were slightly better than the team anticipated, as the temperature was 15°C for the air and 33°C for the road surface. Q1 for the GT300 class was split into Group A and Group B according to last year’s rankings for each of the 27 vehicles participating in the opening round, with each group having 10 minutes. GSR was put in Group B.
Q1 Group B started at 2:18 PM. Kataoka left the pit right away and started to warm up the tires. However, immediately after the start, the No. 5 car (Team Mach Toyota 86 MC) spun out during its out lap and crashed into the concrete wall, resulting in the session being halted by the first red flag of the day.
The session resumed at 2:33 PM after the crashed vehicle was removed from the course. With 8 minutes remaining after the restart, Kataoka started warming up at a fast pace and recorded a time of 1’25.760 during the 6th lap being timed. He finished 6th overall as part of the top 8 that made it through Q1 and passed the baton to Taniguchi, who would handle Q2.
Q2 started at 3:06 PM, with the road surface temperature remaining above 30°C. Taniguchi started to go for fast times during the 4th lap being timed, recording a time of 1’25.755. In the following lap, which was the 5th lap being timed, he recorded a time of 1’25.607, which was 13th best at the time. He tried unsuccessfully to record a better time, finishing with a time of 1’25.797 during the final lap, with the tires already showing a decline in performance. The final outcome was that we would start our first final race of the season from the 14th position on the grid.
[4/17 (Sun)] Finals
Air/road temperature: Start: 23℃／32℃
The wind, which had been blowing violently throughout the night, calmed down by the following morning, resulting in a 2nd consecutive sunny day. After the opening events, such as a pit walk and the first flypast by a F-2 fighter jet owned by the Japan Air Self-Defence Force in Okayama, the warm-up session started at 12:40 PM, as final checks were completed for each vehicle before the race.
The final race started at 2 PM. The temperature rose to 23°C for the air and 33°C for the road surface, making the conditions a bit tough for the tires that had been prepared.
The first final race of this season began after 2 formation laps. Kataoka, who is in charge of getting off to a great start, aimed to improve the team’s position right from the start again, but failed to do so during the opening lap, as he approached the first corner having barely caught up to the end of the line because the race began before he could get in formation. The vehicles remained bunched up close to each other for a while.
The team climbed to 13th position during the 5th lap after passing the No. 6 car (Team LeMans Audi R8 LMS). Despite maintaining a focus on reducing fuel consumption as much as possible, Kataoka also passed the No. 20 car (SHADE Racing GR86 G), which is making its debut this season, during the 22nd lap to climb to 12th position.
With competing vehicles nearby both in front and behind, the team decided to avoid the congestion by bringing Kataoka into the pit during the 26th lap, with over 1/3 of the distance of the race completed, entrusting Taniguchi with the final 2/3 of the race.
Taniguchi returned to the course in 23rd position and completed laps with a steady pace in the 1’28-29 range. He overtook the No. 96 car (K-tunes RC F G3) while it was on its out lap during the 32nd lap before being overtaken by it during the 35th lap. Then, the No. 52 car came up from behind and went ahead momentarily, but Taniguchi went back in front right away and maintained his position. As of the 45th lap, when all of the competing vehicles had completed their routine pit stops, he had improved his position to 10th. He climbed to 9th position during the following lap.
During the 55th lap, the No. 88 car (Weibo Primez Lamborghini G3), which had been competing for 5th position with the No. 7 car (Studie BMW M4), spun out at the two hairpin curves. Although our No. 4 car momentarily improved its position to 8th, the No. 6 car overtook it using its straightaway speed, putting the team back in 9th position.
The race changed significantly toward the final stages, as it became a fight for survival.
During the 60th lap, the No. 96 car, which was 2 vehicles ahead of our vehicle, was unable to brake sufficiently at the hairpin curve and crashed into a GT500 vehicle. Although Taniguchi was driving right behind this vehicle when it crashed, he calmly assessed the situation and passed the accident on the inside.
However, as a result of this crash, the hood of the No. 96 car popped up during the homestretch of the following lap, blocking the vision of the driver and causing the vehicle to slam into the concrete wall on the inside of the first corner. This was the first FCY of the season.
When the race resumed during the 64th lap, Taniguchi was passed by the No. 55 car (ARTA NSX GT3), which he had been keeping behind him. However, the No. 55 car crashed into the No. 7 car at the hairpin curve during the 70th lap. Taniguchi was driving right behind this accident also, but calmly avoided trouble again.
Having survived contact from GT500 vehicles and the competing vehicles in front and behind, Taniguchi passed the No. 10 car (TANAX GAINER GT-R) and finished the race in 7th position. The team was able to bring home points from the first race of the season, demonstrating the resilience of GSR in tight races.
For Round 2, which will be held at Fuji Speedway over Golden Week as is the custom, the race is scheduled to have a new distance of 450km. Given that a portion of the vehicle BoP restrictions on the engine will be loosened for this race, which is also customary, and that both Taniguchi and Kataoka are great at tight races over long distances, the No. 4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Mike AMG should deliver another strong performance.
■Comments from the Team
It was amazing that we did not crash toward the end. Well, I guess we did have some contact though (laughs). But I think Taniguchi did a great job hanging on until the end despite the chaos. We worked with our new vehicle so much this offseason that we may even have already used 1/4 of the mileage before an overhaul is needed, but I believe that the issues we have had with our tires are gradually getting resolved. Also, it was clear form this race that our lack of speed in straightaways compared to the other vehicles was a significant issue, but the BoP will be relatively lenient for Fuji Speedway, so we must show what we are truly capable of. In terms of our strategy for this season, I would like to treat the 2 races at Fuji Speedway with utmost importance, as I believe that it will be crucial for us to earn points during these races.
Even though there were things that had been relatively hidden or difficult to see during offseason testing due to factors such as the rain, some things became visible to us. This opening race gave us an idea of how things may shape up in terms of structure, and we must rethink our approach. The second half of the race was bad, but it was fun for the people watching. It was nerve-racking to see the Audi creep up from the right during a straightaway and to wait for the lamp to tell us who went ahead while comparing sector times. It was fun for us, but I’m sure it was tough for the drivers (laughs). Fuji Speedway is difficult, as there are few opportunities there, but we want to earn the support of our fans by showing how hard we work in these tough circumstances. We will also think of strategies, which is a task that we enjoy. The only thing we can do is have fun while we seek our redemption.
When Kataoka was driving, there was not much movement, as all of the vehicles were more or less going at the same pace. But as soon as I took over, things really got hectic (laughs). Car No. 65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG) was right in front of me at the moment that I left the pit, but since the other vehicles also left the pit and came out in front of me, car No. 65 was able to get away skillfully, while I got stuck in all of the traffic… This really felt like a big turning point. Our goal was to finish in the top 8, because again, we did not even get the sense that we could aim for a podium finish, starting with the practice session on Saturday. Given that we had decided that we just wanted to get some points, I think the 7th place finish was a good result that fulfilled our objective for this race. My stint lasted over 50 laps, and had I not been bumped by car No. 10 during the final lap, I should have recorded a time in the 1’28 range. The tires held up great despite the damage they had endured up to that point.
We started this race in 14th position, so I wanted to make an impact during the first lap, as I always do. However, I couldn’t make any sort of impact after all, as I headed into the first corner without being able to get into position. After that, the other vehicles’ tires had gotten warm, so I simply tried to follow behind others, other than the times that I passed the vehicles that went off the course. I wasn’t going slowly, but I simply persisted and persisted without being decisive… There was no drama during my stint. I somehow think that this result will serve as an indicator for this season, and as expected, things do not seem like they will be easy. Round 2 might be the best of the season, since the BoP will be applied specifically for Fuji Speedway. Although we will not be in an advantageous position for this race, we will not be in as disadvantageous of a position as we were here in Okayama, so I think this is where the battle will really begin for us, as we have 2 races at Fuji Speedway this season.