2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 4
FUJIMAKI GROUP FUJI GT 100LAP RACE
Dates: August 6th-7th, 2022
Location：Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Attendance: 18,600 for the qualifiers; 29,300 for the finals
Qualifiers: 3rd place
Finals: 13th place
Points earned: 0
Series rank: 18th (4 points)
Round 4 at Fuji Speedway was held about two months after Round 3 at Suzuka, which had been held at the end of May.
“FUJI GT 450KM RACE,” the second round of this season, was the first race in the SUPER GT series with a distance of 450 km. Unfortunately, a large crash occurred in the GT500 class, leading to a red flag suspension of the race. Once the maximum suspension time was reached, the race ended disappointingly with only half points given. The next tournament, also said to be one of “revenge,” was the “FUJI GT 100 LAP RACE.” Despite having a different name than the previous, the race had a distance of 450km and two refuels, meaning the format from the FUJI GT 450KM RACE was not changed.
GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO are aiming for a large number of points in this race with their Mercedes-AMG GT3, which is especially great at long distance races. It has a BoP designed for high-speed circuits, and at this race they were able to equip it with special 36mm restrictors, larger than those of other circuits.
Furthermore, the Mercedes-AMG GT3’s BoP weight decreased slightly compared to the last time at Fuji (Round 2), losing 5kg to achieve 50kg. Despite this, its gross vehicle weight rating of 1335kg is, as always, the maximum weight for a regulation FIA GT3 model. For this, #4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG added a success weight (SW) of 12kg.
[Aug 06 (Sat)] Official practice, official qualifiers
Air / Road temperature GT300 Q1 start: 21℃ / 28℃
Q2 start: 22℃ / 26℃
Beginning early on Saturday morning, the circuit became completely enshrouded in a dense fog. The FIA-F4 support race qualifiers, which began first thing in the morning, were initially canceled due to poor visibility from the fog. However, at 9am, around when the SUPER GT official practice was about to start, the fog began to clear up and the races resumed at their appointed times. Despite the fog clearing up, there was still unexpectedly low air temperature of 22℃ and road surface temperature of 26℃. This came as a complete change to the scorching hot days that had continued since June.
Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka began to address the situation by conducting practice runs to see their tires’ responses to the unexpectedly cold roads. Even as it became time to start the run, there were still wet patches scattered about. Before the course could open, an announcement about the water had to be made. The team had Kataoka, who was leading the charge, stand by in the garage while they waited for the conditions to improve with the other team’s laps.
35 minutes after the session began the road had sufficiently improved, so Kataoka, with #4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG, entered as the 25th out of 26 cars in the GT300 class. With their initial tire set, they measured their 4th lap at 1:38.040 and suddenly flew into the top spot on the leaderboard.
After that, their rival’s new time brought them down to third place, but their next tire set got them a time of 1:37.311, once again recapturing first place. In the following 11th lap he surprised his team again with a time of 1:37.056 before handing the seat over to Taniguchi in just 13 laps.
Taniguchi, checking how the tires perform with some long runs, kept receiving good times in the early 1:38 mark. He seemed confused: “It isn’t like our BoP is off, the conditions are just not what we were expecting from early August. The temperature doesn’t feel like summer. Originally, we expected that we missed those road temperatures, and that we would have to remove the tires we brought, but somehow the conditions are great. We made a happy miscalculation.”
Taniguchi headed back to the pit with times of 1:38.161 and 1:38.275 even in the 10:25am GT300 class. With the remaining 5 minutes, Kataoka got back in his car, checked some long-run sets, and then concluded the official practice. They finished at P1, with the other teams being unable to beat even #4’s time.
After Kataoka led the FCY (Full Course Yellow) test, the Circuit Safari was held for the first time in a long time. Multiple huge sight-seeing buses took spectators around the circuit, weaving around the course like GT cars in this SUPER GT exclusive special event. Mechanics from the pit waved their hands at fans on the buses in a scene very reminiscent of the pre-covid world. Above all of that, Kataoka finished with a time of 1:37.702, a top time even now.
At the regularly held Pit Walk, autographs and souvenirs from the team were still prohibited. A large crowd of spectators were still able to enjoy freely walking down the pit road and main straight.
And so, at 3pm, Q1 of the qualifiers began. #4 fought as part of the Q1 A group. The road’s surface temperature was 28 degrees, having risen slightly since that morning, but they were much too low to be considered normal for August. Kataoka, who was leading Q1, carefully waited until lap four while his tires warmed up and the grips activated. Then, he started his first attack, shooting into first place with a time of 1:36.407. Immediately after that, #10 (TANAX GAINER GT-R) broke onto the top with 1:36.159, before Kataoka continued to push and get a new time of 1:36.299. Even though he ended in second place, it was plenty to qualify for the qualifiers Q2.
At 3:35pm, Q2 of the qualifiers kicked off. Taniguchi was the starting driver, and he drove in the middle of the 16-car pack. After cautiously warming up, he clocked in at 1:36.161 on the 4th lap, putting him in first and making the fans go wild. Immediately following that, however, #65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG) and #61 (SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT) achieved consecutive times in the mid-1:35s, giving them a large lead. Taniguchi fought back and chased the times of those two cars ahead of him, but even with great times of 1:36.277 and 1:36.437, he wasn’t able to get the best time before the checkered flag was raised.
After receiving the official results, the next day’s championship race would start with from third place player from the second group.
[Aug 07 (Sun)] Finals
Air/road temperature: Prior to start (1:50pm) 26℃／ 33℃
Midway (3pm) 27℃ / 39℃
End-game (4pm) 27℃ / 33℃
Finish line (4:50pm) 27℃ / 33℃
The morning of the finals, a blue sky reminiscent of summer spread out above the circuit, making it a perfect day to spectate the race. As is custom on the morning of the SUPER GT final race, the top three qualifying drivers put on a talk show. Kataoka, being one of them, spoke with all of his fighting strength at play, exerting a lot of pressure on the other two drivers.
The support race and Pit Walk finished up, and at 12:30pm the drivers started a 20-minute warm up. Thanks to their set-up, which involved proper fuel-load consideration, Kataoka, the starting driver for the finals, was getting some safe laps clocking in at around 1:38 – 1:39. Right as the session was wrapping up, Kataoka switched in Taniguchi, having practiced switching out seats, and with the fourth best time in the class he was prepared for finals.
At 1pm, as cars began to fill in the grid as the start of the finals was beginning, rain clouds rolled in above the circuit, and large raindrops rapidly covered the road. Even though it was raining so hard that wipers were needed. #4 already had slick tires equipped, so Kataoka, the lead driver, slowly made his way over to the grid
It looked like it was just the beginning of the storm, but during the grid walk, in the blink of an eye the rain disappeared. Right before the race was to start, as the calm summer sky returned, it looked like nothing had happened.
The parade lap began at 2pm. Shizuoka police bikes and four patrol cars led the way around the lap as the GT cars followed. Once that was complete, and after the two formation laps, the Final race was to begin. Rushing into the first corner in the middle of the pack, Kataoka set his sights at once onto the car before him, #61. Even if it meant competing with the power of the Japanese GT3, capable of high-speed straights, Kataoka’s first goal was over-taking #61 before waiting for his opponent’s tires to kick in.
After racing a few laps and fighting against the slipstreams with his breaks, Kataoka learned the movements for the entire track. At the final corner of the sixth lap, with a change in his lines, Kataoka beautifully overtook #61. As second place, he entered into a fierce chase with #65 for the lead.
However, during his battle with #61, Kataoka had already fallen seven seconds behind #65, who was in first in the early 1:38s. Kataoka also was managing times in the 1:38s as he was driving at a safe pace like he initially planned, but 65’s slightly faster pace was slowly but steadily widening the gap.
In the 18th lap, right when the team was thinking he was going to win due to his sound strategy, something strange happened on #65’s right front hub, and as he slowed into the pit he ended up retiring from the race completely. It was through this chance incident instead that #4 rose to first.
Even still, Kataoka kept carving out careful laps. With thoughts of, “I’m confident in the long run, but I got caught up with the back marker” and “Of course, the tires feel off due to the rising road temperatures,” he stopped by for his first pit stop on lap 26, four laps earlier than planned.
Kataoka rushed out of the car and checked on the tires. He looked Taniguchi straight on and said, “You need to keep watch on your tires while maintaining your pace.” Taniguchi, taking over as driver, set a pace within the 1:39s and slowly started regaining their position. In the top-speed class, laps continued to count up over the track.
After that, one-by-one Taniguchi’s rivals began experiencing bad luck. On the 38th lap, #10, who was thought to be a rival for the lead after heading to the pit, experienced a devastating time loss due to trouble during the pit work. After that, on the 43rd lap, in the back of the pack #55 experienced machine troubles and was forced to slow down and head back to the pit. No cars with strange pit tactics were able to get to the front, and so once every car had taken at least their first pit stop on lap 45, #4 Taniguchi was once again in the lead.
After repairs were finished, #55 was able to return on the 55th lap. But during Dunlap’s corner at 300R, a hairpin caused his vehicle to stop completely, and the race’s first FCY was called. Even this was lucky for #4, as it was lifted before the SC was ever called in. So, he was able to maintain a roughly 25 second lead over #61 in second place as the race fully resumed.
On the 61st lap, they made their second pit stop. Once again, Kataoka was subbed in as the driver, their four tires were switched, oil was changed, and he left the pit with a tentative lead still. There were about 30 laps left until the GT300 class’s expected final lap count of 92, and Kataoka still had a huge lead over second place. He was just prioritizing his tire control now to get his car to the goal. On the 76th lap, after all the routine work was over with, the line-up started to go back to normal, with second place, #11 (GAINER TANAX GT-R), closing their gap to around 10 seconds, which was also in line with expectations. Judging from the state of their tires after the first and second stint, as well as the continually dropping road temperatures, so long as they didn’t have an accident their first victory in five years was certain. Everyone believed it.
But then, destiny struck on the 77th lap.
“I had my pace down pretty well, and I was controlling the race to some extent. I got a hold of my braking pretty well, and I thought I was protecting my tires with that control…” Kataoka was saying. He was rounding the first corner, breaking with a lot of power on the pedal, when without any warning, his tire burst. Somehow he was staying in control, and to keep damage minimal he finished the lap and went into the pit.
The team checked for damage around the wheelhouse, suspension, and brakes, and then with four new tires, to be safe, Kataoka returned back out. He rejoined the group in 14th place, For the remaining few 14 laps, he managed to gain one spot in the final one, placing him in 13th as the race finished.
“If anything, all my rivals fought well in the low temperatures. When everyone had dropped out, the Mercedes rose to a relatively high position, and that was our biggest chance. Maybe even in this long season… no, it was our biggest chance in these past few years,” Kataoka said. That celebratory victory drink will have to wait as a cruel, heartless bottle.
■Comments from the Team
All those tires coincidentally getting stuck was great for us, but these results… It’s like that never happened. About our progress in the race, sometime in the middle I started thinking we can actually do it. It looked like we were maintaining the pace without overdoing it, and if we kept at a constant pace around the 1:39 range, it looked like we would win. This time we had brought on new system engineers, and they were helpful in avoiding the chaos of the 500 and warning us to watch out for the tires. In the final stint we were using our tires from Q2 qualifiers, but in the end, even with our rock-solid defense, we couldn’t bring it home. Starting in Suzuka Round 5, it’s all going to be about BoP. For Fuji, we used 36φ, and it definitely felt like we were in the running… (Normal is 34.5φ).
It was unfortunate. That’s what racing is… But it’s because there’s a reason we got those results. It’s really unfortunate, but the team and all the individual members have to find what way they can improve themselves, there’s no other option but to do it and just keep working hard. For us, something that shouldn’t have happened, happened. But also, in the case of our rivals, there’s also the view that because “what shouldn’t have happened” happened in the first place, we were saved. But I still can’t help but wonder “why were we this unlucky?” … I’ve been doing this for several decades, but these past few years I’ve been hearing a lot of cries of frustration. Of course it’s frustrating. Especially today, today must be the most frustrating blowout we’ve ever had. Even for myself, even for all the time that I was active, that’s true. I mean, the driver is getting emotional, and as the team owner I don’t have any outlets for my anger. But we have no chance but to just accept that as a part of our current reality, thoroughly pursue the cause of our problems, and then just find the next path forward.
For some reason our Mercedes was performing really well this week. Our tires too, even though we had initially prepared with summer in mind… which is to say, our expectations for the temperature range were completely wrong. Leaving aside that there was a difference of around 20 degrees, LEON was, of course, fast again, and we saw a difference between Bridgestone and Yokohama. We kept the time difference from the qualifiers the same even in the championship lap, so speaking generally I’d say that Leon won today’s race. We were allowed to dream a little bit, but just as I thought, it turned out how it always does. In the first and even second stint, the tires were going strong. But even though we had been safe, our tire burst… Today everyone was saying “#4’s gonna win!”, so after the tire popped we got even more attention than we already had. It was really embarrassing… I don’t know what to do with this frustration, I feel it taking a toll on my mind.
Fundamentally, everything was going right. The tires we brought exceeded our expectations, which is to say that they worked well in the surprisingly low temperatures. We were doing really well since the day of the qualifiers. When the sun came out at the race, I thought that the range of the tires might be a concern, but in the first stint a lot of laps went approximately how we planned. Taniguchi also protected his stint pretty well. My stint was also, in reality, just me concentrating on protecting the tires, as there was a pretty big gap behind me. But “protecting” in this case was just referring to them overheating. We never considered a puncture… The third stint was entirely the same, and more or less right up until the tire pressure was rising and while I was avoiding the curb, I wouldn’t say this is an exaggeration or something, but I was being completely careful… It’s frustrating.