2022 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 7
FAV HOTEL AUTOPOLIS GT 300km RACE
Session: October 1st to 2nd, 2022
Location: Autopolis (Oita Prefecture)
Attendance: Prelims: 6,000 people, Finals: 11,000 people
Points earned: 5 points
Series rank: 9th (29 points)
The 2022 SUPER GT Round 7 FAV HOTEL AUTOPOLIS GT 300km RACE was held on October 1st and 2nd at Autopolis in Oita Prefecture, where the fall season has started to arrive in the mountains.
The previous race, SUGO GT 300km RACE, was held on September 17th and 18th. There was a shocking accident here where Taniguchi had an onset of appendicitis late at night on the qualifying race and had to be hospitalized in Sendai City Hospital for emergency surgery. As a result, the final race was retired after Kataoka completed two-thirds of the race that could be completed by a single driver.
Because the interval was only two weeks from Round 6, we were worried whether Taniguchi could recover on time. Still, he focused on recovery after giving up on participating in the Tokachi round of the TGR GR86/BRZ Cup, in which we are competing for the championship this season. As a result, the doctor cleared him for the race, and Taniguchi could successfully come to Kyushu.
This race week was the seventh of a total of eight rounds. According to race regulations, the success weight (SW) added depending on the performance was halved from the previous round to points x 1.5kg from this round. The SW added to No. 4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG was also reduced to 36kg.
However, this round also had a balance of performance (BoP) placed on Mercedes-AMG GT3 with a BoP-added weight of 40kg, which was 5kg more than the previous round SUGO. The vehicle’s weight was 1,325kg. As usual, this was the heaviest class for the FIA GT3 regulation model.
Furthermore, the pavement at Autopolis was heavier than other circuits, which took more toll on the tires. These were unfavorable characteristics for heavy vehicle classes.
October 1st (Sat) [Official Practice, Official Qualifying]
Air/road temperature: GT300 Q1Start: 25℃/42℃
The official practice started at 9:20 a.m. The temperature was 21℃, and the road temperature was 28℃. Kataoka waited for the record line to improve with the other team driving. He entered the course after a five-minute delay. First, the brought-in tires were checked and produced a time of 1’45.858 on his 5th lap. He was the 10th at this point.
He then returned to the pit to check the other type of tire set that was brought in. Then, Kataoka rechecked how it was set up previously for SUGO and repeated making fine adjustments on the body to match Autopolis.
After Kataoka completed the 20th lap, the steering was handed to Taniguchi. As Taniguchi got into the machine and started driving in the course, he checked the vehicle and his own body at the same time. When asked about post-surgery pain, he said to the team over the radio, “no problem,” and started checking the setup completed by Kataoka. However, just as he entered the third lap, he lost control at the final sector 3′s right 50-60R, which was a rising slope, and went off the course. With a solid maneuver, he avoided damage to the machine and returned it to the pit. However, about 20 minutes had to be spent in the pit to clean the gravel.
To use this time effectively, the planned setup changes were implemented at the same time. Kataoka took over the steering again to check the machine balance and completed the drive until GT300′s exclusive session. Kataoka recorded the best time of 1’45.256 for the exclusive session. He continued to take charge of the steering for the Full Course Yellow (FCY) test slots and Circuit Safari (20 minutes each). His comment for the final race the next day was, “I drove a lot because our strategy was to save Taniguchi.”
“We have been trying various things since SUGO. Last round, it went relatively well, but it didn’t go as well this time. We realized, ‘We should actually take another approach.’ We made many car adjustments this round from the practice stage. It’s somewhat finalized for the qualifying, so that’s good.” With that comment, the official practice was completed in the 11th position.
With these realizations, Kataoka joined Q1 Group B, one of two teams divided according to point rankings. He entered the track at 3:18 p.m. when the session started. Little earlier, at 3:00 p.m., the temperature was 25℃, but the weather forecast predicted “hot summer day” conditions. With the out-of-season sunshine, the road temperature rose to 42℃.
No.4 warmed up as 5th out of 13. On the 4th lap recorded, it was 5th with a time of 1’44.061. No. 7 (Studie BMW M4) went ahead after this, but No. 4 successfully qualified for Q2 in the 6th position. Kataoka then switched with the “teammate who came back.”
The temperature was the same for the Q2 that started at 3:53 p.m. The road temperature dropped slightly to 37℃, but it was still high. Despite only driving a few laps in the morning and wearing new tires, Taniguchi produced the fastest time of the day, 1’43.987, and won the 7th grid.
Manager Ukyo Katayama couldn’t help but say, “His condition was an issue, and he hasn’t been driving at all. I thought, ‘He won’t be able to drive,’ and ‘Usually, people can’t drive in his condition.’ Then, he just went out there and produced that time… It was amazing. I might be getting old, but I was moved (laughs).” He was tearing up a little bit. Kataoka made fun of him, saying, “Eventually, you’d be tearing up after watching the opening of a two-hour drama.”
For the final race on the next day, the front grid positions included No. 65 (LEON PYRAMID AMG) and No. 55 (ARTA NSX GT3), while the back positions included the top ranking No. 56 (Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R), and No. 25 (HOPPY Schatz GR Supra). It was a starting position surrounded by powerful rivals.
October 2nd (Sun) [Finals]
Air/road temperature: Before start: (13:28) 25℃/43℃
Beginning: (13:57) 25℃/43℃
Middle: (14:28) 25℃/42℃
End: (14:58) 26℃/40℃
Near the finish: (15:29) 26℃/38℃
“Yesterday was my first day back, so I wanted to check if I could actually drive and that there was no pain anywhere. With that, I wanted to save my energy as much as possible until the final on Sunday. That’s because since I had been resting for two weeks, the doctor said I would have a fever if I did anything tough on my body. The doctor said I would be like an out-of-shape guy who suddenly went to the gym and received professional athlete training.”
In theory, as Taniguchi commented, we needed to consider safety car possibilities from accidents, refueling time, and the degree of tire wear for the final race. We would make the starting driver Kataoka’s stint flexible and incorporate a shortness-based strategy. However, the top priority for this round was “reduce the burden on Taniguchi as much as possible, but reach the goal with as good a position as possible.”
When the warm-up run started at 12:10 p.m., the temperature was 26℃, and the road temperature was 39℃. The heat continued from the day before. Kataoka took over the steering under these tough conditions and checked the progression of race laps, mainly focusing on the wearing of the tires. After producing a time in the 1’48 range, he felt he could ”pull off the first stint from the start of the final race.
Because a GT500 vehicle went off course during the warm-up, the final started five minutes late at 1:35 p.m.
Kataoka started for the opening lap and was ahead of the GT-R at the back at medium speed, keeping the advantage. However, it passed No. 2 (muta Racing GR86 GT), which was a No. 3 Grid start, and came back to the home straight in the 7th position, the same as the starting position.
From here, Kataoka produced a stable 1’47 time range, following the points leader No. 56 until GT500’s leading group caught up.
On the 12th lap, No. 56 went ahead of No. 55, and the vehicle in front of the No. 4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG switched to No. 55.
On the 15th lap, FCY was introduced to collect the vehicle that went off course in turn 1. Kataoka aimed to overtake No. 55 at the restart and was successful, rising to the 6th position.
On the 20th lap, he produced the personal record time of 1’47.377 and chased GT-R. With one-third of the race distance covered, driver replacement became possible. Rival teams incorporating a minimum strategy entered the pit one after another.
Because of this, Kataoka rose to the 5th position on the 21st lap, the 4th on the 24th lap, and the 2nd on the 26th lap, gradually going up. On the 27th lap, No. 56 headed to the pit lane, and Kataoka became the top.
Kataoka commented, “The tire’s life was gradually dropping, but the fuel effect helped too, so I could drive without losing much time.” Kataoka completed laps, sometimes producing 1’47 time ranges even after 30th laps. On the 33rd lap, past the expected middle point of the race distance, he headed to Autopolis’s famous pit lane outside the course.
Then, Taniguchi finally entered the course after a full-service replacing four tires. He returned in the 11th position, taking on the mission to complete the remaining half from here on to the checkered flag.
“To be honest, I only have one-third of my usual strength. So I was worried if I could produce good time ranges for the final.” Despite this comment, Taniguchi quickly produced a good starting time on his 3rd lap, producing 1’47.012. He continued to produce time in the 47 range and rose to the 10th position on the 40th lap due to the routine work of other teams. Then, on the following lap, he rose to the 8th position, within the point range.
On the 47th lap, No. 2, which was ahead, stopped at the side of the final sector course, and Taniguchi rose to the 7th position. FCY was then introduced to collect No. 2. Taniguchi aimed to overtake at the restart. He challenged No. 56’s J.P. de Oliveira, with whom he had a good race before “going around the whole course side by side.” The two vehicles showcased a ferocious battle from turn 1 to the first half area. “Still, I couldn’t get ahead (laughs). I’m confident I could get ahead if we could switch cars!” The spectators could see Taniguchi’s driving full of fighting spirit, which didn’t seem like he had just returned from surgery.
On the 51th lap, No. 55, two positions ahead, had a burst right rear tire and started driving slowly. No. 4 went up to the 6th position from this and kept producing 1’47 time ranges until the end and headed to the finish line on the 60th lap. Taniguchi reached the checkered flag right before the top-ranking GT-R with 69kg SW.
With this result, the two No. 4 GOODSMILE Hatsune Miku AMG drivers accumulated 29 points. However, even if they win the final Mobility Resort Motegi race and add 20 points, they won’t be able to exceed No. 56’s 52 points, and No. 61 (SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT)’s 49.5 points. Here, the possibility of an upset title in 2022 was ended.
Still, Taniguchi could achieve a single-digit ranking on the first game back. We look forward to his full recovery in early November. Together with Kataoka, who is incomparably good at racing at Motegi, we want to see their “final rout of the season.”
■Comments from the Team
It was quite a tough race.
It was tough producing a setup using the tires brought into Autopolis. However, we could somehow produce fightable conditions.
Because of Taniguchi’s conditions, we had somewhat few options in terms of strategies, but it went well overall, including the pace of the race.
We used these two races as a test for the next final race. We aim to get a good result in the final race, so we ask for your support.
Taniguchi’s qualifying attack was…he might have been aiming for it, but I thought ‘an active professional is amazing.’ I was moved by it. I might be getting old (laughs). We started new initiatives from mid-season. In the past, we had major issues even if others carried weights and said, ‘It’s too tough to catch up’ or ‘This can’t even be a race!’ Now, we’ve improved to have good races. The early initiative to change set policies significantly was a good decision that allowed us to do something new next year. Works engineers see the numbers but don’t ‘feel’ them, right? On the other hand, drivers feel it, so last time, we thoroughly addressed things that drivers felt were ‘wrong.’ The in/out decision was 99.9% right, and we were 70-80% there for the setup policy. I have to say TK’s setup ability is amazing.
The doctor said I shouldn’t push myself but said he would accompany me if I were going to be in the race. That was reassuring. We did everything we could for the race, but the result was a lucky 6th. There’s no point talking “what if,” but the 4th position might have been possible if I could go in at around the 25th lap. Still, the team considered my condition and reduced the number of my laps. I could have gone with a better plan, but the situation is my fault… I know if I have the spirit, “I can do anything” (laughs). That’s why right now, I feel, “I can run another race!” That’s how I feel right after the race (laughs). For the grip, there wasn’t much of it from the beginning, and it was kept by how it was contacting the supporting surface. In that state, we could still somehow produce 47 seconds range until the end.
It wasn’t a heavy burden, but I drove a lot, starting with the practice run. I was somewhat confident for the final, but the others were surprisingly fast too. I was expecting more sudden dropouts. Still, we could drive the race as we expected. Also, I guess we had to worry about Taniguchi’s conditions just a little…just in case(laughs), so it was a little different from the usual stint. Including the tire wear, we thought I should do that many more laps. In the end, I entered the pit when I thought, “the tires are getting pretty worn out.” This circuit is usually tough on the tires, but we could relatively control the situation this round. We have some good sense of direction now, so we’ll think a little more with Yokohama and have them make it stick to the surface a little more (laughs).