2023 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round2
FUJIMAKI GROUP FUJI GT 450km RACE
Dates: May 3-4, 2023
Location: Fuji International Speedway (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Attendance: Prelims: 31,600 Finals: 48,600
Points Earned: 0
Series Rank: 16th (2 points)
Golden Week 2023 came at the end of COVID-19. SUPER GT 2023 Second Round was held at the brightly sunny Fuji Speedway full of visitors. This was the first long vacation after the lift of various infection measures that had continued for a long time. Tourist destinations across Japan expected many people to turn out, and all the advance tickets for this race were sold out.
In this race, a 450km endurance format that had been adopted from the previous year was used. This format consists of at least two refueling during the final race (excluding refueling during safety car operations), and both of the two drivers are required to race at least 1/3 of the total race distance. Strategies need to be devised with a macro division that covers what work will be done during the two pit stops and when, when drivers will be replaced, what position to aim for in the race after the pit stop, etc. The format packs the best things about an endurance race.
For the Balance of Performance (BoP) of Mercedes-AMG GT3のBoP in this race, the BoP weight on the vehicle side increased by 15kg to 50kg. This resulted in the heaviest weight of the class, totaling 1,335kg. In addition, No. 4 was installed with 6kg of weight, consisting of the two points earned in the previous race times a success weight (SW) of 3. On the engine side, the intake restrictor diameter was expanded from the previous race’s 34.5mm×2 to 36mm×2. This was a common measure for Fuji Speedway, with a 1.5km home stretch, the longest among Japanese circuits. The menu makes it easy for Mercedes-AMG GT3 to demonstrate its potential compared to BoP at other racing circuits in terms of acceleration and top speed. It was still not the fastest in its class, but winning the race was still possible.
May, 3rd (Wed) [Official Practice, Official Qualifying]
Air/Track Surface Temperature:
Q1 Start: 20℃/32℃
Q2 Start: 20℃/36℃
The day of the preliminary had fine weather, which was rare for spring, and we could clearly see Mt. Fuji even in the afternoon.
The official practice began at 9:05 a.m. The temperature was 18℃, and the road temperature was 33℃. Kataoka was in charge of the opening run. He entered the course at the same time and started doing continuous laps.
Kataoka observed how the sets that had been brought in felt and how the tires matched the course surface. He continued doing laps producing good time in the top 5 vicinity. After the sixth lap measured, he recorded 1:36:696, which was in second place. He then returned to the pit and headed back to the course with a different tire set. In that out lap, No. 5 (MACH Syaken Air Buster MC86 Mach-Go) stopped at the side of the course, and a red flag was raised. However, after the restart on the 13th lap, the time was updated to 1:36:395.
From that point, Kataoka checked the pace of a long race and made fine adjustments to the vehicle balance and tire checks. He then continued to run laps steadily in the 1:38 seconds range. After completing 35 laps, Taniguchi took over.
Taniguchi went through GT500 vehicles and quickly marked the 1:38 seconds range, and improved the time successfully after each lap. In his 7th measured lap after going into GT300 class-only slots, he marked his personal best time of 1:37:782. After that, he also continued to mark the higher 1:37 range and completed the official practice.
No.4 was to be the sixth in the lineup, with Kataoka’s personal best time that was recorded on his 13th lap. Combined, the two racer’s number of laps totaled 46, which was the highest number in the class. It was a vigorously run session.
In the FCY test at 11:00 a.m., Kataoka completed 11 laps and completed 13 laps for the Circuit Safari category at 11:25 a.m. with the GSR bus that restarted after a long time. For the first, he marked the 1:37 seconds range in the fifth place, and his time was the third time place for the second. It was a performance that raised expectations for the preliminary in the afternoon.
At 3:15 p.m. Group A of the Q1GT300 started official preliminaries. Grouping was decided based on rankings. This time, Group A started off the GSR. While the temperature went up to 20℃, the course surface was 32℃, which was a slightly declining condition. Kataoka entered the course at the same time as the start of the session. He went on the attack in his first lap marking 1:38:466 to be in fifth place. In the 5th lap after that, he greatly reduced the measured time to 1:36:183 and became second place as he passed the control line. This seemed to ensure that he passed Q1, but Kataoka didn’t slow down and recorded 1:35:921 in the final checker lap and went ahead of No. 6 (DOBOT Audi R8 LMS). With the rival’s improved time, Kataoka ultimately stayed 2nd in the group and proceeded to Q2.
After Group GT300Q1B and GT500Q1, Q2 started at 4:08 p.m., consisting of all 16 vehicles from Group A and B winning teams for the GT300 ClassQ1A.
Taniguchi headed to the course right after the course opened. In his 4th lap, he went on his first attack lap, marking 1:38:473, and became the 3rd place. In the 5th measured lap after that, he marked 1:35:747, which was better than Q1, but went behind to the 10th place as rivals improved times. In the attack lap after that, he couldn’t overcome his personal best in both sectors 1 and 2. Everyone started losing hope, thinking that this may be the limit for today… Just at that moment, Taniguchi ran sector 3 with the overall best time. He recorded 1:35:277, became the third place, and was checkered. The team’s performance made the circuit full of fans highly surprised. The preliminary was completed with a right to a second-row start for the following day’s final.
May, 4th (Thu) [Final]
Air/Track Surface Temperature:
Prior to Start (1:30 PM): 22℃, 38℃
Early Race (2:30 PM): 22℃/39℃
Mid-race (3:30 PM) 20℃/34℃
Continuing from yesterday, Fuji Speed Way was blessed with a blue sky. At the driver talk show by the top 3 drivers in the preliminary conducted at the event area from 9:00 a.m., Taniguchi, who showcased an amazing time attack show the previous day went on the stage and entertained the guests with friendly and smooth talking. Because infection control measures were eased, team staff could also watch the talk show in front of the stage.
Next, it was the pit walk. Many fans came to the GSR pit and formed a long line waiting to get autographs from the drivers and the coach. Here, we could see another example of COVID-19 coming to an end. After giving out autographs, the team prepared an annual birthday cake for Kataoka, whose birthday was on May 1st, and they celebrated in front of the fans.
The warm-up run started at noon. GSR’s starting driver, Kataoka, held the steering wheel. During the session, there was a Full Course Yellow (FCY) because parts fell on the course from another vehicle. However, Kataoka continued to complete laps in the 1:38 seconds range, which was the same as the long-run pace from the previous day.
At 1:30 p.m., the temperature was 22℃, and the course surface temperature was 38℃. A parade lap began, led by 9 police motorcycles and 4 police cars. The parade was followed by a formation lap led by a safety car. After these were complete, the 450km race began in front of a crowd of 48,000.
In the opening lap, Kataoka aimed to improve his position into the first corner, but he could not successfully overtake the rival and continued driving through in the 3rd place. In the subsequent Dunlop corner, Kataoka closed in on No. 31(apr LC500h GT) and lined up with No.31 from the inner side going into the final corner. No. 31 accelerated well when going straight and almost went ahead, but Kataoka showcased a brilliant overtake, coming on top in a braking battle in the first corner. He quickly rose to the 2nd position.
After that, he continued finishing laps in the 1:37 to 38-second ranges and widened the gap between him and the vehicles behind him, but No. 56 in the 1st position (REALIZE NISSAN MECHANIC CHALLENGE GT-R)’s lap pace was faster than Kataoka. The gap between No. 56 and Kataoka was 5.930 seconds in the 10th lap, 6.320 seconds in the 12th lap, and 6.483 in the 14th lap. The gap gradually widened.
Seeing this situation, the team ordered the first pit-in in the 15th lap for mandatory fueling and tire replacement. Kataoka returned to the course as the driver.
While the pit lane and the lost time were short at under 3 minutes, a few vehicles out of the pit went ahead with a splash and go. The position went down to the 20th spot. However, after he returned to the course, Kataoka was in an all-clear position or, in other words, “clean air.” We hoped Kataoka would catch up and flip his positions from here. Kataoka went into action.
On the 20th and the 21st laps, he repeatedly recorded 1:37 second ranges and overtook No. 50 (ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3). With troubles and routine pit-ins experienced by rival teams, he improved his position one by one.
On the 28th lap, he overtook No. 48 (Shokumo K’s Frontier GT-R) and became the 11th position. In the 30th lap after that, Kataoka finally came back to the top 10 position in the 8th spot.
No. 56 delayed pit work until the 30th lap and returned to the course 5 seconds before No. 4. It was possible to visually see it on the course in between No. 25 (HOPPY Schatz GR Supra GT). Considering the rival’s race pace, it was necessary to get behind it as soon as possible… Just when that thought was coming up, it happened on the 39th lap.
When the relay video caught No. 4 Good Smile Hatsune Miku AMG, the vehicle was showing a clearly strange movement in the Coca-Cola corner and went off course on the outside. It returned to the 100R with minimum lost time, but slight white smoke started rising from Mercedes-AMG GT3 right after the incident.
“I pushed it too far. It wasn’t broken on the outer side of the Coca-Cola corner, but it was inside. The pole had been removed (on the inner side of the corner from the previous day), and everyone was taking shortcuts. I kept thinking, “I can still go further. I can still go further.” Then, when the vehicle went very deep, the curb level difference caught the oil pan, which made the vehicle jump and off the course,” remembered Kataoka.
Oil leaked from the crack like a mist, but there was no oil pressure warning. “I checked the mirror, and no liquid was leaking… so I wanted to go ahead, but probably, the pressure gradually increased the amount of the leak.” The pace went down to the 1:39 seconds range in the 40th lap, and the vehicle returned to the pit in the 42nd lap. Mechanics checked the crack and damage in front of the pit, and the team decided to retire and end the race. It was a disappointing result caused by the strong desire to win and race aggressively.
■Comments from the Team
This time, we made many preparations, and all the procedures went well. We had a good discussion on the day before the final regarding the pit strategy. We discussed instantaneous decisions regarding sending the vehicle to clear space and the new system. Our engineers are obviously skilled, so these went perfectly. Because of this, the vehicle went into an all-clear area after the first pit, and the situation was good. That’s why… it was so close. It went over the curb too much, and the oil pan was cracked. Fuji Speedway is easy to accelerate in terms of performance adjustment. It’s disappointing because it was such a course. In the end, vehicles ultimately need sufficient speed and another speed factor. Today, we barely had enough abilities to win in that sense. Still, the experience of the system we used can be used again, so we’ll try hard in the next race.
The preliminary results came from the actual abilities of the driver. On the other hand, we knew it was a tough situation, so we kept a good position in the final with a strategy of persistence. Regarding the results, there’s no use thinking about it because it’s already finished. Because No. 56 was fast, we could include everything in the pit strategy. That’s why we could go right behind. That was a good point, but there were also some areas we needed to improve. Now, the team is continuing to improve by using various tools to make decisions. In these areas, the team is evolving and getting stronger. Still, unexpected things happen, so we need to work hard when that happens. When we won in Suzuka last year, I’m sorry to say I didn’t think we would do that well. You really never know what’s going to happen.
Fuji Speedway is a circuit we have a chance of winning. I wouldn’t say we had an advantage over others, but I thought it was a circuit we could put up a fight. We ended up third in the preliminary too. Our rivals were obviously fast, so I didn’t think we could easily win the race, but I thought “it’s a possibility” depending on how the race went. When the race started, though, the top rankers were really fast, as expected. Even if we had been able to go on, I think we would have finished 4th or 5th, although I’m talking about the past that can’t be changed. It’s a great disappointment because we were aiming to win. The top 3 were solidly fast, so 4th or 5th place would have been obviously good, but what we want is still win the race. This result comes from Kataoka trying hard to win the race. This is what a race is. When we go to Suzuka, the performance adjustment will return. It’s hard to say, “We’ll win!”… I want to look forward to the next race in Fuji.
I want to say sorry to all the fans and all my teammates. That’s my honest feeling. In terms of the race, the speed wasn’t fast enough to win the race. I could see the pace of No. 25 and No. 56 in front of that, so I wanted to close the gap as much as possible. I challenged cutting all the curbs, including sector 3. It’s possible to close the gap when you take risks, and I knew winning the race wasn’t going to be easy. We drove through in Okayama, too, so our spirit of “let’s try hard and take on challenges” is not paying off this year. Still, we are racing emotionally very well, and the performance, although not the best, is excellent. In the past two races, wanting to win the championship came out too strongly for a negative result. In Suzuka, next time, I want to express my spirit positively on the course and get good results.