【SUPER GT Round 3 / Suzuka】
The Super GT Suzuka round had been moved from the end of August to May this year, making it the third round of the 2018 calendar. More importantly, it was held as a 300km race, rather than a 1000km marathon which had been a popular fixture until last year.
This meant a total reset in terms of tire data because a different race distance required a different strategy. And of course the conditions were so different, as the race was held three months earlier than last year.
The sky was clear on Saturday, May 19th, but a strong wind blew at Suzuka Circuit. But, thanks to this wind, the cars on the track got more speed because they were pushed by a tail wind on the pit straight and more downforce was generated by a head wind when they went through S Curves. And faster lap times meant more exciting qualifying session.
Regarding the GT300 class, as many as ten Yokohama Tire users got through Q1. While the pole position was out of their reach, Takamitsu Matsui behind the wheel of Hoppy 86 MC set 1’56”140 which was the second fastest time in Q2, followed by Tatsuya Kataoka in GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG in third.
Turning to the GT500 class, Honda teams performed really well this time and Motul Mugen NSX-GT with Hideki Muto at the wheel made its way into Q2 by setting the fourth fastest time in Q1. But Daisuke Nakajima’s qualifying attempt didn’t go well, as he made a small mistake at the first one of Degner Curves and had to settle for the seventh fastest.
Muto drove Motul Mugen NSX-GT at the start of the race and immediately moved up to sixth. As two cars ahead of him made their pit stops on Lap 19 when the race resumed after the Safety Car period, he found himself running in fourth. So, some good results were expected but Muto went off the track on Lap 24, which ended up in a retirement, much to the team’s chagrin.
Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R began the race with Joao Paulo de Oliveira in the driving seat. After enjoying quite a few close battles, he changed to Mitsunori Takaboshi on Lap 23. The Japanese rejoined the race in 12th but gradually improved his position. With ten laps to go, he managed to come up to ninth where he finished the race to bring the championship points home for the second time this season.
Kenta Yamashita behind the wheel of WedsSport ADVAN LC500 struggled to keep a good pace from the start. So the team called him in to change to Yuji Kunimoto at the end of Lap 18 when the Safety Car period ended and sent the car back to the track with the tires that have different specifications from the ones Yamashita used. However, they also didn’t work to improve the pace. At the end of the day, the car had to settle for finishing in 13th.
As for the GT300 class, Hoppy 86 MC with Matsui at the wheel started the race from the second grid, with intent not to change a tire at the pit stop, so he knew it would take longer than others to warm up the tires. On top of this, because of the fact that the FIA GT3 cars were faster on straight lines, Matsui dropped to sixth during the first lap and lost one more position on Lap 2.
But he hung on there after he had got his tires properly warmed. And ahead of him, Kataoka driving GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG came up to second and Hiroki Yoshimoto in Syntium LMcorsa RC F GT3 was running in fourth.
When the Safety Car came in on Lap 17 for the GT300 race leader, some of the leading cars, including Hoppy 86 MC and UpGarage 86 MC which was running in ninth at the time, made their pit stops. Unfortunately, as there was a mishap during the driver change from Matsui to Sho Tsuboi, Hoppy 86 MC lost a significant time at the stop. Because of this, Yuki Nakayama now at the wheel of UpGarage 86 MC got ahead of Tsuboi but these two were still leading the group of those early stoppers.
On the other hand, GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG extended the first stint and led the race from Lap 25. Then Kataoka came in to change to Nobuteru Taniguchi on Lap 32. The team sent the car back without changing tires, so Taniguchi found himself still leading the class when he resumed racing.
But it didn’t last long. The other GT300 cars that were superior in pace than Taniguchi were getting close to him from behind. Although Taniguchi tried his best to defend the position, he finally lost it on Lap 37 and fell down to third five laps later before sliding down to eighth eventually.
Now Tsuboi in Hoppy 86 MC became the central player of the fight for second. In the season opener at Okayama, he hadn’t been very good at tire management and shed bitter tears after the race even though he finished it in third. But this time he did it perfectly. Tsuboi moved up to second at S Curves on Lap 45 and even pulled away from the cars behind him after that.
Marco Mapelli driving Manepa Lamborghini GT3 went up to fourth on Lap 47. Syntium LMcorsa RC F GT3 followed it to finish the race in fifth, after changing all four tires at the stop. Among other cars that didn’t change a tires, UpGarage 86 MC ended the race in sixth and GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG in eighth.
—Result : 2nd. in the GT300 class—
“We knew the tires would last for the whole race distance in terms of wear. So we decided to go without changing a tire at the pit stop before the start of the race but our main concern was the pace until the tires were warmed up properly.As a matter of fact, I lost ground immediately after the start and I think I have to improve my skill not to lose many positions under such a situation. Another area I have to improve is the speed of driver change because this time we lost valuable time due to the tangled seat belts. We will absolutely need the same strategy again in the next round in Thailand, so we will need to do the fastest possible driver change.We had no concern about Tsuboi’s pace at all and we actually owed him this second place finish today. So I felt this team is getting stronger than before in total performance.”
“The most frustrating thing was Motul Mugen NSX-GT’s retirement because it was the most promising car for us today. For the two weeks since the previous race, we did a lot of preparation work, but it was clear that we still have some deficit in raw speed. And we knew the situation was the same with the GT300 class… But our consolation was the point finish of Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R. The WedsSport ADVAN LC500’s crew also did their best but they lost ground because of the tire degradation in the closing stage.
“As for the GT300 class, the teams took different strategies, which I believe led to quite an interesting race for the spectators. The winning car had a commanding race. A fair and square race win like that is what we should aim for. At the same time, we would like to thank the teams of Hoppy 86 MC and Manepa Lamborghini GT3 for making their different strategies work to achieve the results today.
“We will try our best to help the teams to get podium places for the next Thai round at Chang International Circuit where we have a good track record.”