【SUPER GT Round 3 / Suzuka】
The third round of 2019 Super GT series was held at the Suzuka Circuit. The qualifying session on Saturday, May 25th was favored by good weather, but it was in a way ‘too good’ because the temperatures were incredibly high for this time of the season!
It was like a summer day, as the air/track temperatures were 31/48 degrees Celsius when the official qualifying session for the GT300 class began. Natsu Sakaguchi at the wheel of Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go set the fastest time in Q1 and he was followed by Kimiya Sato in Hoppy 86 MC and Hiroki Katoh in Syntium Apple Lotus. This meant that the Mother Chassis cars swept the top three and 11 Yokohama-shoed cars in total make their way into Q2.
The dominance of the MC cars continued in Q2. By improving the teammate’s best time in Q1 by 0.8 seconds, which was surprising, Takamitsu Matsui behind the wheel of Hoppy 86 MC secured his fourth pole position in the Super GT career. Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go took the third grid by Yuya Hiraki’ admirable effort.
Motul Mugen NSX-GT led the Yokohama-shoed GT500 cars this time. The team seemed to find out something that led to a good qualifying set up. Hideki Muto at the driving seat of the car in Q1 was the seventh fastest and Daisuke Nakajima bettered it to get the sixth grid. While it wasn’t the best grid of the Honda teams, they looked promising at the end of the session.
Expectations were high for Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R since the car set the second-fastest time in the official practice session. However, it didn’t guarantee the speed in the more important qualifying session and Mitsunori Takaboshi had to settle for 13th in Q1.
Yuji Kunimoto made his qualifying attempt in WedsSport ADVAN LC500 as soon as the track was opened but his best time was the only 11th fastest, 0.2 seconds shy of the cutoff line for Q2.
The sky was slightly overcast on Sunday and weak sunlight meant the temperatures were back to normal for this time of the season, as the air/track temps were around 29/41 degrees. The race began with a drama. Jann Mardenborough at the wheel of Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R was given a drive-through penalty for overtaking the other car before crossing the line at the start. So, he lost a lot of grounds in the early stage.
Starting from the sixth grid, Muto in Motul Mugen NSX-GT struggled to keep up with others. After dropping down to seventh on Lap 4, he lost more positions in succession and found himself running in ninth on Lap 17. In contrast, the pace of WedsSport ADVAN LC500 with Kunimoto at the wheel was good. He moved up to tenth by overtaking a rival car on Lap 6 and was in pursuit of the pack in front.
On Lap 18, the Safety Car was deployed due to a crash of a GT500 car. As it was just after one-third of the race distance, all three Yokohama-user teams decided to make their stops during this opportunity. Therefore, they came into the pits when the pit lane became open after the Safety Car period ended.
The pit crew of Motul Mugen NSX-GT, in particular, did a great job at the stop and the car resumed racing in fifth! Nakajima drove at a good pace as well and managed to keep the position for a while.
However, the car had a problem on the left rear tire on Lap 36. Although Nakajima could bring the car back to the pit, he became a lap down when he rejoined the race after changing the tire. Then he automatically came up to 12th because a rival car fell into trouble and he ended the race in that position. The result was disappointing, but they definitely showed a good pace during the second half of the race, which was positive.
Sho Tsuboi was behind the wheel of WedsSport ADVAN LC500 in its second stint. He mostly had a lonely race but was running in seventh when the checkered flag fell, scoring points for the second time this year.
Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R was helped by the Safety Car period because a huge gap with the leading cars by the earlier drive-through penalty became null. Then Takaboshi who drove the car for the second stint made a good effort which led to finishing the race in eighth.
In the GT300 class, Sato in Hoppy 86 MC, starting from the pole position, stayed at the top of the field, while Hiraki at the wheel of Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go fell down to fifth on Lap 1 and lost another position on the next lap.
They remained in the same positions for a while. But, as mentioned above, the Safety Car came out on Lap 18 and Hoppy 86 MC had to give up a 2-second margin to the car behind it.
After the three laps of the Safety Car period, most of the leading cars made their pit stops. Hoppy 86 MC, now in the hands of Matsui, left the pit lane first and Sakaguchi in Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go followed. Both of them didn’t change any tires at the stop and Matsui was still leading when all GT300 cars had done their mandatory stops.
But Matsui’s pace was below expectations. So, the car in second rapidly closed the gap with him and overtook him on Lap 42. Now Matsui was under pressure from Sakaguchi as well, but the Mach-Go driver spun on Lap 44 at Turn 2, as he was hit from behind by a GT500 car. While Sakaguchi lost a position in this process, he quickly regained the second place and began to close in on Matsui again.
When Matsui and Sakaguchi went into the final lap, the gap that separated them was less than 0.1 seconds. The Hoppy 86 MC driver stayed ahead until the chicane, the last corner of the race, but he ran wide there and Sakaguchi passed by! Matsui managed to come back on the track in his own but had to end the race in fifth. Because of his misfortune, Nobuteru Taniguchi in GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG was handed the fourth place without any effort.
The team crew of Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go was over the moon for their podium finish and the first championship points this year. The team manager Tetsuji Tamanaka said, “Finally, we did it. After more than ten years!”
—Result : 2nd. in the GT300 class—
“This is my third season with Team Mach. We had many frustrating races until today, so I feel relieved by getting this podium finish in return for the team’s effort. In the race, thanks to Hiraki’s good job in tire management, I could drive very consistently. In the closing stage, when I was hit from behind and spun, I thought we lost a chance to get on the podium. But I didn’t want to give up and it just paid off at the end.”
“This is the race we had to win in the GT300 class. It’s a big blow for us. We are sorry for Hoppy 86 MC’s misfortune, but the young drivers of Advics Mach Syaken MC 86 Mach-Go did a great job. The car has clearly become faster this year, so we have high expectations for them for the rest of the season. The team also did a splendid job.
“In the GT500 class, Motul Mugen NSX-GT had a problem related to a tire, while the car was running in fifth. We don’t know exactly what happened to it, even after an initial investigation. Of course, we must examine the tire in question in detail and find out the root cause. It was a shame, as the car’s pace looked good. As for the other two cars, the persistence of our drivers led to the point finishes because our direct rivals with other tire manufacturer’s products also struggled a bit and there were close fights. As the pit stops were earlier than planned, the drivers had to do long stints, but they adapted to the situation perfectly.
“In the next round in Thailand, we will have a high temperatures situation. But we won’t worry about it too much because the overall conditions will be less severe than those in Suzuka. So, our aim for the Thai round will be a win in the GT300 class and the season’s best results in the GT500 class.”