【SUPER GT Round 1 / Fuji】
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, heavily impacted the calendar of the 2020 Super GT series. Nevertheless, the race season made a late start finally. While it still has eight races, as previously planned, now four out of eight races have to be held at Fuji Speedway. So, this opening round at the famous racetrack could be regarded as a foretaste of a whole season. And this behind-closed-door event was held as “one day race,” which meant the qualifying session and the race were run on Sunday after a practice session on Saturday.
Syntium Apple Lotus was the third in the GT300 qualifying and the fastest Yokohama Tire users in the class. As for the GT500 class, Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT earned the eighth grid for the race, with WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra being in 12th and Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R in 15th.
The track was completely dry on the race day, and the air/track temperatures hit a high during the weekend. Ukyo Sasahara at the wheel of Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT made a good start for the 66-lap race, moving up to sixth when he entered nicely into the first corner. Soon after that, however, the Safety Car was deployed due to an accident at the 100R Corner. Meanwhile, Mitsunori Takaboshi in Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R and Yuji Kunimoto behind the wheel of WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra exchanged their positions, so the former was in 12th and the latter in 13th for now.
After running for four laps behind the Safety Car, Sasahara was overtaken by his closest rival on Lap 7, but he could stay close to it. The Super GT rookie performed really well and seemed to improve his position further. So, it was unfortunate that he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 21. To make things worse, he had to come into the pit again ten laps later, which meant the car lost a chance for finishing in the points.
Takaboshi and Kunimoto went on in tandem after an early position swap. And for the descent of Sasahara’s NSX-GT, they automatically came up to 11th and 12th, respectively. Then Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R visited the pit lane to change to Jann Mardenborough on Lap 24. WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra did the same on the same lap to change, and the car was now in the hands of Ritomo Miyata.
When they rejoined the race, Miyata found himself running in tenth, in front of Mardenborough in 11th, as the pit stop sequences of others slightly helped the Japanese. On Lap 48, Miyata overtook a competitor that lost its speed for some reason, and his counterpart in Yokohama shoed GT-R followed his path two laps later. Therefore, the WedsSport backed Supra finished the race in ninth and Realize Corporation’s GT-R in tenth, which meant both cars got their share of championship point(s).
Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT also saw the checkered flag in 12th, albeit three laps down from the winner.
Turning to the GT300 class, Hiroki Katoh in Syntium Apple Lotus lost a position at the restart after the Safety Car period. He was still able to follow the car in front closely, but he had to head to the pit lane because of a loose wheel nut. The Lotus fell back, and now Mach Syaken GT Net MC86 Mach-Go with Yuya Hiraki at the wheel was the leading Yokohama shoed car in fifth in the class.
On Lap 21, Hiraki completed the prescribed minimum laps for a driver and handed the car to Natsu Sakaguchi, without changing tires during the stop. And, as Sakaguchi could close the gap with the cars in front, thanks to the second Safety Car period from Lap 25, he was running third when all competitors had done their compulsory pit stops.
Sakaguchi initially put pressure on the car in second, but he became under pressure from behind in the closing stage, which created a four-way battle for third place. However, his defensive drive was good enough to keep his position, and he brought the Mach-go home in third.
Realize Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R came in fourth. The battle between Joao Paulo de Oliveira in the car and the pole-sitting Mercedes AMG was so fierce. The Brazilian’s partner, Kiyoto Fujinami, also played an important part in earning fourth place by moving up to sixth in the early stage, after starting from the ninth grid.
Tanax Itochu Enex with Impul GT-R driven by Kazuki Hoshino/Keishi Ishikawa finished the race in fifth, making a big position gain from the 13th grid. The Ryo Michigami/Jake Parsons pair in Modulo Kenwood NSX GT3 came in eighth, followed by Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka behind the wheel of GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG in ninth. Starting the race from lowly 17th and 18th, both of them made a good recovery to get valuable championship points.
—Result : 3rd in the GT300 class—
“It was a super tough race! First of all, I am deeply grateful that the race was done safely, in many senses, that we could run safely throughout the weekend, that the weather was good. We didn’t change any tire at the pit stop, but the first set of tires lasted without any problem until the finish. I am more than happy to get on the podium at the end of the race that no one carried handicap weights. Last year, we lost consistency after having some weights. But our car and tires performed really well this year, so we want to keep this momentum and, hopefully, to stand on the podium again.”
“The weather changed significantly during the weekend, and it was so difficult to forecast. As a result, we actually made wrong predictions in certain areas. We hoped that it would become more predictable, but it unexpectedly turned to a sunny day, especially in the afternoon. This meant the temperatures rose higher than expected, which wasn’t good news for us.
“In the GT300 class, Mach Syaken GT Net MC86 Mach-Go made a podium finish and two GT-Rs followed in fourth and fifth. We think this was the fruit of our development work under the circumstances that seriously limited our opportunities for testing. But I don’t feel we hit the jackpot, so we still have some work to do. Today’s result gave us some hope for the future, even though our tires didn’t work very well with certain types of cars, which we need to work on.
“As for the GT500, Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT performed well until the qualifying session. In the race, however, GR Supras using the tires from other manufacturers were faster. So, we have to admit Yokohama Tires didn’t perform well enough yet.
“Looking on the positive side, now our rubber compounds have better wear resistance than those we used last year. This gives us wider options, but it doesn’t mean we always have a suitable compound, even if the temperature rose higher than expected, as it was today. I believe we have to delve deeper into the way to adapt to the even higher temperatures in summer.”