【SUPER GT Round 4 / Motegi】
Due to the closely packed calendar, the 2020 Super GT series came to the end of the first half within only two months since the season opener mid-July. The fourth round was held at Twin Ring Motegi, which had usually hosted the season finale in recent years. The championship rules stipulate that the final round should be a 250km race, in which all competitors are allowed to run without handicap weights. But for this round, the leading teams had to carry weights, and the weather conditions were also different from the Motegi race meetings in the past, so there would be a few unknown factors.
The Q1 for GT300, in which the competitors were divided into two groups, started in a drizzle with the air/track temperatures of 25/29 degrees Celcius, which was lower than usual for this time of year. Among the Yokohama Tire users, nine cars remained in the top eight in Q1 to fight for the pole position, five from Group A and four from Group B.
Runup Rivaux GT-R ended Q1 Group A in fifth with Yusaku Shibata at the wheel. Takayuki Aoki, who drove the car in Q2, set the fastest time for the session to get the pole position. It was the first pole for the team and the tenth in the Super GT for Aoki after an 11-year long drought!
With Hoppy Porsche driven by Takamitsu Matsui and Kimiya Sato securing the second grid, the two Yokohama Tire users made a front-row lockout. And JLOC Lamborghini GT3 with Takashi Kogure and Yuya Motojima behind the wheel came in fifth.
As for the GT500 class, WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra was at the top of the timesheet in the official practice session. Ritomo Miyata, behind the car’s wheel in Q1, managed to keep the momentum and got the top slot. However, the rain suddenly became heavier in Q2, and the condition change hampered their efforts. While all cars taking part in Q2 had to switch to rain tires during the session, Yuji Kunimoto tried to set his best lap time in the last qualifying attempt. Unfortunately, he had a collision with another car at 90 Degree Corner on the lap and had to settle for the eighth.
Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT had a minor drama in Q1, as Ukyo Sasahara went off the track in the final minutes, but he managed to get a slot in the top eight to move on to Q2. Then his co-driver Hideki Mutoh secured the seventh grid for the car.
Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R with Jann Mardenborough at the wheel ended Q1 in 15th, as the team’s gamble to give him wet tires for the session backfired. But his recovery, together with Mitsunori Takaboshi, during the race was still possible.
The forecast said it would rain on Sunday, again, and the clear sky in the early morning turned to overcast when the race was about to start, but it never rained until the end. The air/track temperatures were around 27/34 degrees, which were still lower than usual, as was the case on Saturday.
Kunimoto in WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra and Mutoh in Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT gained a couple of positions during the opening lap, and they were running in fifth and sixth in the early stage, respectively. They went on for a while, staying in formation. The expectations were high, especially for the WedsSport backed Supra, as they seemed to be recovering the mishap in Q2.
On Lap 10, however, a GT300 car was out of control in the aftermath of a collision before the V Corner, and, after cutting the inside of the corner, it hit the Supra hard. And the WedsSport car had to retire the race because the damage was too bad to repair and continue.
This incident called for the Safety Car, and Mutoh moved up to fourth. After the restart, he overtook another car at Turn 1 on Lap 19, so the Red Bull car was running in third when he changed to Sasahara 6 laps later.
On Lap 46, the Safety Car came out again for clearing some debris on the track. Thanks to this, Sasahara, who was still in third, could close the gap with the two cars ahead of him. Although the opportunity for further gain didn’t come to him, he kept the position until the finish to get on the podium. This was the first podium finish for the combination of Team Mugen and Yokohama Tire since the collaboration began three years ago.
Takaboshi in Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R fought well against the championship-leading GR Supras, which were burdened with weight handicap and a tighter fuel restriction. He even overtook one of them, but soon after the driver change to Mardenborough, the car was involved in a collision and had some severe damage to the front section. The repair work in the pit cost them many laps, but the car eventually rejoined the race to see the checkered flag.
The GT300 pole sitter, Runup Rivaux GT-R, with Aoki in the driving seat led the race’s first half as well. The first Safety Car period meant a five-second gap he built against the car in second came to nothing, but he regained it quite easily after the restart. Aoki went into the pit to change to Shibata on Lap 32, and the team replaced all four tires at the stop. This resulted in giving away the lead position for them, however, because the car in second then didn’t change tires at its stop, the pit stop time was shorter than that of the GT-R.
Nonetheless, Shibata followed the new leader closely. In the closing stage, both cars’ pace dropped, but Shibata was slightly better at pace. So, many expected a dramatic change of leader sometime in the final laps until Runnp Rivaux GT-R suddenly halted at the V Corner, only four laps to go…
This handed the second place to JLOC Lamborghini GT3. Starting the race with Motojima at the wheel, the car remained in fifth but stayed close to the leading pack. At the pit stop on Lap 22, the team changed only two rear tires during the driver change from Motojima to Kogure. The decision led to gaining a position during the stop, and Kogure earned one more on the track on Lap 36. Thus, he saw the checkered flag in second, which rewarded the team’s struggle since the start of the season.
The fifth-place finish by the Shintaro Kawabata / Tsubasa Kondo pair in Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS was also remarkable because they started the race from the 26th grid!
—Result : 3rd. in the GT300 class—
“This is the fourth season since we started to work with Yokohama Tire. We had already scored a pole position and had been only one step shy from the podium several times. But finally we got on it. It wasn’t the highest place, but this is still important feat and we are so happy to score something to be proud of. We tried to keep our own pace. We had a few issues in the races this year, so I sometimes thought of such possibility during the race, to be honest. But we trust Yokohama Tire, and the team prepared a good car. We felt that rewarding their efforts was our primary mission. We just hope to go upward steadily from here.”
“Red Bull Motul Mugen NSX-GT took third place. The drivers managed the tires very well under challenging conditions, and the weather helped, as it didn’t rain until the end. So we are glad to see them on the podium. For this weekend, we brought in some new developments based on the lessons learned from the first two races at Fuji and the last round at Suzuka. On top of that, the team improved the car as well. There might be a synergic effect from both of them.
“WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra was the fastest in the official practice and looked promising in the race. It was just unlucky that they had to retire because of an accident, but the most important thing is the driver was unhurt. It was quite unfortunate for Realize Corporation ADVAN GT-R. It showed a glimpse of its actual performance in the warmup session this morning. If it hadn’t been for a wrong tire choice in the qualifying, they could have made an exciting race situation.
“There were ups and downs in the first three races, but we already have some ideas to fix the issues we had. We are looking forward to seeing how they will work in the next Fuji round. Of course, we will put some feedback from this Motegi round for further improvement.
“Regarding the GT300 class, it was a shame that Runup Rivaux GT-R’s excellent performance didn’t lead to a favorable result, although there was nothing we could do to change the outcome. Every Nissan GT-R GT3 has a high potential this year, and I believe our tires match up to it now. And we are happy to see JLOC Lamborghini GT3 made a podium finish. We had some difficulty adapting tires to this particular car, so we discussed the tire development directions with the team. The tires we provided them for this race have new construction, and they produced a good result, which was satisfying.
“We didn’t have any issue about tires. This suggests we are in the right direction. By putting feedback from this round, we would like to build on this result and raise the level of total performance.”