【SUPER GT Round 8 / Motegi】
The 2018 Super GT series reached the final round at Twin Ring Motegi only three weeks after the previous event at Autopolis. For this season finale the race distance was 250km which was 50km shorter than those of other normal rounds and the cars that had participated all other rounds were allowed to run without any weight handicaps.
Kazuki Hiramine in Manepa Lamborghini GT3 attracted much attention in the GT300 qualifying session on Saturday, as he secured the pole position with the new course record by improving the lap time of his team mate Marco Mapelli in Q1, which was the ninth fastest in the section, more than one and a half seconds. Tatsuya Kataoka behind the wheel of GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG finished the session in third, which was a good position to keep their championship hopes alive.
In the GT500 qualifying session, both Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R and Motul Mugen NSX-GT struggled a bit and failed to make their way into Q2. Meanwhile, WedsSport ADVAN LC500 performed better than those two. It was the sixth fastest in Q1 with Kenta Yamashita at the wheel and then Yuji Kunimoto put the car on the seventh grid in Q2.
The race day was favored by good weather. Under a clear sky, the air temperature was relatively low at 19 degrees Celsius but the track temperature at 30 degrees was higher than usual for this time of the year.
WedsSport ADVAN LC500 also performed strongly in the race. Being in charge of the starting driver of the car, Yamashita moved up to sixth on the second lap and continued in a very good pace.
Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R and Motul Mugen NSX-GT started the race with Mitsunori Takaboshi and Hideki Muto behind the wheel respectively. They both lost a few positions during the first laps but they were able to keep going at a decent pace.
On Lap 20, the Yokohama shoed GT-R made a pit stop to change from Takaboshi to Joao Paulo de Oliveira. WedsSport ADVAN LC500 came in to the pit seven laps later when it was running in the interim third and went back to the track with Kunimoto in the driving seat. Then Muto handed Motul Mugen NSX-GT to Daisuke Nakajima on Lap 29 and the team decided not to change any tires during the stop.
Kunimoto’s drive for the last 20 laps of the race was remarkable. After resuming racing in ninth, his pace got better and better and he managed to come up to seventh on Lap 40. And he didn’t stop there. By overtaking a Lexus LC500 and a Honda NSX-GT, he grabbed the fifth nine laps to go and finished in the position. This was the fifth point finish of the season for WedsSport ADVAN LC500.
Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R finished the race in tenth. Motul Mugen NSX-GT had to endure a hard time for the second half of the race as well but it still completed the full race distance and was classified in 14 th.
The GT300 early leader was the pole sitting Manepa Lamborghini with Mapelli behind the wheel. Kataoka in GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG improved his position from third to second at Turn 1, while Legal Frontier Lamborghini GT3 which Yuya Motojima was driving lost a lot of ground due to an incident at the Hair Pin Corner, after starting from the seventh grid.
Mapelli gradually pulled away from the rest of the field and build a good 14 second lead by Lap 18. However, he suddenly slowed down on the next lap because of a puncture of his left rear tire, caused by running over a debris. Mapelli managed to take the car back to the pit and handed it to Hiramine.
Their bad luck didn’t end here, though. There was a broken part in the car’s left rear wheel arch, which was a consequence of the puncture. The fresh tire fitted at the stop was damaged again by the part. This meant Hiramine had to make a stop again for repair and the new tires, losing any chance of getting a good result.
This gave GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG the position of race leader. Kataoka at the wheel of the car headed to the pit on Lap 20 to change to Nobuteru Taniguchi, who resumed racing after changing only two tires on the left hand side at the stop. What frustrated him was, however, the fact that he found himself running in second, instead of first, and then in third when all GT300 cars had done their pit stops. This was because the two cars now ahead of him didn’t change tires at their stop.
Much to everyone’s surprise, now Kimiya Sato in Legal Frontier Lamborghini GT3 was in fourth. After the early stage mishap, Motojima slowly but steadily made up the lost ground, plus the team opted for not changing tires at the pit stop on Lap 29, which further improved their position.
Taniguchi and Sato were actually involved in a battle for second for a time but a position change wasn’t possible.
GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG finished the race in third as the proud reigning champion but couldn’t defend the title. Nevertheless, they finished the championship season in fourth which was still the highest place among the Yokohama Tire users. Legal Frontier Lamborghini GT3 claimed the second consecutive point finish.
—Result : 3rd. in the GT500 class—
“Looking back the whole season, I guess there might be a missing piece within us… And the result showed it. Throughout the season, we had some close fights, as it was today, but we always lost it out. I think this shows us something important. So we would spring back stronger from this frustration and hope to build a better structure than our rivals to fight for the championship again.”
“WedsSport ADVAN LC500 had looked promising in testing, so we were very optimistic about the car’s performance today. It was really good anyway because we introduced the new spec tires and got a good result. On the other hand, we also brought in the new tires for Forum Engineering ADVAN GT-R and Motul Mugen NSX-GT but those were below our expectations. Now our mission is to probe the cause of such imbalance and to find out how to give all three cars the same level of performance in terms of tires.
“We had struggled to make the tires suitable to the cars last year, as it was the first year under the revised regulations. But this year we have performed well from time to time either in the qualifying sessions or the races and we think it has been made possible by some progress in our tire development. For the next year, we would like to go further in this direction, so that we would be able to perform in every situation during the race weekend.
“Legal Frontier Lamborghini GT3 had real potential to win the race in the GT300 class. So it was a shame for them to lose a good opportunity today. We examined the tires in question and found out a penetration which normally occurs when a car drives over a debris on the first one. So we suppose it was the cause of the first puncture. As for the second one, the tire seemed to be damaged by a broken part of the car itself
“GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG could have been able to win the race, had it returned to the track ahead of the eventual winner after the pit stop. But it was out of our control. By finishing in third, they showed their pride as the reigning champion.
“These years, we have been pushed by other tire manufacturers so hard in the GT300 class. Of course, we should have avoid losing out in the competition but we did lose it in reality, which we greatly regret. Honestly, the situation in the tire development work has been really tough. But we know we need to be back in a position to fight for race wins regularly as soon as possible, if not winning everything as we used to do.”