【SUPER GT Round 5 ／ Suzuka Circuit】
UpGarage NSX GT3’s Crew Stands As Championship Leader, Timely Pit Stop Gives Them Season’s Second Win
SUPER GT Round 5
|Date||26-27 August 2023|
|Weather||Race : Fine, Qualify : Fine|
|Surface||Race : Dry, Qualify : Dry|
(1Lap = 5,807m)
The fifth round of the 2023 Super GT series was held at Suzuka Circuit, Mie Prefecture, from August 26th to the 27th. The sun was even more scorching hot over this weekend than in the last Fuji round, and two GT500 cars and fourteen GT300 cars relied on Yokohama Tire’s products to participate in the race in brutal heat. The event must have been a perfect wrap-up of the summer vacation period for the fans.
Because of the strong sunshine, the air/track temperatures already reached 30/41 degrees centigrade when the practice session took place in the morning of Saturday, August 26th, when the qualifying session was to follow after that. Particularly, the track temperature rose to 46 degrees at the end of the practice and hit 48 degrees just before noon when the FCY (Full Course Yellow) simulation was done.
The fastest car in the qualifying of the previous Suzuka meeting, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z, showed off its speed again in the practice session for the GT500 class. It set 1’48″332, which was only beaten by the pacesetter by 0.061 seconds. On the other hand, the winner of the Suzuka round, WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra, settled for seventh thanks to a 44 kg Success Weight, but the gap with the fastest was just 0.501 seconds. However, all GT500 cars’ best times were covered by only one second, so extremely tight battles in the qualifying were expected.
As for the GT300 class, Anest Iwata Racing RC F GT3 with no Success Weight was the fastest Yokohama user and second overall. While the cars with a lighter Success Weight tended to set better lap times in the session, UpGarage NSX GT3, carrying a 60kg weight as a result of winning the season opener, performed solidly and was in the fifth slot of the time sheet.
When the qualifying session began shortly after 3 p.m., the air temperature was around 32 degrees, only slightly higher than that in the morning hours. Still, the relentless sunlight heated the circuit’s tarmac up to 53 degrees. In Group A of Q1 for the GT300 class, Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3 set the second fastest time and became the top Yokohama Tire user.
Then, Pacific Vspo NAC AMG followed it, only 0.032 seconds shy of the Lamborghini’s time, and three more cars from the Yokohama camp, UpGarage NSX GT3, Anest Iwata Racing RC F GT3, and JLOC Lamborghini GT3, made their way to Q2.
In Group B, Dobot Audi R8 LMS, which made the team’s maiden podium finish in the previous round, beat everyone else, and GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG came in second. But the most amazing thing was that Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R ended the session in third, only about 0.4 seconds behind the Audi, despite carrying the maximum 100kg Success Weight.
In addition, Yobibo NSX GT3 and Mach Syaken Air Buster MC86 Mach-go survived the battle for Q2. Therefore, ten Yokohama Tire users from both groups joined the fight for the pole position.
The pole position eventually went to the car that used a competing tire manufacturer’s rubber. But GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG and Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3 secured the third and fourth grids in Q2, so they filled the second row. The championship leader, Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R, took the ninth grid, which meant a point finish was well within reach for them. Unfortunately, UpGarage NSX GT3 couldn’t join the session and was allocated to the 16th grid due to a technical problem that was found just before the start of Q2.
In the GT500 class, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z clocked the same lap time as the top Q1 qualifier and easily cleared the bar for Q2. Daiki Sasaki, behind the car’s wheel in Q2, desperately wanted the pole position, and probably his eagerness backfired. His best qualifying time was deleted because he exceeded the track limit at Degner Curve on the lap, so the car ended the session in sixth. WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra was eliminated in Q1, and its qualifying time placed it on the 13th grid.
The scorching sun returned on Sunday, August 27th. The air/track temperatures reached 32/53 during the 20-minute warm-up session before the race. While the air temperature dropped slightly after that, it was still sweltering hot when the 77-lap, 450km race began.
Nothing remarkable happened during the opening laps, and no significant position changes occurred. Still, Kohei Hirate, at the wheel of Realize Corporation ADVAN Z, pushed hard, and the fight for fourth between Hirate and two other drivers ahead of him heated up. He tried to gain a position at Spoon Curve on Lap 10, becoming almost abreast of the closest rival’s car, and entered into 130R Corner tail-to-nose with it. Then he kept the momentum and dove into the inside at Turn 1 on the next lap but without success.
Almost simultaneously, Dobot Audi R8 LMS went off the track at Nippo Corner. As the car halted on the spot, the race control called for FCY. Trying to take advantage of it, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z headed to the pit lane for its first pit stop, but it was too late to come in as the pit was already closed by the rules. As a result, the car was handed a 60-second stop-and-go penalty, which meant it effectively dropped out of contention. Eventually, it ended the race in 14th, one lap behind the winner.
Starting from the 13th grid, WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra made its first stop at the end of Lap 26. The car returned to the pit after the 20-lap second stint, which was relatively shorter, to go longer in the third and final stint from a strategic perspective. Some of its direct rivals opted for making stops under FCYs, but many of them, if not all, didn’t gain from the choice since it didn’t help them improve their pace or cause them to lose extra time during the pit stop. Therefore, the team found WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra was running in tenth, in the scope of a point finish.
During the final laps, another GR Supra was closing in from behind, but Sena Sakaguchi, who drove the car in the last stint, managed to fend it off and finished in tenth. Then, the car ended the race in second and was disqualified because of a technical infringement found in the post-race scrutineering. Consequently, Wedssport ADVAN GR Supra was promoted to ninth and got two championship points. On the same basis, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z was declared the 13th-place finisher in the final result.
Regarding the GT300 class, GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG and Bamboo Airways Lamborghini fiercely fought for third in the early stage. And behind them, the battle for fifth between multiple cars, including Anest Iwata Racing RC F GT3, was also worth watching.
The GT300 teams were inclined to make the first stop at the earliest opportunity the rules prescribe. When all competitors were done with the first stop, Anest Iwata Racing RC F GT3, one of the early stoppers, was running in third, JLOC Lamborghini GT3 in sixth, and Yogibo NSX GT3 in seventh. Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R with the maximum Success Weight was in 11th, just one position shy of a point finish. However, the car went off before the 130R Corner and hit the tire barriers due to a sudden mechanical failure.
The incident caused the second FCY of the race, and UpGarage NSX GT3 significantly benefited from this opportunity. On Saturday, the car survived the battle for Q2 but was unable to join the most important part of the qualifying because of an issue in the car’s electric system. So it had to start the race from the 16th grid, but Takashi Kobayashi, who was behind the wheel of the car in their first stint, gradually moved up through the field before making a pit stop on Lap 22.
Kobayashi’s partner, Syun Koide, also drove at a consistent pace in the second stint, and the NSX took the interim lead when it resumed racing after their second pit stop under the FCY because of a slightly longer stopping time of the Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3, which came in on the same lap.
After the FYC was lifted, UpGarage NSX GT3 and Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3 formed a firm one-two by the Yokohama Tire users toward the end of the race. Although one of the rivals, the car started from the pole position, rapidly closed the gap with them from behind, its pace wasn’t fast enough to catch up with the top two.
Kosuke Matsuura in the Lamborghini kept putting heavy pressure on Koide, a Super GT rookie, in the NSX throughout the closing stage. But Koide never gave way to the veteran and received the checkered flag first, scoring their second win of the season since the opening round at Okayama.
The result pushed the Kobayashi/Koide pair to the drivers’ championship leader. Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R failed to add any points in this round because of the retirement and fell back to third in the point standings by just two points.
Yuji Kunimoto (WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra)
【Result : 9th. in the GT500 class】
“We couldn’t get a good starting position in the qualifying because the conditions didn’t help make the best of our package. I mean, the car’s weight, the track temperature that was higher than that in the third round when we were really fast, and the direction of wind were the main factors. The situation in the race differed little from that, and I struggled to drive at a competitive pace in my stint. But somehow I could manage to extend the stint to Lap 26, and Sakaguchi did a brilliant job to keep our position toward the end. So all in all we could execute a good race, I would say.”
Takayuki Shiraishi [The Yokohama Rubber Co.,LTD. Motorsports Tire Development Dept. No.1 Tire Development Division]
“Realize Corporation ADVAN Z has shown its speed both in the qualifying and the race, but it has yet to lead to a good result. Especially considering that the tires performed well, it was so disappointing.
“Looking back on the qualifying session, the track conditions weren’t excellent. And, as the conditions gradually improved, every car started to set faster lap times, but GR Supras generally seemed to struggle to keep up with other cars’ improvements. We wish we could help WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra with our tire’s performance and regret that we couldn’t provide the tires better suited to the car.
“As for the GT300 class, UpGarage NSX GT3 made their second win of the season. This meant Yokohama users have won three races out of five so far. These result tells us that we have generally provided appropriate tires to our leading cars. As we will have a circuit testing opportunity before the next round, we will make sure to be better-prepared for the remaining races of the 2023 season.”