【SUPER GT Round 6 / Sportsland Sugo】

Eventful Race At Sugo With Red Flag Interruption, Two Yokohama-shoed GT500 Cars Finish In Points

SUPER GT Round 6

Date 16-17 September 2023
Course Sportsland Sugo
Weather Race : Cloudy, Qualify : Rain / Cloudy
Surface Race : Dry, Qualify : Wet / Dry
Race Laps 84Laps
(1Lap = 3,586m)

The sixth round of the 2023 Super GT Series took place at Sportsland Sugo in Miyagi Prefecture. The eight-race championship series reached its closing stage with this meeting.

In the GT500 class, as usual Yokohama Tire supported WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra and Realize Corporation ADVAN Z. The latter, in particular, was keen to win here, as Kohei Hirate has a good track record at this circuit. Another reason was that the car’s speed in the qualifying had been outstanding, but it had yet to lead to deserved race results, as it sometimes suffered misfortunes. The WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra’s crew also wanted to score big points to keep their championship hopes alive, even though the car had to carry a 48kg Success Weight for its win in the third round at Suzuka.

As for the GT300 class, fourteen cars relied on Yokohama Tire’s products, with UpGarage NSX GT3 heading them. The NSX got its second victory of the season in the previous meeting and entered this round as the championship leader.

The weather was quite erratic throughout the weekend. On Friday, when the teams unloaded their cars and equipment, it started to rain around noon. On the qualifying day, September 16th, Saturday, the sky was overcast, but the track surfaces were still wet. Then, during the official practice session in the morning, the track conditions gradually improved thanks to some shafts of sunlight but never turned totally dry.

In the exclusive times for each class toward the end of the practice, UpGarage NSX GT3 with a 100kg Success Weight set the fifth fastest time in the GT300 class and became the top Yokohama user in the session. When the GT300 exclusive time was about to end, the race control had to terminate it with a red flag because of a GT300 car crash. And the GT500 exclusive time saw that Realize Corporation ADVAN Z ended up in seventh and WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra in 15th.

The tarmac was almost dry, but the sky was getting dark again. And raindrops started to fall when the supporting race ended. The rain was strong enough to wet the whole track surface in no time, so the race control declared “Wet Track” before Group A of the GT300 class began the battle of Q1 in the qualifying session. In this group, Bamboo Airways Lamborghini GT3 was the third fastest and became the top Yokohama user. As you may remember, the Lamborghini fought for a win with UpGarage NSX GT3 until the final lap of the previous Suzuka round.

Together with the Lamborghini, two more Yokohama-shoed cars cleared the bar for Q2 in Group A. They were Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R with a 100kg Success Weight on board and Dobot Audi R8 LMS, which has been on a high note since mid-season.

As the rain stopped during the session for Group A, Q1 for Group B was run on the dry surfaces. Amazingly, UpGarage NSX GT3 topped the time sheet in this group, despite carrying a 100kg weight as with Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R. Three more Yokohama users, Yogibo NSX GT3, GoodSmile Hatsune Miku AMG, and RunUp Rivaux GT-R, survived the battle for Q2.

Unfortunately, when Q2 ended, the top three grids were filled with cars relying on the other tire manufacturer that has always excelled at Sugo. However, Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R and UpGarage NSX GT3 secured the fifth and sixth grids on the third row, so the hopes for these heavier cars to score big points in the race were still high.

Regarding the GT500 class, many expected a solid result by Weedsport ADVAN GR Supra because Sena Sakaguchi was the course record holder. However, the car’s setup could have been better when the qualifying session began, and there were two reasons for that. Firstly, the track conditions differed between the practice and the qualifying session, and secondly, the practice was cut short due to the red flag.

Recently, the qualifying in the Super GT, particularly that for the GT500 class, has been extremely tight, and sometimes only one second covered all fifteen cars in the class. Yuji Kunimoto, behind the wheel of WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra in Q1, drove an incredible qualifying lap, but he ended the session in 11th, missing out on a fight in Q2 by 0.2 seconds. The Success Weight the car got for a race win certainly affected his performance.

Realize Corporation ADVAN Z made its way to Q2, as Hirate set the fourth fastest time in Q1. Daiki Sasaki also drove hard but ended the session in 7th, as he failed to improve Hirate’s Q1 qualifying lap time. Nevertheless, they were still confident that fighting for the top slots would be possible, while they would start the race from the middle of the field.

The sky was overcast again on the race day, September 17th, Sunday. The clouds sometimes broke up, but there was no strong sunlight, so the temperatures didn’t go up. The air/track temperatures were at 26/32 degrees centigrade when the 84-lap race got underway at 13:30. It was comfortable compared to the blistering heat in the recent rounds.

The track at Sugo is one of the shortest among those the Super GT regularly visits, only second to Okayama International Circuit. As a result, traffic is always a problem for the competitors, which inevitably tends to cause accidents on the track. But, this time, racing was clean from the opening lap in both classes, and there was no remarkable position change during the early stage.

Starting from the seventh grid, Sasaki, behind the wheel of Realize Corporation ADVAN Z, fought hard for sixth and followed closely to the car ahead of him until he finally overtook it on Lap 21. Then, at the end of Lap 30, he headed to the pit box to change to Hirate, who undertook the 58-lap long second stint for them.

Kunimoto in WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra came into the pit two laps earlier than Sasaki. The timing of their stop was earliest possible under the rules, as a driver must drive for at least one-third of the race distance.

On Lap 37, when most cars had done their pit stop and driver change, a big accident occurred just before the pit entry. Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R, with Teppei Natori at the wheel, collided with a GT500 car, and the latter’s driver lost control of his car, resulting in a heavy crash into the guard rails.

The race control deployed the Safety Car first but stopped the race with the red flag soon after that. Fortunately, the GT500 car’s driver was uninjured, and the race was restarted behind the Safety Car about one hour later. As the interim top two cars were yet to make the mandatory stop, the effective leader was the car running in third on the track, and Realize Corporation ADVAN Z was in sixth. However, because of the relative positions at the time of the red flag between the interim leader, each car, and the control line, the cars behind the Z were “lapped” by the leader.

When the top two had done their pit stop, and the order on the track coincided with the actual one, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z moved up to fifth. But, with the close packs of GT300 cars everywhere on the track, Hirate faced difficulties keeping his pace and position and crossed the finish line in sixth despite his strenuous efforts. Sakaguchi also drove the long second stint in WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra, and his consistent pace throughout the duty led to the ninth-place finish.

However, the car that finished first was disqualified because of a technical infringement found at the post-race scrutineering, which meant all finishers were promoted one place each. Thus, in the race’s final result, Realize Corporation ADVAN Z was ranked fifth, and WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra was eighth, adding more championship points to their tallies.

In the GT300 class, Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R and UpGarage NSX GT3 came into the pit just before the Safety Car and the consequent red flag. Doing so, they gained significant time, as others on the track were forced to slow down. But the GT-R was given a drive-through penalty for causing the collision with the GT500 car and fell out of contention. On the other hand, the NSX was running in second when the race reached the closing stage.

The top three, including UpGarage NSX GT3, carried on at a similar pace, so the two to three-second gap between them remained the same until the final lap. Takashi Kobayashi was the driver of the NSX in its second stint, and, from his point of view, the leader just disappeared from his sight when it entered the circuit’s long final corner.

Believing that he would finish in second, Kobayashi exited the final corner, but he suddenly saw the race leader slowing down on the track when he came to the latter part of the pit straight after a steep up-hill before that. And he overtook it just a few meters before the finish line, playing out an unbelievable race ending.

However, the race control decided to disqualify UpGarage NSX GT3, as the post-race scrutineering pointed out a violation of technical regulations. Consequently, as was in the GT500 class, all GT300 class finishers were promoted one position each, and Dobot Audi R8 LMS became the highest place finisher among the Yokohama Tires users. The car started the race from the seventh grid, and their steady race execution led to receiving the checkered flag in fourth, eventually scoring their second third place of the season.

Drivers’ Voice

Daiki Sasaki (Realize corporation ADVAN Z)

【Result : 5th. in the GT500 class】

“Regarding the tires we used in the race, I felt a good grip and could drive at decent pace and lap times. The track is narrow at Sugo, and the overtake points are limited, so it wasn’t easy for me to move up through the field. I was newly aware of the importance of a better qualifying result here, as the competition in the GT500 class has been so tight recently. We still have something to improve, such as the removability of tire pick-up while the car is running, but I believe we already surpassed our rivals in the peak of performance. So, I just hope we would improve the areas where I think we are weak at the moment in the future.”

Kohei Hirate (Realize corporation ADVAN Z)

【Result : 5th. in the GT500 class】

“Judging by Sasaki’s performance in the first half, I felt confident that the tires we brought for this race would be good ones to race with. The track time in the free practice on Saturday wasn’t enough for us because of the red flag and bad track conditions. Therefore, we didn’t have a good long-run data before we used the tires in the race, and we were concerned a little bit about a long stint. But the tire wear was reasonable until the end, and I could move up to fourth at a time during the race. Because of traffic and some other factors, we lost a few positions from there, but we still finished the race in a better place than our starting position. And I am relieved to see that we could fight with the cars around us.”

Yuji Kunimoto (WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra)

【Result : 8th. in the GT500 class】

“We made a few adjustment on the car for the race, based on what we felt during the warm-up session before that. As a result, my performance was good enough in the early stage. But I started to struggle after that and asked for driver change at the earliest possible timing, although I knew the longer I went on, the easier Sakaguchi could handle the second stint. The track conditions kept changing and were tough to deal with, and I had a hard time on the track because I couldn’t get a feel of the tire grip as much as I hoped for. But our pace was consistent during the second stint and sometimes better than the car around us, especially in the closing stage. As our consistency has been good recently, if we could do the same in a level one step higher, finishing the race in one of the top slots would be quite possible, in my opinion. In the next Autopolis round, we will try our best to fight for a higher place and, ultimately, a race win.”

Sena Sakaguchi (WedsSport ADVAN GR Supra)

【Result : 8th. in the GT500 class】

“At the restart after the red flag interruption, the warm-up of the tires were reasonably good, so I could overtake a car ahead of me. Even after that, I felt my pace was better than that of the cars around. As a result of fighting for a position with the leading cars in the championship, I could know where are the places we were faster and the places we were not. That was good to know, really. The car was well-balanced and competitive. But, to attain a better race result, I suppose our priority should be placed on the regaining qualifying performance that once we had. We will get our Success Weight reduced in the next Autopolis round, which could be a boost for us. And I believe the track’s characteristics will suit to our car and tires. So I really want to secure a good starting grid and win the race there.”

Engineer’s Voice

Takayuki Shiraishi [The Yokohama Rubber Co.,LTD. Motorsports Tire Development Dept. No.1 Tire Development Division]

“Last year’s race at Sugo was run on the wet track, and there was no tire manufacturers joint testing here this year. Therefore, we had only a few recent data about it. We had to calculate what we would need here, based on the data we had collected in the summertime races at Fuji and Suzuka, and decided the specifications of the tires we used this weekend. The temperatures were well within the range we anticipated, but there might still be some room for adjusting to Sugo’s track characteristics. And we regret that the factor could affect the qualifying performance, which fell slightly short of expectations.

“Generally, the cars in the GT300 class are heavier than those in the GT500 class. Because of this, we have been focused on a long run in our tire development. So we suppose the UpGarage NSX GT3’s incredible pace with a 100kg Success Weight was probably made possible by fully exploiting such characteristics of our tires.

“Last year, Realize Corpration ADVAN Z finished the race at Autopolis, which was a respectable result. Based on the last year’s tires, we will provide the ones that would allow the teams to perform even better there.”