Two weeks before the race, we tested new Yokohama Advan compounds and structures at Fuji Speedway - and the results were great - all thanks to Yokohama.
Super GT Rd.6 - Suzuka Pokka 700KM (Attendance: 33,000 people)
Now this was a completely different animal. Armed with new Yokohama tires, we were ready to roll. Beginning with the morning session on Saturday, we were 10th, with lots of room to improve, as I had to interrupt my attack on fresh tires to change settings to ensure we got everything done on time.
For this race, since it's 700km, we had a 3rd driver - Mitsuyama with us.
In the second session, we were comfortably in 2nd.
Qualifying was F1-type knockdown system. Top 16 from Q1 go to Q2, and Top 10 from Q2 proceed to Q1 for pole position fight. Each session is 10 minutes, which is good for 3 flying laps.
In Q1, we posted 2:08.3, for 3rd position. In Q2, we posted 2:08.3 again for 4th position, and in the Pole Position shootout Q3, we got 2:07.4, good for pole by a whole second!
The feeling was awesome! Finally.
Mitsuyama started the race, but the tires degraded a bit quicker than anticipated and he ended up having to pit 11 laps earlier than scheduled at lap 19. He had a minor collision with #25 Porsche in the Gyaku-bank corner, but it was only cosmetic, like the one I had back at Fuji. He pitted and I got into the car for my 30 lap stint - harnesses: done, radio connection: done, coolsuit connection: done, drink connection: done, main switch: on, clutch: in - ready to roll. But.... I am not getting the signal from the team to go... I see mechanics running around and in the mirror they are applying duct tape to the left rear (where our car got hit). It felt forever - and it was... 30 seconds.
Finally I am given the order to go and so I do, with plenty of wheel spin to get the tires up to temp asap.
With this time loss, I was about 13th at the pitout. It was an interesting stint - as the crew chief got on the radio after the first complete lap and said "Igor! That lap was too fast! We need the tires to last 30 laps. You need to slow down." (but of course in Japanese) I did already have that in mind after seeing the previous stint end in just 19 laps - but I made even more extra care of not using up all the grip of the tires early by avoiding any sliding of the rear, and actually going just a little slower and smoother than I'd like in the Esses. The Esses consist of 5 turns - left, right, left, right, and left - one immediately followed by the next, with mid-corner speeds ranging from 120mph to 75mph - which just builds a ridiculous amount of heat in especially the rear tires in case of our setup. With regards to sliding - whenever the tires have too much slip-angle - the difference between the angle of where the tires point and where the car is actually going, an extreme amount of heat gets built due to the tires' resistance, which leads to shorter life.
Still, I steadily passed cars and got up to 7th, with 27 seconds to the top at 44, giving us plenty of chances to get back up to top, especially since the race is so long.
Then on lap 27 of the stint, with just a few laps to go until my stint is over, a pack of GT500-class cars appear in the mirror and are eager to pass. At the entry into the 3rd S-turn (left-hander), I have #23 NISMO GT-R diagonally to my right, so I take a long apex at the very edge of the track - all the way on the zebra, to make it easier for him to pass me on the right. He goes for it, but before the pass is done, he swings his car to the left, and his left rear hits my right front. He spins, and my front suspension arm breaks, all the while I am trying to avoid hitting him as he is spinning in front of me.
I limp the car back to the pits. The awesome Taisan crew gets to work on fixing the car, but... our race is done.
It was a crazy weekend - from the incredible high of Pole Position, to the unfortunate crash on Sunday morning, to the crew fixing the car by race-time, to the loss of 30 seconds in the pits after running at the top, to regaining lots of that time and seeing a possible win again, and to getting taken out of the race by an overly eager maneuver by another car from another class....
But, next up is Fuji 300KM on September 12th. We've definitely got a good chance to repeat the pole and this time around - finish the race - hopefully ahead of everyone.