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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Super Taikyu Round 3 - Fuji Speedway

Onboard video (Part 1):

Onboard video (Part 2):

Both of these videos are available in high-quality (perfect for full screen viewing) at these links:

Super Taikyu Fuji Speedway Nissan Fairlady Z race onboard view (Part 1)

Super Taikyu Fuji Speedway Nissan Fairlady Z race onboard view (Part 2)

These videos only show the start and the 5 passes.

Igor Sushko, Masaaki Nagashima, and Kazuomi Komatsu on the podium at Fuji

Last weekend was the third round of Super Taikyu at Fuji Speedway. It's a rather different setting compared to last race's Sendai Hiland track, which is a decades-old track in the middle of a mountain range. As a Formula-One host track, Fuji Speedway is all that a driver can want - the smoothest surface, good track width, challenging configuration, and safe run-offs. The garage facilities are also more than twice the size of any other track, allotting each team plenty of room with private offices, lots of TV monitors, and even a private-use restroom. Shower rooms are also scattered around every 100 meters through the pits.

Due to the proximity of the track to my house in Yokohama (only about an hour), I arrived on Friday morning and got on with the car setup. The car was pretty good from the get-go as it remained unchanged from the Hiland race, but I knew that we would have to minimize rear drag to take advantage of Fuji's long straights.

Between the three test sessions on Friday, I was able to come up with a pretty good setup. But for the Saturday qualifying, I wanted to go a bit further, which meant lowering the car 2mm F/R and lowering the rear wing even more.
This backfired however, with the car losing its good over-steering characteristics. I was really surprised, but there could be no mistake that the lowered rear-wing was actually generating more downforce/drag. 100R, a very long right-hander in 4th gear around 140-160km/h made me struggle with an impossible understeer (too much rear-traction and not enough front traction). When the rear generates a lot of downforce compared to the front, all that force actually pushes downward on the rear so much that it unloads the front a bit, making the balance problem even more severe. A bare 2mm lowering of the ride height in the front and rear also had very bad side-effects. The suspension was no longer able to function properly with a lot of bouncing and severe understeer in slow corners.
Some of our race queens

The reason that one can make both suspension and aerodynamic adjustments (to an extent of course) and still distinguish the cause-and-effect of each is actually pretty simple - downforce only comes into play at high speeds, and is rather significant in the balance of the car, but in lower speeds (2nd gear/3 gear corners) the effect of downforce is nearly null, so at lower speeds, one can safely attribute the balance of the car to the suspension.

Of course, this is not the case in formula cars and prototypes, as they generate significantly more downforce (even at low speeds) and are much more sensitive to all adjustments.

So, I ended up butching the qualifying with a time of 1:54.2, around 1.5 seconds slower than the top car in the class. I made four attack laps in hopes of getting some kind of miracle time despite the poor balance of the car, but all four were within 0.2 seconds of the above top time, so it was pretty clear this was near the limit for this setup.

I looked over the data and saw that we lost over 6 km/h of speed on the straights, and combined with my feeling of strong rear downforce and the front lifting up, there could be no mistake that the lowered rear wing was not working as intended.
Fuji Speedway Track Map

I used our third driver's qualifying session as a test since the C-driver only needs to pass a standard lap time and the actual time does not count for position, not that I could do any worse than I had already done. So we raised the car back up 2mm front/rear and tried 2 wing configurations - just raising the front of the wing which makes the distance the air travels above the plane and below the plane more equal, and also reverting to Friday's wing configuration.

Sure enough even on old tires and a full tank of gas, Komatsu-san easily drove in the mid-1:53s. The data also showed a regaining of 7km/h with the new adjustment, while the Friday's configuration did not show that gain in speed.

Although our qualifying was horrible, we finally found the right setup for Fuji.

Igor Sushko before the race at Fuji Speedway

We decided that I will be the starting driver, followed by Nagashima-san, and Komatsu-san the anchor.

With an 8th place start, I had to make up lots of positions for us to get on the podium again.
Start of the Super Taikyu race at Fuji Speedway

I did. My stint was 42 laps, and I passed 5 cars to pit in 3rd place.

After the pass of the #113 Nissan Fairlady Z for 3rd place

After my stint, Nagashima-san and Komatsu-san maintained the position and we finished the 4-hour race in 3rd place.

The Super Taikyu podium for #15 Nissan Fairlady Z

Next race is this coming weekend at Fuji in Formula Renault.
The next Super Taikyu race is on 7/20 in Hokkaido, the northern-most island, and is a 24-hour endurance race.

Visit the photo gallery for: 2008 Super Taikyu Rd.3 at Fuji Speedway (#15 Okabe Jidosha Dixcel Nissan Fairlady Z)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Super Taikyu Round 2 and FCJ Rounds 5 and 6

I was on the track for 8 days within a 10 day period which ended last week.

#15 Okabe Jidosha Nissan Fairlady Z at Sendai Hiland

May 17th/18th was the second round of the Super Taikyu series, held at Sendai Hiland. With pure luck, we managed to qualify in 2nd position despite Nagashima-san's qualifying performance of 5th. The qualifying position is determined by the sum of the two drivers, and when my 15 minute qualifying session came around, all of the sudden the rain came down, immediate and hard. I always like to be the first car out of the pits for qualifying, and it certainly paid off this time. As the track was getting wet but everyone of course starting on dry tires, I had to amend my original plan of gradually warming up the tires for 2 laps before going for the attack. I immediately decided to attack on the first lap out, to hopefully still get a time in before the track got completely wet. I was slipping and sliding warming up the tires during my out lap but there was some heat in them by the start of the second lap. The conditions were severe, with some parts of the track near complete-dry and others seeing tons of rain.
The decision to stay out on dry tires and get a lap in before the track got too wet paid off, with a 2:03 lap time, good enough for 2nd overall combined time behind a BMW M3.

The team has the in-car footage of the qualifying, which I will be sure to upload in the near future.

Nissan Fairlady Z racecar at Sendai Hiland
The race was not nearly as spectacular though. Nagashima-san was the starting driver with the longest stint, but the car ran out of fuel going into turn 1 on the 52nd lap forcing an early pit but more crucially losing a lot of time during his in-lap, which Nagashima-san was forced to cruise in neutral as much as possible to at least get back to the pits. After the pit-stop, we were in 5th place. I drove for a 30+ lap stint and held a great pace, actually topping the fastest in-race lap time of the winning team's driver - Maejima Shuji, who also happens to be my teammate from last year.

Igor Sushko at Sendai Hiland for Super Taikyu
I was able to continue with the setup adjustments on the car during the Friday practice sessions and feel very confident going into the next race at Fuji. Fuji is a track I am very familiar with, having had many races in FCJ there this past season.
The three drivers and their countries' flags

The race ended on Sunday and I quickly returned to Yokohama to attend a meeting with my sponsor, H.I.S. travel, the following day in Tokyo. After the Monday meeting, I drove to Twin Ring Motegi for a 1-week test-and-race with FCJ.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, we tested for 7 hours.
#24 H.I.S. Travel FCJ (Formula Renault), driven by Igor Sushko

My quickness continued into FCJ, with only 0.8 seconds separating me from the top driver on fresh tires and barely 0.6 seconds on used tires in Wednesday's final session.
We had a break on Thursday, which I used to go to nearby Mito and went to an art museum in downtown.

The two Friday practices were okay, but I could not get the kind of result I had in testing earlier in the week. The qualifying was quite wild though - on my first hot lap, still on the straight before hitting the brakes for turn 1, I heard a very clear *snap*, but couldn't really feel anything beyond the sound at that point. But then going into turn 3, my rear almost came out under brakes, and the straightaway speed seemed a bit low, even unable to get into 6th gear where I usually do on the back-straight. The qualifying session is only 15 minutes though, so not enough time to fix the car and get back out, since we run a near 2 minute lap time at Motegi. All I could do was push to get the best time out of the situation, which was only good for 23rd place. On the final lap, I noticed in my rear view mirror that the flare in front of the left rear tire was actually digging into the tire itself. The flare is supported by one metal rod, and it seems that for some reason it failed during the heavy downforce condition at the end of the front straight. After the failure, the incoming wind was hitting the flare into the tire rather than creating downforce.

#24 H.I.S. Travel FCJ (Driver: Igor Sushko)

During the 10 minute interval between Q1 and Q2, the team repaired the area as best as they could and replaced the left rear tire with a used one from the previous day, as per the FCJ rules. In Q2, it took good 2 laps to finally warm this tire up, but the balance was all over the place and my best time was good for 23rd again, although a full second faster than in Q1.

After the qualifying ended, I got a chance to check out the damage, and it was pretty severe - the tire was actually eaten to the metal wire.
Broken FCJ rear tire flare
Damaged tire from a component failure due to downforce/debris

I soldiered on for the afternoon race but could not race to satisfaction, finishing 19th or so.

Then the Sunday race was a different story - it was raining from the previous night and our morning race was in complete wet with more rain coming down. We got our shiny new wet tires. My starting position was unfortunately 23rd, so I had to make up lots of ground and fast. The start went according to plan. I passed exactly 10 cars during the first lap. Then I picked off a few more to get to 10th. But then a slight miscalculation - going into the braking zone at turn 3, the car in front of me, which was rather far, broke way too early, and I had no choice but to avoid front-to-rear collision and dove inside. Fortunately, our tires touched without any body damage and we were both able to continue on. The slowdown cost me at least 3 positions though. After that, even though the surface conditions began to improve, the car was rather difficult to handle, and it seemed possible that I bent some of the suspension arms on the right side of the car during the collision. I struggled with rear tires locking under brakes while even at high-speed, which was abnormal. I had to take the brake balance much to the front and brake significantly sooner for each corner. I finished 15th, but knowing that I could have gotten plenty of points had I been a bit more aware and calculating to have avoided the contact. After the race ended, I saw that one of the right-rear arms was indeed severely bent.

The entire weekend was a great experience in that I was able to manage a few different unusual detrimental conditions (broken aero and damaged tire, bent arms in the rain) without crashing or spinning off the road.

After the Fuji race for Super Taikyu, I will be back to the same track in FCJ, so I look forward to racking up more points. Onwards!
FCJ car from the rear

View the Sendai Hiland Super Taikyu Gallery

View the Motegi FCJ Gallery