Round 6 at Fuji Speedway turned out to be just as hot and humid as the previous round at Suzuka. With air temperature above 30 and a track temperature of 53 degrees celsius for the start of the race it looked like it was going to be two hard stints for both drivers and tyres. For qualifying we had opted for a harder compound as we weren’t able to get the softer one to last during our longer run in the free practice. As a result we qualified down in 11th but felt confident that at least a few of the cars in front of us had gambled on a softer tyre and that we would be able to get well within points scoring positions as the race progressed.
In august we had spent two days of testing at this particular track with promising results. And with a 3rd place finish at Suzuka just a few weeks earlier the whole team was in good spirits. For the start of this race weekend we had opted to remove our air conditioning system as it didn’t look like it was going to be that hot in the days leading up to the race. But on Sunday morning it became clear to us that it would be necessary, even though this was a regular 300km race. The mechanics worked flat out in between the warm-up on Sunday morning and the start of the race to get everything fitted in time.
Fuji is traditionally a track where Lexus are very strong and this year they seem to have a very powerful engine which certainly helps on Fuji’s long straight. Nissan had qualified first and second with most of the Lexus’s right behind. As we lined up for the start I was on our set of used qualifying tyres which already had two attacks on them from the first and second knock-down sessions. For that reason I would have to be cautious in managing and saving the tyres for the first few laps until I was certain they would last until we were safely into our refuelling window.
As the lights went green for the start of the formation lap I went to start the engine and immediately realised we had a problem. Even though the starter motor was working perfectly the engine refused to fire and resetting all the systems didn’t make any difference. I had to be pushed back into the pits where my crew were waiting for me with a quick fix to the problem. We got the engine started but after I emerged back on the track I was already nearly 40 seconds behind the next GT500 car in front of me.
It was a lonely drive to the pitstop and driver change, Hiro took over on new tyres but had to pit again during the last part of his stint as his tyres blistered. Obviously the problem at the start robbed us of a result but in hindsight we would have struggled to finish within the top-10 anyway due to our tyre wear.
Next up is two days of testing at Motegi next week ahead of round 7 at Autopolis. We will all be working hard in the lead up to the next race to get ourselves into a stronger position for the final two rounds of the championship so that at least we can finish the season on a high.