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Report on JAF Grand Prix

The last race of the Super GT season took place last weekend at Fuji Speedway. It was the JAF Grand Prix Fuji Sprint, a different format with individual 22 lap races for each individual driver of the regular Super GT line-up. For some of the drivers like my team mate, Hiro, it’s a busy weekend as Formula Nippon are racing at the same time.

We turned up already on Thursday afternoon for the free practice and qualifying that would take place for both drivers on the Friday. Friday morning was a beautiful day at Fuji, a typical autumn day with Mt. Fuji clearly visible in the background.

In free practice we evaluated our tyre choice with positive results as it looked like we were going to be able to run our number 1 tyre without problems. There was still a questionmark over the race on Sunday where I was due to drive as the weather forecast warned for heavy rain all saturday and it would likely be colder and with a greener track after a wet Saturday. However the result was positive and as we don’t have to start on our qualifying tyres in this particular format, we were free to use a soft qualifying compound.

This ended up being a tyre that we last used at the same event the previous year. My group was slightly tighter than my teammate with a smaller gap in between the front drivers and I ended up in 9th position. There was a 4 tenth gap to P8 so it would have been hard to qualify any higher.

Hiro was due to drive in the Saturday race and with the track being wet we were hopeful of a good result as our Yokohama tyres have proved good in similar conditions previously. It was already raining hard when the race got underway and it only got worse. On lap 11 it was so wet that the stewards decided to send the safety car out and shortly afterwards it was red flagged and that was it for the first race. Hiro had struggled all along with generating temperature in his tyres in the cold conditions and eventually decided to make a stop for adjusting his tyre pressures and with that he was out of contention anyway.

On Sunday it was a beautiful day again although with generally lower temperatures than on the Friday and for this reason we would go with our original tyre choice even though we knew there was a risk we could get graining from the tyres.

My start from P9 was good but I got boxed in going into the first corner and were unable to capitalize. My tyre warm-up had been very quick and I was able to attack throughout the first lap and immediately moved up to P6. After that I had to try to manage the tyre as I could feel a little bit of graining from early on. I chased down #1 and #35 and moved up two more positions and at the half way point throughout the race that looked like the best I could do as the front runners were too far away with a consistently higher pace than me anyway.

On lap 13 of 22 my front tyres started to get worse and from then on it was just a case of getting to the finish without loosing to many positions. Fortunately I had pulled out a big gap to the cars behind and only lost one position to #23, eventually finishing in P5. This was a result I was pleased with as it was the best we could achieve and it felt good being able to fight properly for a good result, an opportunity we haven’t had that many times this year.

The season is now officially over and I’m back in Europe ready to start preparing for next year. 2012 was not an easy season and we had to work very hard for few results, unfortunately. Still, it’s been a pleasure working with Hiro, Team Kondo, Yokohama and NISMO.