During last years round at this particular circuit we had to do an extra pit stop due to severe tyre graining. That terminated our chances then and as a result Yokohama had come up with a new compound for this years race that we had been evaluating during testing the previous month. This time of the year in Japan the temperatures drop significantly meaning that the compounds have to be adjusted accordingly.
Lap times in free practice were already well below the existing lap record and we were looking in reasonably good shape. This being the final race of the Championship, everyone had their respective handicap weights reduced to zero. Qualifying was knock-down format with Hiro starting Q1. However, half way through his first attack lap one of the drive shafts broke and we had to retire there and then resulting in a 15th and last starting position for the race.
On Sunday we were facing wet conditions and the feeling within the team was therefore optimistic considering what we had managed in the previous wet round at Autopolis. The morning warm-up had been dry and we only had the 8-minute practice before line-up to quickly check our preferred wet starting tyre. Tyre warm-up was very slow but we decided to stick with the choice anyway as it was the best alternative wether it got wetter or drier throughout the first stint and it would leave us with the best option for the second stint.
I started the race and for the first five laps just tried to keep up with the cars in front as the tyres struggled to warm-up. Eventually the grip level improved but it was still lower than expected. It didn’t really rain much more during my stint but the cold conditions meant the track was drying out slowly. I managed to move up a few positions taking advantage of traffic but the conditions made for a very sensitive car to drive.
Hiro opted to try for a slightly different compound for his stint, the pit-stop was quick and good but he struggled even worse than I did and in the end we finished 11th and out of the points. Unfortunately it was the best we could do with what we had at our hands.
So that’s the end to this years Super GT Championship and the only thing that remains at this point in the schedule is the JAF GP at Fuji Speedway, our end of year stand alone race where we race individually in a sprint format. I’d say that the highlight of this season for us was the Suzuka 1000km race where we ended 3rd after a very strong performance. Autopolis as well was positive, leading throughout the first stint but apart from those two races it was a tough season. Michelin were incredibly strong again this year taking an easy Championship victory and Bridgestone had stepped up their game to be a closer match this season.
Now I prepare for the final race of the year at Fuji. There’s going to be two sprint races, one on Saturday and one one Sunday. I will go up against the drivers in the Sunday group. I’ve got two weeks back home before it’s time to return to Japan for my final journey this season. We’ll be pushing hard for a good result!