August 02, 2017

A 6th Place Finish on the Path to Future Victory

Round name: SUPER GT 300 KM RACE
Course : 3.704 km × 81 laps (300.024 km)
Qualifying: July 22 (Saturday) / Clear followed by clouds and showers / Attendance: 9,600 (announcement from the organizer)
Race:July 23 (Sunday) / Overcast followed by rain / Attendance: 26,200 (announcement from the organizer)

#16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT (driver team of Hideki Mutoh and Daisuke Nakajima) participated in the GT500 class at Round 4 of the Super GT Series on July 22 and 23 at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Prefecture). As a result of the 9th place finish in Round 1, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT was assigned a weight handicap of 4 kg, bringing the total vehicle weight to 1,038 kg at the time of the race.


July 22 (Sat)

Official practice: 7th place in the GT500 class, Hideki Mutoh: 1:14.145 / Daisuke Nakajima: 1:12.703

Despite forecasts that called for deteriorating weather conditions, the official practice session began at 9:00 AM under clear summer skies and dry course conditions. With Hideki Mutoh taking the wheel first, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT entered the course and began steadily shortening its times.


57 minutes after the start of the session, a red flag was raised and the session was interrupted to recover a stopped vehicle. At this time, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT had driven 25 laps and was in 13th place with a 9th lap recorded time of 1:14.145.


The session resumed at 10:03. Daisuke Nakajima took over in the cockpit, and continued driving and making adjustments. However just before 10:30 a car departed from the course, and the session was interrupted again by a red flag and ended before it could restart.


When the second GT500 session started following the GT300 session, Daisuke Nakajima remained in the seat and began driving. He began practicing for attacks, and recorded a time of 1:12.703 just before the end of the session. As a result, #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT completed 23 laps with Hideki Mutoh behind the wheel and 27 laps with Daisuke Nakajima behind the wheel, and finished the practice drive session in 7th place out of 15 vehicles.

Qualifying session: 5th place in the GT500 class (Q1: 3rd place, 1:11.699 / Q2: 5th place, 1:11.739)

The qualifying sessions began at 2:36 PM. As always, it used a 2-stage knockout formula with all 15 racing vehicles driving in Q1 and then the only the top 8 GT500 class vehicles advancing to Q2 where the starting grid was decided. The positions in the starting grid for the final race were decided in order of the Q2 times for the 8 vehicles that advanced to Q2, and in order of the Q1 times for the other vehicles. Q1 and Q2 must be raced by different drivers, and one set of tires could be used for Q1 and another set for Q2.


The team approached the qualifying sessions using the reverse combination from usual, with Daisuke Nakajima driving in Q1 and Hideki Mutoh in Q2. The sky was clear and the road surface was dry. The air temperature was 28ºC, with a road surface temperature of 36ºC. When the 15-minute session started, Daisuke Nakajima entered the course and warmed up the tires while steadily increasing the pace. He recorded a time of 1:11.699 on lap 3 and was in 3th place then returned to the pit as the time was certain to advance the team to Q2.


During the interval, the team made fine adjustments to the settings based on Daisuke Nakajima’s impressions, aiming for an even higher position in Q2. As the sky became overcast with light clouds, the Q2 session began at 3:30 PM. However Hideki Mutoh waited in the pit and entered the course when there were less than 7 minutes of the 12-minute session remaining.

After warming up for 2 laps, Hideki Mutoh began a time attack on lap 3. However it appeared that the changes made to the settings during the interval had a negative effect, and the vehicle did not handle as Hideki Mutoh wanted. His time attack recorded a time of 1:11.739. This result placed #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT in 5th place at the end of the qualifying sessions, giving them the 5th position in the starting grid.

July 23 (Sun)

Race: 6th place in the class (80 laps 1 lap behind / best time: 1:16.096)

Race day on Sunday began as forecast, with rain falling off and on starting from the middle of the night, and the course conditions at Sportsland SUGO were wet. However as the 2:30 PM start time approached, the rain stopped and parts of the course had begun to dry by the time the racing vehicles assembled in the starting grid.


Based on these conditions, some teams decided to start the race with slick tires, however rain started to fall just before the formation lap and the road surface was wet. Without hesitation, TEAM MUGEN installed rain tires and decided that Hideki Mutoh would start the race.


With Hideki Mutoh in charge of starting the race, during the formation lap he confirmed that the conditions of the machine and tires were as expected, and dashed forward as the start signal was given. When the machine ahead slipped out of place between the first and second corners, he seized the opportunity and moved up to 4th position. At Umanose corner, he dove inward and advanced to 2nd position, however he was overtaken at the end of the lap and finished lap 1 in 3rd position.


Hideki Mutoh and #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT were in good shape, and on lap 2, he once again overtook the car ahead at Umanose corner and moved up to 2nd position on the tail of the lead car. However on lap 7, the safety car entered the course in order to clean up an accident that had occurred on the final corner.


The race resumed at the end of lap 10, and Hideki Mutoh protected his 2nd place position and began moving up from a position around 3 seconds behind the lead car. The heavy rain had now stopped and the course was gradually beginning to dry. At this time, Hideki Mutoh felt the machine began to lose balance, and he was forced into difficult driving. As a result, his position fell to 3rd on lap 28, 4th on lap 29, and 8th on lap 30.

He wanted to enter the pit and change to slick tires, however the decision could not be made easily when nobody was sure what the weather would do. Knowing that the conditions were impossible, Hideki Mutoh and the team continued driving for several laps. They decided to enter the pit after finishing lap 38, before the mid-point of the race, and the team called Hideki Mutoh into the pit. It was a routine pit stop taken at the earliest among the leading groups.


At this time, Daisuke Nakajima took over as driver, the 4 tires were changed to slick tires for dry roads, and the vehicle was refueled before #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-G returned to the course. On lap 40, the team’s apparent position was 10th. However immediately after returning, there was another accident that brought the safety car onto the course again. #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT, which had just completed the required pit stop and was equipped with slick tires, was granted with a great opportunity.

The race resumed at the end of lap 46, past the mid-point of the race. Starting from this time, the leading vehicles began their pit work and Daisuke Nakajima’s position rose to 8th on lap 47. However at this point, the safety car entered the course once more. Because of this timing, although #16 MOTUL MUGEN NSX-GT had been in an advantageous position, it was now handicapped and ended up 1 lap behind the 2 leading vehicles.

The race resumed at the end of lap 52. Because the leading vehicles including the top 2 began taking their pit stops, Daisuke Nakajima rose to 6th position on lap 53 and 4th position on lap 54. At one point he made his way into the same lap as the 2 leading vehicles. However in fact he still remained nearly a lap behind.

It seemed that the slick tires that Daisuke Nakajima had installed were not necessarily perfect for the road conditions as the road started to dry and he was unable to improve his pace. His position fell to 5th on lap 58 and 6th on lap 62. On lap 61, he yielded the course to the top vehicle and allowed himself to be overtaken, once again putting him a lap behind the top driver. Nearing the end of the race, he was pressured from behind by the No. 7 vehicle. However even as rain began falling again, Daisuke Nakajima increased his pace and successfully defended his 6th place position until taking the checkered flag.


As a result, the team of Mutoh/Nakajima driver team received 5 points, placing them 14th in the season point rankings. In addition to 5 driver points, TEAM MUGEN also received 2 points for completing the race 1 lap behind and are ranked 7th in the team point rankings in the leadup to Round 5 at the Fuji Speedway.

Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka

The feel was good from the start of the practice session on Saturday, and I was satisfied to see that our long run average was also good. Although Daisuke Nakajima placed 3rd in the first qualifying session, when it came Hideki Mutoh’s turn, some minor adjustments disrupted the vehicle balance and he ended up in 5th place. The dry conditions were preferable from the start. At the final race which started with a wet course, there were cheers from our team when Hideki Mutoh made a great attack starting from the first lap. However as the amount of water on the road decreased, there was the risk of overheating and his times gradually began to fall. As a result, I discussed with the driver and engineers and decided to make the pit stop at a relatively early point in the race. Because the temperature was low and there were still wet patches on the road, we chose soft slick tires. They were excellent for the first few laps, however the moving and heat sagging were severe, and Daisuke Nakajima was forced into some difficult driving during the second half. Perhaps we could have been better off with medium tires. In any case, this was a productive race for us. Hideki Mutoh also drove aggressively, and I am grateful to Daisuke Nakajima for his precise driving and perseverance under difficult conditions. It was a chaotic race, with the SC coming onto the course several times. However I think that we did our best. We also gained proper points, and we will be working hard in preparation for the next race.


Comments from driver Hideki Mutoh

During the practice session on Saturday, the machine conditions were excellent right from the start. I steadily ran through our menu and was able to push myself in the same way as an actual race. During the qualifying session as well, I was able to attack the way I wanted to. Although our place fell during Q2 when I was driving, I think I did my best attack during that session. We changed the settings a bit between Q1 and Q2, however that turned out to be counterproductive. Based on our past experience, we thought we could expect the changes to go well, however it appears now that we should not have been so certain. This was also a lesson to us. I think the qualifying session time attacks will lead us to future improvements. The weather was a problem during the final race. The vehicle performed great under the slightly wet road conditions and was perfect at the start of the race. However the conditions changed quickly. Beginning from lap 4, driving was already becoming difficult. The entry of the safety car was in part helpful as an opportunity to reset, however it ended up putting us in a place where our position started dropping. I think maybe we should have gone to the pit a lap or two earlier than we did. In any case, I think we did everything we could. There are a variety of points that we will need to reflect on, however because we achieved the 6th place result, I think it was a step towards the winner’s circle. Little by little things are taking shape, and we intend to continue moving forward.


Comments from driver Daisuke Nakajima

The machine felt good right from the start on Saturday. Because we had checked the tires carefully during the morning, I ran it as fast as I could during the qualifying session. However in fact the feeling during Q1 was not really what I wanted, and I did not expect the result to be so good. When I saw the time after I finished the lap, I was surprised. If the result of a race is the only thing that matters, then it was not a bad one. However there are some mistakes that we have to recognize. For example, the choice of tires. Because the course conditions were freshly dried during the second half, we chose rather soft tires that would deliver the best performance. In fact the tires were good in the beginning, but after several laps they began to sag and I was unable to pick up the pace, forcing me to drive a defensive race. It was not easy protecting the number 6 position. However as the rain picked up near the end of the race the soft tires were a help and I was able to pull away from the car behind. In that sense the soft tires were good but when I look at the overall result, I think slightly harder tires might have been better. This is also an experience that will guide us to the next step.