Today I’d like to share team comments regarding the JAF Grand Prix race. It seems Sporting Director Ukyo Katayama has a word or two about racing in the Legend Cup, too!
■ Director Suzuki Yasuaki
Kataoka being forced to retire in Lap 6 isn’t exactly praiseworthy, but in the heat of a sprint race at the Fuji track, having to retire due to your racing strategy is no tragedy either. Driving like that certainly comes with its risks, but I don’t think speed alone can account for the type of lead he gained, so it just goes to show how talented Kataoka really is.
After the race at Suzaku, we really tuned up the car which allowed for our victory at Fuji in September, and I was really looking forward to seeing how well we could perform this time around – with no weight handicap and dry-road driving conditions – but it was still an intense race. Even so, Taniguchi managed to walk away with 3rd place despite starting in role 8. Finishing off the season with 3rd in point ranking, and walking waya from the last race in 3rd isn’t that bad, right? lol
■ Director Istuo Ohashi
Being that this time around was a sprint race, if you don’t pull ahead early on you’ll get caught up in the congestion of lap 1 and then you’ll never pull ahead. As there are no routine pit stops like other races in the season, there are no strategical tricks you can pull there either. You can be so focused on the road ahead that it’s hard to know what’s going on behind you. It’s really unfortunate that Kataoka had to retire, but you can also say that he used exactly the kind of aggressive strategy that you need to work your way to the top when starting off in role 10. As Kataoka is always a very cautious and conservative driver, it was really exciting to see him break loose like that early in the race. It’s something you never see when he’s paired up with Taniguchi.
As for Taniguchi’s race, I’d say the the qualifying went poorly, but he really pushed the car’s and the tire’s potential to the max, and then kept on pushing all the way to the very end, which I think allowed him to climb to 3rd by the finish. It may be no 1st or 2nd, but at a track like Fuji with lots of straightaways and in dry conditions, I’d say that 3rd is still really something.
■ Sporting Director Ukyo Katayama
I’d say that qualifying was about the same as usual for both drivers. We usually just barely clear Q1, and this time was no different. But as none of the cars had any handicaps, it was pretty difficult to get ahead. It was a shame that Kataoka had to retire, but Taniguchi’s 3rd place finish was really spectacular. Everything went perfectly from the very start, and by the time the tires had heated up he was in a good position. Of course, he was passed by #11, but I think that also allowed him to overtake #55. As there’s no real definitive strategy to the JAF, it all depends on the enthusiasm of the drivers. The way Taniguchi’s persistence carried him all the way to victory was truly amazing!
Regarding the Legend Cup that I participated in, I saw it first and foremost as a sort of festival event, so I thought I’d just take it easy and enjoy myself. After we got the pole position, all I could think about was what we could do to spice things up a little. But then after we were demoted (for being too fast), I knew we had to do something to give Taniguchi some winning edge. I said, “Let’s practice driving together a bit,” put some elastic in the seat belt, and before you knew it that pressure had turned up and this had become a really serious race. I had to take it seriously! lol After changing drivers in the pit, I thought that the real battle was about to start, but the brakes and tires handled a lot easier than I expected. After passing the car to me in 1st place, I rode as hard as I could on Taniguchi’s steam and knew that I had to keep it going all the way to the checkered flag. I mean, Aguri Suzuki was right there on my tail. I was sure we’d win given the starting grid line up, but it was actually a really hard race to the finish! lol The donut turn in the victory lap was my gift to you. And since it was safe to do it there, I thought I might as well show off and throw in a hairpin turn for the crowd, too. It was a really fun race.
■ Driver Nobuteru Taniguchi
I was resolved right from the very start, thinking if I passed up #10 and #11 in the first lap then I could walk away with 6th. After that, I overtook #16 and climbed to 5th, but actually, I hadn’t lapped #3 as I’d thought so this was actually 4th place. Knowing that with just one more I’d have made it to 3rd, #11 started gaining speed. I did all I could to keep him back, but it just wasn’t working. I was back in 5th, but #35 was having trouble and headed to the pit, putting me back in 4th. And just at that moment, #55′s pace slowed down, and I was like – now I will definitely pass him! After tailing him for a few laps, I had a pretty good feeling about my opponent’s advantages and disadvantages and said to myself, “Alight, corner B is my chance!”
As the Z4 doesn’t have a high top speed, it was impossible to use any of our previous Fuji Speedway strategies effectively. Walking away with 3rd place in a sprint cup – which is basically a race of speed – is simply an incredible finish!
■ Driver Tatsuya Kataoka
The qualifying round was as difficult as usual. But even in role 10, I thought things might turn around during the race and gambled everything on that hope. I put my plan into effect from the very start, and was able to climb from 10th to 5th place in the first lap. But even at this point, I’d already had 2 minor collisions and started to feel a bit uneasy about how the car would handle. It became worse and worse with each successive lap, and it was possible that a tire had been damaged and were slowly losing air, so I considered both the position I’d gained as well as the risks involved in keeping it and opted to retire from the race. As it wasn’t one of the series races, but a sprint cup event I didn’t even really stress about it. I usually weigh risks carefully and drive conservatively, but it sure felt good to get all riled up like that at the green light.