As much as the racer in me yearned to ‘send it’ on our return to Fuji for the second time this SUPER GT season, we took a more measured approach this time around after a few mediocre results in the Gulf Racing Porsche.
This is more a case of mentality than anything, though the lessons learned at previous races in vehicle setup, race strategy and tyre management all factored into our fifth place finish and a handy points haul ahead of the big one; the last ever Suzuka 1000km (this race reverts to a 300km format next year).
The Fuji 300 weekend had me worried at first. Mineo banged in a hot lap to put us second in practice, however I was uncomfortable in the car and concerned with it would perform over a race distance. It was very nervous, twitchy and difficult to string together consistent lap times.
Thankfully, we had one more chance in the Circuit Safari (Japan’s unique fan experience where we tune our cars while half a dozen buses are out on track with us) to find the sweet spot, and we did. Like a light switch, my confidence returned and I was revved up for qualifying.
Mineo took on Q1, and after a heart-in-mouth session we scraped in as the final car in the Top 14 to progress. In Q1, I wasn’t able to emulate my front row performance from the Fuji 500km back in May, but seventh on the grid placed us ahead of the riff-raff that bleeds precious time when you’re stuck back in the pack.
I took the start and it was a lonely race. When you’re not locked in wheel-to-wheel battle, it’s a race against the clock and against yourself. After some early dicing with the front bunch of cars, I settled into sixth place and managed the tyres before a slick pit stop elevated Mineo into the top 5, where we finished after 66 laps in the uncomfortably muggy, thick heat.
Overall it was a great day for the Gulf Racing team. Our second best ever finish in SUPER GT, and the icing on the cake was the award for the Best Pit Crew out of the 45 teams entered in the race. I’ve gotta say, the speed and dedication of our young wheel men is inspiring. They’re seriously impressive on the rattle guns and they were the key to us finishing in the top five this weekend.
Next up is Suzuka, and over 1000km anything can happen. It’ll be great to have some of my Kiwi sponsors there to support us, and see the amazing SUPER GT atmosphere first hand.
Thanks for your support!