It’s hard to believe that my first season in SuperGT is drawing to a close, with the final race at Motegi only a few weeks away.
It’s fair to say that 2017 has been quite a big learning curve year for me, as I didn’t do things by halves – moving countries, race series and even style of race car! The change from formula cars to GT was a challenge, but I’m really happy and proud with how I’ve developed, learned and grown as a driver as a result. We’ve had our frustrations at times, but most importantly, overall, we’ve shown strong, consistent improvement, speed and progress throughout the year.
At the last round in Thailand, although we had an unfortunate fuel problem, we were matching the pace of the top ten runners, and in the wet conditions I was comfortably mixing it with the points contenders, which is a huge boost going into the final round. The Motegi circuit is an interesting track, that I feel will suit our car well. I haven’t raced there before, but we tested earlier in the year, so I feel confident going into the event, and look forward to finishing the season on a high.
I’m currently working hard on my plans for next year, keen to take the step forward to start challenging for victories and championships, after a solid year of learning and developing. It’s been amazing to establish myself in SuperGT, as I have always wanted to race here. It’s such an intensely competitive series, that requires 100% effort, skill and commitment from the driver. And these days the work and commitment required outside of the car, whether on preparation, set-up and training or sponsorship and fan events, is just as important as what we do behind the wheel. It’s all part of the ever-evolving business of motorsport technology, and I’m thrilled to be part of creating that future.
Driving in the SuperGT series, one thing I have found is that the cars are much more familiar to fans, being based on high-end road going vehicles. The characteristic body shape of the Audi R8 that we run may be instantly recognizable, but the #26 Taisan SARD car is a very different beast from the version we all drool over in the showrooms.
The biggest difference you will find is the weight, or lack of it actually! Our V10 spec car, has a 5200cc engine and weighs just 1225kg, giving us more power to weight ratio. To make the car as light and efficient as possible, the body panels are replaced with carbon fibre, and every non-essential item is stripped from the interior, right down to the bare frame. Some teams take weight saving to the extreme, even replacing the door handles with string! Thankfully we don’t do that, as I find something quite reassuring about having a door handle.
You definitely won’t find any padded seats, sat nav or drinks holders in this car. Every single item must serve a vital purpose, or it is removed. My only slight luxury in the car is a small cushion to sit on, to help overcome the height difference between myself and teammate Shinnosuke Yamada!
All the GT3 cars are left-hand drive, and where the passenger seat used to be, we have a cool box full of ice that we plug our drinks and cool suit tubes into. Using a button on the steering wheel, these provide us with essential fluids and cooling during the hot, humid races. We also have a rear-view camera display in the centre console, which is incredibly helpful when you’re racing. The rear visibility isn’t great in a road going R8, so the screen makes it much easier to see what is happening behind you on the track, especially with a whole grid of cars battling for the same piece of road.
Another major difference from a road car is how often the components on our race car are replaced, renewed and adjusted. During a race weekend, the car is constantly being changed, rebuilt and adapted to suit the conditions and situations. Can you imagine having to change the springs on your road car every time you went for a carton of milk?!
The engine, gearbox and electronic components are all highly tuned and specially prepared to race specifications. There are so many differences in the car, with such a lot to process. Each time I get into the seat there are lots of electronics to plug in, re-set and manage. It’s never just as simple as get in and go! The custom made steering wheel has many buttons that help us to set-up and adapt the car during races too. For example, we have 24 different settings just for the ABS and traction control depending on the track surface, temperature and weather conditions.
We also have the pit speed limiter on the steering wheel, reducing our speed to 50kph coming down the pit-lane. It feels extremely slow when you’ve been racing at up to 300kph! At least it gives you time to undo your belts and prepare for the pit-stop though. Managing pit-stops and the driver change was actually one of the biggest new elements I had to adapt to and learn coming into SuperGT this year. It can have such an impact on your race, as a couple of seconds fumbling over a seatbelt can cost you vital places on the track. Again though, it is another new skill set that I’m proud to have developed and improved during this season.
I really have learned such a lot this year, and I’m excited to put it all into practice next season, continuing to build, grow and achieve my goals in this awesome series. I genuinely can’t say a big enough thank you to all the fans that have come to the circuits to support me this year. It has been amazing and quite overwhelming at times.
Here’s to finishing 2017 on a high at Motegi, and looking forward to next season!