BY JANN MARDENBOROUGH
So my bad. This blog is a little late, after Motegi my schedule of preparing and taking part in the Macau Grand Prix in Formula 3 meant this way delayed.
The schedule at Motegi was different to past Super GT events because normally we only have one race over the weekend on the Sunday.
This weekend because of the cancelled round earlier on in the year as a result of an earthquake we had one race on Saturday and one on Sunday, this also meant we’d have two qualifying sessions for each race.
Kazuki would do the qualifying for Saturday and I did the one for Sunday’s race. Writing this now I definitely had the easier session with less variables than my teammate!
Friday’s first practice session was one of those days were we were facing an up-hill challenge. The weather was a major issue for us (wanted it dry!) as we needed to test a newer softer compound tyre for the first time.
Annoyingly it was freezing with rain giving us no chance to try it out for the first time. Also we had a clutch bearing problem which gave a huge vibration through the whole car.
As a team we understand why it happened now. Since the GT-R GT3 has a traverse gearbox (mounted at the rear of the car) the clutch is back there too, any misalignment will transfer vibration all the way through to the front of the car through the propshaft.
This made it difficult to diagnose at first where the vibration was coming from, especially as a driver having to report to the team accurately as possible what we’re experiencing on track. Anyway, B-Max sorted it ready for Saturday qualifying for Kazuki to tackle a really tough qualifying session.
Saturday morning was wet. Previously on Friday I attempted to run slicks on a damp/dry line track but because the track temperature was 10C no heat could be generated. And with Saturday’s conditions starting off a little worse I made it clear that there is no way we could try slicks.
Even if every GT car is out there for 15 minutes, I couldn't see slicks being the answer. Long story short - we started on them but quickly returned to the pits to change to wets with about six minutes remaining.
We gambled but it didn't pay off. Saturday in general wasn't our day, even in the race! Kazuki would start on a new spec slick tyre which didn't work for us at all. The team did a stellar job in the pits to change all four tyres to a hander spec tyre for my stint.
In my stint I quickly found out the grip front and rear was deteriorating quickly after 8 laps, a little confused as I had another 24 laps to do! In the GT-R we have a really useful tyre pressure monitor for all four tyres, sadly the numbers showing for the pressures made me question whether the monitor was faulty!
The tyre pressures in a race car have a huge influence on the grip and balance of the car, in our case they were way too high for an unknown reason.
That made it so tough to attack. The result was 13th which is the first time all season we haven't scored points in a race. Not ideal when you're fighting for the championship!
On Sunday morning I had the job of qualifying for the day’s race. With the rules the final race/qualifying the cars would have no success ballast in the car and that morning it was completely dry.
Remember when I said earlier I had an easier qualifying than Kazuki’s!
I put together a lap I was pleased with but it was only good enough for P14 and we still had the high pressure issues which wasn't going to help the grip.
I was uneasy with the situation we were in because we didn't know why this was happening.
Fortunately, we had a practice session before the race so we focused on dropping the cold starting tyre pressures a significant amount and paid close attention to the resulting pressures after the session.
Set up wise it was nearly pointless to focus on car setup when the tyres are ballooning as no set up change will help us if the pressures aren't correct. The engineers did a good job on rectifying the issue before the race which Kazuki would be starting.
On the grid I was surprised again with the size of the crowd. So many cars and fans on the oval of and in the stands as well as on the banks. I took some photographs of my own for my collection.
Our plan was to change only the rear tyres, this would be the first time we’d ever try this in a race but we needed to gamble and challenge for the championship.
Kazuki made a great start and was overtaking people through the field and quickly was on the bumper of the no 25 GT86 car who was leading the championship.
They pitted a lap before us so I was expecting to exit the pits around five seconds behind them as they don't change any tyres and we had to do two.
To my surprise even though the team did a real quick pit stop and only two tyres I exited the pits and couldn't even see the no 25, they were that far in front! They require a lot less fuel than us. (Driver complaining lol)
So I got my head down and pushed 100% to start gaining ground, we pitted early so we were out of position but we did manage to jump a few cars who were in front of us before we pitted.
I was running in fifth and battling a fresh tyre’d No. 4 Mercedes which gave me such a cool hard battle for 25 laps. The end of sector two the Mercedes was quicker so I always had to defend T9/T10 countless times. We touched a few times, we were battling so hard. We were still able to catch P4 and pass that car as well as P3.
But the last four laps I was really struggling for front grip with the tyres we left on to save time in the pits. My speed through the high speed T7/T8 was a lot lower than No.4 so he could attack even more easily into T9.
To have someone overtake you around the outside is for me personally the worst feeling in the world when you're racing (lol.)
He could do that but I tried to make my car as big as possible through T9 so I could get the inside line at T10. If I could manage that I knew I’d be safe for another lap.
Sadly, I got forced off the track on the exit of T9. I was struggling and the fifth and sixth placed cars could see it, they made easy pickings of me even when I made it difficult for them.
So sixth was the eventual finishing position and fourth in the championship, I’ve got great memories to take from my racing with B-Max and my good friend and team mate Kazuki.
See everyone soon at the track next year. ;)