SUPER GT 2023 Round 2 at Fuji: Igor Omura Fraga Embarks on a Long Stint After a Tough Qualifying
On 3-4 May, Igor Omura Fraga competed in the 2nd round of the SUPER GT series hosted at the Fuji Speedway of Shizuoka in Japan. His driving partners in the ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage team are B driver Yuga Furutani and C driver Miki Koyama.
The team prepared for the race with Miki Koyama taking the position of driver C in the race. Koyama is a skilled driver who is also the first female Japanese driver to become Series Champion in an FIA-regulation formula car race series.
As with Fraga and Furutani, Koyama is a rookie in the Super GT competing for the first time in this series, but the three drivers who have spent time together since the tests before the opening round have become good friends, and prepared together for this 2nd round.
The first job for the three drivers arriving at Fuji Speedway a day before the practice is to welcome the fans of ANEST IWATA Racing. At the visitor booth of ANEST IWATA Racing in the general public spectator area, a time trial session on Gran Turismo 7 was set up.
In this fan service activity, each of the three rigs were prepared with recorded lap times of Fraga, Furutani, and Koyama, and the visiting fans were able to use these rigs and drive the Fuji Speedway to challenge the drivers of ANEST IWATA Racing in the virtual world. Depending on their performance they were also awarded prizes. The three drivers visited the booth while it was still being prepared to each record their lap times, having fun while driving the virtual Fuji Speedway on Gran Turismo 7.
Interacting with the many fans that came to the circuit
From practice, qualifying to the final, FUJI Speedway was blessed with good weather throughout the race event
Working together as a team to move forward
“The atmosphere in the team is great.” Says Yuga Furutani. "With all three drivers being about the same age, it’s really easy to talk and we can discuss things openly including how to drive, and I feel we are trying new things and teaching each other how to improve.”
Igor Fraga also agrees: “All of us are rookies so we can’t grow without working together. So we are trying not to hide anything from each other and talk and think about what to do to become better together, to try to advance together.”
Unable to fully warm the tyres, struggles in the official qualifying
By early evening all three returned to the team and participated in a meeting for the race starting on the following day. It was decided that the official Q1 qualifying session will be driven by Furutani who has spontaneous speed, while Q2 will be run by Fraga who is able to drive with consistency while caring for the tyres.
On the other hand it was decided that Fraga will start the final race and gain as much distance as possible, and Furutani driving the latter half will aim for at least 10th place where they can earn championship points. If all goes well there would be no driver change to Koyama, with Furutani finishing the race.
On 3 May, the day of the official qualifying took place under sunny weather. Fraga drove the car to check its condition in the practice run before. As a result, Fraga reported that it seemed to be taking time to warm the tyres, so they should change the settings slightly when Furutani goes out for the Q1 time attack. With this report from Fraga the team did some fine adjustments to the car’s settings in preparation for the official session in the afternoon.
In the official Q1 qualifying session, Furutani went out on track, and as expected feels that the tyres are warming up very slowly. In the end he ended the 10 minute time attack session without being able to completely warm the tyres to an adequate level.
As a result, Furutani's Q1 position ended up being 9th (out of 13 cars), but they needed to finish within 8th place to proceed to the Q2 session. While they were only under by 0.079 seconds, this lead to the pole position going to the Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R with J.P de Oliveira / Natori driving, and the starting grid of the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 was 1.041 seconds behind in 17th place.
The Final race
Fuji Speedway on 4 May was also sunny with clear skies, and the final race began at 1:30 pm. Falling to 17th place in qualifying, the team opted to change the tables with pit strategy in order to aim for a higher position.
Fraga, who started the race, carefully controlled the car to maintain position in the midst of rivals who were trying to get ahead, and went in for the first pit stop in just seven laps. The strategy was to change the pit timing with the other teams, to put some distance with rival cars on the same lap so that they could get a clear path on their racing lines to increase pace.
After completing a short 'splash' pit stop with only refueling, Fraga returned to the track in a position with no traffic to consistently clear laps, and after driving 48 laps just past the halfway point of the race, he made his second refueling pit stop and handed over the car to Furutani.
Furutani dropped to 20th place during this pit stop, but as the rivals started making their 2nd pit stops their position gradually increased, raising to 14th place, three positions up from qualifying. They completed 91 laps to the chequered flag.
The team made a bold strategic decision in the Final, but the tyre pressure became too high while driving and they were not able to improve their lap time as much as they hoped during the long run, plus they found more things they needed to work on in shortening the refueling pit work. As a result the team was not able to score any championship points again this week, and the GT300 class victory went to the J.P de Oliveira / Natori pair who started on pole position.
Koyama who didn’t get to drive in this race week commented: “In this race even if I was able to drive, while that would make me happy, the turn of events for the team were not great and that would not make me feel better. So I had mixed feelings, it's unfortunate I didn’t get to drive, but the team was able to get long run data and finish the race in a positive note, so I think that was good.”
Igor Fraga who drove a long 48 lap run until changing places with Furutani looked back on the race:
“At the opening round of Okayama the race ended without being able to really drive properly at all so I feel I was able to do that today to my heart’s content. However it’s a bit unfortunate that the tyre selection might have not been suited for today's conditions, and so we didn’t get the pace that we were expecting. But we were able to complete the race with no major issues, and were able to gather data for the long run. We will be working and discussing together how to best use this data for the next races to come.”
It looks like the teamwork of the three drivers has reached new heights toward the 3rd round of the SUPER GT series on Suzuka Circuit, in the first week of June.