SUPER GT 2023 Round 4 at Fuji: Fraga Finds His Footing With a New Setup on a Challenging Race
Igor Fraga is the first world champion of the Gran Turismo World Series and is also a driver who continues to challenge real motorsports in the European F3 and other races around the world. This season he has moved his stage to Japan in the SUPER GT300 class and the Super Formula Lights. This is a report of Fraga in the fourth round of the SUPER GT at Fuji Speedway.
On 5 and 6 August, Igor Omura Fraga competed in Rounds 4 of the Super GT series, hosted at the Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka. This would be his first Super GT race in roughly 2 months.
Fraga is racing as the A driver of the 'ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage' team alongside teammates B driver Yuga Furutani and C driver Miki Koyama.
New setup for Fuji Speedway
The characteristics of the Lexus RC F GT3 used by ANEST IWATA Racing make it somewhat unsuitable for Fuji Speedway. During Round 2 in May, also held at Fuji, the team struggled to dial in the settings and subsequently suffered in the race.
Regarding the problems the RC F GT3 experienced in Round 2, Fraga explained “We were unable to solve the problem where when turning into corners, the rear swung out too far, and if you tried to gain traction the wheels would just slip and wear down the tires without gaining any forward momentum.” In response, the team used the roughly 2 month interval between rounds 3 and 4 to try to find the optimum settings for the Fuji Speedway using an advanced simulator. Tenjiro Amazawa, the engineer responsible for car setup, commented that the simulator was of great help to the team.
"There are few opportunities to actually test the cars on track in the Super GT, so dialing in the settings is an extremely difficult task. It’s very difficult to turn back once you’ve started going down the wrong path. I myself am not particularly adept at setting up for Fuji, so I put in a request with a certain company and was able to borrow their simulator. Until now, we had tried out a couple of different settings once we were at the track and went from there, but obviously that has its limits. On this occasion, we were able to analyze and dial in the setup beforehand on the simulator, so that really made a difference." – Amazawa
Using this data, ANEST IWATA Racing changed their strategy from Round 2 and brought the RC F GT3 to Round 4 with a new setup for Fuji.
On Saturday morning, Fraga could already sense a huge improvement in the setup when he took the RC F out in free practice.
"I think the simulation was very effective. In the past we had problems deciding what setup to bring to the track, but this time we were really able to get things dialed in, and we already had an idea of where to adjust things further when we took it out on track. The car behaved completely differently, even if it slipped a little on entry, the tires didn’t slip as much so it was possible to keep the car turning on entry and put more traction in towards the exit. It felt a lot better" commented Fraga.
In the Saturday morning free practice, Fraga was able to set the 7th fastest time of the 27 cars in the GT300 class. Passing over to teammates Yuga Furutani and Miki Koyama, the team began to feel ever more confident about their chances in the official qualifying session.
The ANEST IWATA Racing RCF GT3. A 2 month interval in the calendar allowed the team to analyze and test their setup on a simulator.
The 3 drivers. For all of them, this would be their rookie season in the Super GT. Fraga, Furutani and Koyama openly discuss driving technique and strategy.
With Saturday afternoon comes the official qualifying session. Taking the wheel for Q1, Furutani sets a time of 1’37”596. This puts the team in 3rd place of the 14 cars that competed in group A. Next, the top 16 cars, 8 from group A, 8 from group B would compete again in Q2 to determine the starting order for the front of the grid.
Fraga takes over for the Q2 qualifying session. However, in the middle of his time attack, his tires fall out of their peak performance range and his times suffer. He sets a time of 1’37”070 putting him in 8th. Accordingly, the team will start the GT300 race in 8th place on the grid.
"The top times (in Q2 qualifying) were extremely close, so I thought I might be able to get into the top 5, but the tires in Super GT can be very delicate so if you don’t get it down in a single lap, you can’t set a good time. And I just couldn’t get it down." Fraga later said. However, his time would still put them in the championship points winning range in 8th place. Looking ahead to the next day’s race, the team decide that Fraga will start with Furutani taking over as the second driver.
Additionally, the team also plan to have Miki Koyama enter the race as the 3rd driver this time making her the first Japanese female driver to compete in the Super GT, so they would need to formulate a flexible strategy. Moving into Sunday, the conditions on race day had changed completely with Fuji Speedway now drenched.
After pre-race showers, the race starts behind the safety car
Following an outpour prior to the start of the race, all cars opt to equip wet tires. The race starts under the supervision of the safety car.
Amidst the intense spray, Fraga falls through the rankings slightly, but after 10 laps he pits in to fulfill the first of the 2 mandatory fuel pit stops. With the track beginning to dry up, he elects to switch from wet to dry tires before returning to the course.
The ANEST IWATA Racing lose several positions due to lost time in their pit stop, but Fraga begins setting lap times on par with the leading pack. After a number of overtakes, on lap 32 he is able to move up to just one position behind the points winning zone, returning to 11th place.
However, at almost the exact time as this overtake, there is an accident on the track. The safety car is called out, and overtaking is now prohibited. Fraga, who was attempting to push ahead of some other cars on the straight at the time, is found to be in violation of the overtake ban and is given a drive-through penalty.
"I was going at a faster pace, and on the straight I was pulling ahead a little bit, but the other car’s engine still had some power left and just as we lined back up the safety car was put out and because of the unfortunate timing I ended up with a penalty. I have to make sure I don’t make the same mistake in the future" said Fraga on the incident.
Difficult conditions on track lead to a 19th place finish
After the penalty and lost time from a driver change and refueling, Furutani takes over from Fraga and returns to the race now in 24th place.
Furutani begins to push up, but his progress is hindered as he is hit from behind receiving minor damage, the first of several such accidents to come.
In response, the team change to a less aggressive strategy and send Koyama out onto the track for the remaining laps of the race. Shortly after, a red flag race suspension is called so the accidents on the course can be cleaned up. During the suspension, rain begins to fall again, so Koyama decides to switch to wet tires when the race restarts.
The race restarts and Koyama takes over from where Furutani had left off when he pitted in on lap 67 in 20th place. Running on wet tires, Koyama manages to pull herself up a few positions at first, but the track soon dries up again and with reduced grip she finds herself fighting to stay on track.
The team decide to finish the race without any further stops and through Koyama struggles, she is able to pull the ANEST IWATA Racing across the finish line, meeting the checkered flag 1 lap behind in 19th place.
Fraga’s post-race comments
Fraga commented on the weekend’s racing, “we weren’t able to achieve the result we wanted, but the car’s performance is getting better every race, and thanks to the simulator tests, we were able to put on a good performance at Fuji even through it’s one of our worst tracks, so overall it was a positive weekend. We were also able to solve a lot of the problems we had been having with tire wear so compared to our previous results we’re not dropping our pace as much which makes me very excited for future races.
Next up is Super GT Round 5: Suzuka on August 26-27
After his race at Fuji, Fraga will temporarily leave Japan to compete in the Gran Turismo World Series Showdown to be held in Amsterdam on 11-12 August.
"I don’t have much time, but I’m going to practice all I can for the races in the Netherlands. I’m really looking forward to racing in the virtual world again."
Fraga’s next real world race will be Round 5 of the Super GT series which will be held at Suzuka Circuit in Mie, on 26-27 August.