SUPER GT 2023 Round 6 at SUGO: Fraga Follows Up On a Bold Strategy, Setting a New Season Record for the Team Finishing 7th
On 16-17 September, Igor Omura Fraga competed in Round 6 (300 km race) of the Super GT series at Sports Land SUGO with ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage.
Hope and disappointment
In the previous round at Suzuka Circuit, ANEST IWATA Racing finished in 10th place, their highest position ever, earning them their first season points. Fraga and his partner driver in the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3, Yuga Furutani, had high hopes for Round 6 at SUGO. They had two reasons for this.
The first of which is the RC F GT3 is a perfect match for the course layout of SUGO. On long and high-speed corners, the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 currently has a tendency to understeer making it difficult to turn. Meanwhile on low-speed corners that require hard braking on entry, the rear of the car has a tendency to lift up resulting in twitchy handling. While "Great efforts have been made to improve these characteristics and handling is improving." Says Fraga, tuning the car remains a constant problem for the team. Luckily for them, Sports Land SUGO has very few such areas where the RC F GT3 falters.
Their other reason is they have a very small weight handicap. In the second half of the season, stronger teams must add ‘success weight’ [Weight added to cars based on the total points earned by the drivers. In the GT300 class, weight is added at a rate of 3 kg per point.] to their car, but ANEST IWATA Racing only earned their first point in Round 5, so their success weight is just 3 kg.
However, the hopes of the team and the drivers were dashed in the official qualifying session. Moving into race week, the weather at SUGO has been unpredictable. Just before the Q1 session began, rain started to fall, collecting on the track surface and making for extremely difficult conditions for a time attack.
As a result, Q1 driver Furutani only manages to place 10th. As only the top eight can move through to the Q2 session, the team’s fate was sealed, and they found themselves in a completely unexpected 20th place on the starting grid.
If it’s dry, we still have a chance.
The qualifying result left the team, as well as drivers Fraga and Furutani crestfallen. However, in the previous races of the season, the team has found they perform well in longer races. The team rallied their spirits and headed into race day under the hope that "If it’s dry conditions in the race, we still have a chance."
Official Qualifying. Fighting unpredictable weather and a wet track, the team drop to 20th place. The team places all their hopes on dry conditions in the race
Igor Omura Fraga and Yuga Furutani talk to the director and the team on track
The track surface is dry and Furutani is up first
Race day began. While the skies were cloudy, the track surface was dry. Yuga Furutani was the starting driver. The team’s strategy was to pit early for a driver change, leaving the long stint to Fraga with the intention of climbing the rankings in the late stages of the race.
As the race began, Furutani raced defensively aiming to protect his 20th place position, but his pace was on par with the top pack. Carefully navigating the tight track at SUGO where overtakes are difficult, he slowly rose up the board, place by place.
Left tire change only. Fraga heads out on track
After rising to 15th place, the team called Furutani in for the pit stop on lap 26 where they refueled and change the front and rear tires on the left side of the car only. The wheel was handed over to Fraga and the car headed back onto the track.
SUGO is a clockwise circuit. A left-side only tire change not only replaces the most worn tires, but it strategically reduces also the amount of time spent during a tire change.
Shortly after Fraga began his stint though, an incident occurred on the track. A red flag was declared, and the race was suspended.
"When I took over the car, the understeer was quite strong, and it was a little difficult to get my times up. Then just as the tires began to warm up and I was ready for business, the red flag was called." Fraga commented.
As per red flag regulations, the cars line up on the home straight while they wait for the incident to be resolved. At this point, the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 is 16th place in the GT300 class. After the accident was cleared, the race restarted under the safety car. To give the cars enough time to warm up their now cold tires and brakes though, the safety car lead the pack for three laps.
The team make their move. Another pit stop and tire change
The team used this as an opportunity to make their move. They decided to call Fraga back for a second pit stop to switch out the right-side tires as well while the safety car was leading the pack.
"Listening to the radio, I could tell the team were debating it. But it felt like we had to do something if we wanted to pull ahead, so in the end we just decided to go for it." Said Fraga.
Though having pitted in a second time, as the safety car had been slowing down all the other cars, the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 with Fraga behind the wheel is immediately able to catch up to pack and return to the race without losing much if any ground overall.
The race restarted in earnest as Fraga finishes his 41st lap. Thanks to the team’s strategy, Fraga was racing on four fresh tires and racing at a much higher pace. The team began their push to the front.
"Now that I was back on track with fresh tires on the right as well, the car was feeling a little better. It felt like it needed a little more (grip) on the front, but my times were improving, and I was pulling ahead." Commented Fraga.
Rushing ahead. A new team record for the season
After the safety car was recalled, the front pack included many cars which hadn’t finished their pit stops yet. While these cars lost places sitting in the pits, Fraga began overtaking. Rushing ahead, he moved into 14th place on lap 42, then 13th on lap 47, 12th on lap 53 and on lap 54 he was able to move up to 11th. In front of Fraga now was a pack of five cars fighting over 6th place. As the pace of the pack wasn’t increasing, Fraga was able to slowly close the gap and eventually caught up.
"The car was in great condition, so when I caught up to the 6th place pack, I pushed on, thinking I might be able to overtake two or three of them. I pushed up, overtaking three cars and then another after that but in the final stages the understeer was getting worse as my tires wore out. To overtake on Sports Land SUGO, you need to get right behind the car in front on the final high-speed corner and try to dive out in front on the home straight going into turn 1. In my case though, as I was understeering, I couldn’t get close enough to the car in front on the final corner. And that’s why we finished in 8th place."
After post-race inspections, one of the GT300 cars which placed higher was disqualified, raising ANEST IWATA Racing’s official position to 7th place, their highest result this season.
"Starting from 20th, Furutani really pushed up before handing the wheel over to me. As for myself, I didn’t make any mistakes and I think I fully utilized every chance I was given.
"In the end though, I did feel like I wanted to place higher. The next race, Autopolis, is a track with a lot of corners where you can dive in without much braking. I think we’re going to have a very difficult time if we can’t fix the car’s tendency to understeer, but I think the problems we were having before are becoming a lot clearer so I’d like us to all come together as a team so we can work it out and get a good result next time. I haven’t had a single chance to rest since the World Series Showdown, but I should be able to get some downtime before the next race."
Though initially disappointing, Super GT Round 6 was the ultimate test of strategy for the team and drivers. With the odds in his favor, Fraga returned to the pits with his best result of the season where the team ecstatically greeted him with high fives.
Next Up: 14-15 October, SUPER GT Rd.7 at Autopolis
Fraga’s next race will be the Super GT Series Round 7, held at Autopolis in Oita Prefecture on 14-15 October.
SUPER GT 2023 Round 6 at SUGO: Highlights
You can follow all of Igor's racing in the 2023 Super GT Championship (ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage) on the 'Igor Fraga Report' page.