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TOM’S Boss Disputes Alesi’s Car Performance Remarks

Jun Yamada responds to Giuliano Alesi’s critical comments following surprise Suzuka SUPER GT win…


TOM’S SUPER GT boss Jun Yamada has refuted Giuliano Alesi’s assertion that the No. 37 crew’s Suzuka win demonstrates the car had not been working well up to that point.

Alesi and his teammate Ukyo Sasahara scored a first victory for the No. 37 side of the TOM’S garage in two years in the most recent round of the series last month, turning around what had been a difficult run of form since the start of last season.

In their first year as a pair, Alesi and Sasahara had a best result of sixth in the No. 37 Toyota GR Supra, the pair ending up 14th out of 15 GT500 crews in the standings while the sister No. 36 TOM’S car swept to the title with three race wins.

Alesi said in the wake of the shock victory at Suzuka that the result “proved” that the No. 37 TOM’S car had been letting he and Sasahara down beforehand.

But when these remarks were put to Yamada, the former team director of the No. 37 side of the TOM’S garage, who now oversees both of the team’s cars, insisted that Alesi was exaggerating the extent of the team’s woes.

“Last year, there were times when the car was working well, but he failed to notice those, and he was complaining about other things,” Yamada told Sportscar365. 

“The drivers’ comments form the basis of what the engineers do. Even if we have the data to tell us otherwise, we tend to give the drivers what they ask for. Maybe there were some misunderstandings, but we always supported him. 

“I don’t think the situation last year was as terrible as he suggested. At Suzuka, Ukyo’s time was to thank for pole position, and he was also fastest in Q1 at Autopolis last year. That time, the car was definitely performing well. 

“But then when we change over to Giuliano, he gets a different impression and believes the car is lacking performance.

“That said, I think that tendency has been going away somewhat this year.”

Yamada added that he believes that much of the reason for the No. 37 car’s improvement this year has come from Alesi himself, crediting the Frenchman’s mentor and Goodsmile Racing GT300 driver Tatsuya Kataoka for the turnaround.

Kataoka had acted as an advisor for Alesi last year in Super Formula, and the pair are now teammates in Super Taikyu, sharing a Rookie Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

“In Super Taikyu, Alesi is driving alongside Kataoka, and for that I am very grateful,” said Yamada. “They won the opening race [at Sugo] and then again in the Fuji 24 Hours. I think this has been a turning point for him. 

“It’s given him a lot of confidence, and that was clear heading into the Suzuka race. That definitely had a big effect in my opinion. 

“So if we are asking why last year was so bad and this year is better, I am sure it’s largely because Giuliano has been driving in Super Taikyu and improving himself.”

No. 37 Used “80 Percent” of No. 36 Setup for Suzuka Win

As well as Alesi’s own performance, Yamada feels the No. 37 crew was boosted by the decision to essentially transplant the setup of the No. 36 TOM’S car  in the wake of a disastrous outing in the second round of the season at Fuji.

He admitted to some surprise that this change of strategy yielded such a stark turnaround in form, explaining that the priority had been simply to try and fight for pole.

“After the Fuji race, we concluded that continuing the way we were going simply wasn’t an option,’ said Yamada. “We have two cars in the team, so after many discussions we decided to match the set-ups of both cars. 

“Of course, there are some slight individual differences between cars, and we had to account for those, but I would say it was about 80 percent a copy of the No. 36 setup. That’s how we started the weekend. 

“As the weekend progressed, we made some subtle changes, but those changes didn’t really work and so we went back to the base again for qualifying. 

“Getting pole confirmed to us that what we did was the right thing to do, even though it was a surprise to be on pole.”

Sasahara and Alesi’s victory at Suzuka has put them third in the standings, 10 points behind the sister No. 36 TOM’S car of Sho Tsuboi and Kenta Yamashita.

Yamada expressed hopes that a landmark win for the No. 37 crew will be the start of a sustained title campaign for the Deloitte-sponsored car.

“In order to fight for the championship, they have to think even more deeply about what small changes they need to make and the direction they need to go in compared to what we have done so far,” he said.

“I believe they are capable of this, so I want to have high expectations for the next races.”

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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