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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Suzuka Saturday Notebook

John Dagys’ Saturday notebook from Suzuka, as final preparations underway for IGTC round…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

***The Pole Shootout was delayed by more than an hour following a review and adjustments made to several times set in Q1-Q3 that were initially disallowed for track limits violations. Four cars: the No. 911 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, No. 888 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3, No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes and No. 43 Strakka Racing Mercedes, were added to the shootout due to communication issues related to the lap deletions, which unexpectedly expanded to 24 quickest cars.

***GruppeM’s Tristan Vautier had his fastest lap in Q1 initially disallowed, while Dirk Werner’s quick lap in the Manthey Porsche was also thrown out but without notice. It’s understood only some teams got radio calls of the lap deletions, with communication in Japanese. “There was a lot of confusion with the messages sent on the screen and with the calls,” Vautier told Sportscar365. “They did the right thing in giving back the laps they deserved.”

***Vautier’s co-driver, Raffaele Marciello, qualified the GruppeM Mercedes in second, while Luca Stolz put the Black Falcon-run SunEnergy1 entry in fourth.

***When asked what he will do with the 1 million yen ($9,000 USD) for winning pole for tomorrow’s race, Nick Foster, with a laugh, said he has to have a “really good look” at his contract with the team.

***Several Balance of Performance adjustments have been made since the last Intercontinental GT Challenge round at Spa, which is also a SRO Category B track. Sportscar365 understands it includes a 15 kg weight break for the Audi R8 LMS, which reverts to a minimum weight of 1280 kg that it ran prior to its pre-race adjustment in Belgium.

***The Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R, meanwhile, was granted a 2 mm larger air restrictor (40 to 42 mm), offset by a 10 kg increase in minimum weight, on Friday by stewards, following the first ‘Paid Practice’ session for the German squad. 

***Fred Makowiecki, who won the 2013 Suzuka 1000km in a GT500-spec Honda HSV-010 GT, said there’s limited crossover between his past experience of the Japanese circuit. “We are slower in the dry in GT3 than I was in the rain in a GT500, so it’s slightly different and hard to give advise.” he told Sportscar365.

***Makowiecki’s qualifying time from 2013, a 1:52.694, is nearly ten seconds quicker than the Frenchman’s 2:02.425 that put his No. 911 Manthey Porsche sixth on the grid for tomorrow’s race.

***As is the case in Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup races, a minimum pit stop time applies this weekend. All pit stops involving refueling cannot be performed in less than 82 seconds, measured from pit-in to pit-out, with cars subject to drive-through penalties for going under the minimum time. 

***SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel said he’s been pleased with the cooperation between his organization and event promoters Mobilityland and GT Association. “We came twice with our team to visit them and they came to us three times in Europe and had long meetings,” he told Sportscar365. “We’ve had lengthly preparation and I think everything is running smoothly.”

***The partnership has seen SRO exceed its commitment of delivering a minimum of 20 cars to the event, with 21 of the 35 entries coming from either the Intercontinental GT Challenge, Blancpain GT Series or Blancpain GT Series Asia. “For the first year, a 35-car grid is good,” Ratel said. “I’ll be happy when we have the same at Laguna [Seca].”

***Only one of the six championship-winning GT3 teams that were invited accepted their free entry to the race, with 2017 ADAC GT Masters champions Callaway Competition making the trip to Japan. Invites, which included free transportation, were issued to Grasser Racing Team (Blancpain GT Series), Scuderia Corsa (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – GTD), Wright Motorsports (Pirelli World Challenge – GT), Barwell Motorsport (British GT) and Jamec Pem Racing (Australian GT)

***Ratel said he’s confident in solving the rather complicated TV distribution situation for next year’s race. The event promoter had signed an exclusive rights deal with Eurosport, which has prevented the live streaming of the race across SRO’s usual platforms. “We really don’t like to put our series [behind a paywall],” Ratel said. “Our principle is to give it free to everybody and this time it is a bit different so that has to be corrected.”

***Despite holding the U.S. rights, it appears Motor Trend on Demand will not carry the live stream of the race as initially announced. The race will be on SRO’s official YouTube page for regions not impacted by Eurosport/Discovery’s exclusivity deal with Mobilityland. 

***With a four-point lead in the standings, Audi’s Robin Frijns could technically still be atop the standings following Sunday’s race, despite the Dutchman not being present here this weekend due to the DTM race at Misano.

***Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke said it’s not yet been determined if Frijns will be placed in one of its factory-supported entries for the season-ending California 8 Hours, with the German manufacturer on a “race by race” basis to determine its lineups.

***Reinke said the level of support for the Oct. 26-28 race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is “not decided” but will see at least two Audi Sport-entered cars. Land Motorsport and race winner Magnus Racing represented the German manufacturer last year, alongside a privately entered car from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.

***Audi could opt to air freight cars to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca instead of utilizing locally-based machinery given the close proximity of the Motul Petit Le Mans, which Magnus and Land will take part in. “There is a big enough gap to bring the machinery down,” Reinke said. “There is not a big enough gap if they have a big incident to rebuild it. This is part of the gamble which we have to do.”

***While preferring to use locally-based cars, Reinke said the cost benefits are sometimes outweighed depending on its location and service status, as was the case with Absolute Racing this weekend, which is utilizing a car flew in from Germany. “If they have to do a complete rebuild and ship it in from China, it’s not that much far off on costs if we do it,” Reinke said.

***Pirelli, which is the exclusive tire partner for the entire IGTC season, has brought nearly 5,000 P Zero DHD2 tires this weekend. It comes on the heels of last month’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, which has seen a total of 20,000 GT tires handled with the simultaneous Spa/Suzuka operation.

***Teams are permitted to use up to 15 sets of dry tires and another ten sets of wet across the event.

***The Italian tire manufacturer is also supplying the Ferrari Challenge Asia-Pacific series, which along with Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Japan, are serving as the two support series this weekend. 

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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