Leading by 9 points arriving to the final round of the championship all they had to do was to make sure they would not fall to far behind during the race to secure the title.
Recap of the season until now
What a weird season it has been until now. The car #4 run by GoodSmile Racing and Team Ukyo initially secured the victory at the very first round of the season in Okayama. They consolidated the lead until the 1000Km of Suzuka - reaching the maximum Weight Handicap. At that point, it felt like they would easily win the Championship. Even though they finished outside of the points in Suzuka thus losing the lead, they were able to secure the lead ahead of the final round with a solid third place.
Midway through the season they flew overseas and made a brief appearance at the 24hrs of Spa. They were able to quickly reach a reasonable pace around the legendary circuit - aided by Kamui Kobayashi, who joined the team for the event. However, their effort was cut short by a fatal crash with one of the leading cars.
Practice & Qualifying
Saturday morning went by without any issues. The team was the fastest in their category pulling 0.1sec ahead of the #55 ARTA BMW during the practice session. The absence of the weight handicap this week had already started affect the standing - the GT3 cars were the quickest.
During the qualifying in the afternoon, Kataoka and Taniguchi dominated both sessions, being the first to break the category's track record. They set the fastest laps in both sessions. Here's the starting grid for the race:
- #4 GOODSMILE HATSUNE MIKU AMG
- #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3
- #65 LEON CVSTOS AMG
- #25 VivaC 86 MC
- #11 GAINER TANAX AMG GT3
Lap numbers are based on the current lap for the GT 500 category as shown on TV.
The last event of the season was special due to the presence of the three constructors of the German DTM - Audi, BMW, and Mercedes - for a demo run as both series are discussing a possible merger in a few years. During the demo run, the German cars showed a pace several seconds per lap slower than the cars in GT 500. The parade lap was even led by the DTM cars.
The weather was beautiful on Sunday. Kataoka was the starting driver for the #4 Hatsune Miku Mercedes. The leading cars of the GT 500 category colliding at the end of the formation lap. The stage was set for an intense fight in the faster category. In GT 300, however, the start was considerably cleaner.
Kataoka had a decent start. He secured the lead, followed closely by the #55 BMW. The Hatsune Miku car then quickly built up a substantial gap of several seconds over the following laps.
On lap 18, Kataoka made an early pitstop hoping to benefit from an undercut to increase their lead. However, they suffered from a lengthy stop due to an issue during the driver change. Meanwhile, the #88 Lambo retired due to an engine failure.
The very out lap, he was overtaken by the #33 Porsche who stopped at the same time as the Mercedes. It was clear that Taniguchi was struggling with pace following the incident. The #65 stopped in the next lap but came out in front of them.
By lap 20, it was clear Taniguchi had recovered from whatever issue he had because he was back in pace. He quickly made it back up to the #65. However, they were down in "effective" 6th position, well under the position they needed to win the championship.
On lap 35, the #51 Lexus came in for its only pitstop. The driver change was fast but they came back well behind Taniguchi. Taniguchi was now Fourth and in position to win the championship.
The #65 Mercedes soon passed the slow #25 Toyota leaving Taniguchi blocked. On lap 40, Taniguchi attempted to pass the Toyota at Turn 5. On the very next at the same corner, he tried again and was able to slide in front of the Toyota for Third.
On the final laps, the #65 passed the #51 for the lead and the victory. GoodSmile finished 3rd despite the frustratingly long pitstop and the bad pace of Taniguchi on the first laps of his stint. On the same occasion, they won the Championship by a margin of 5 points.
Overall the race was relatively eventless - relatively calm for a Super GT race. However, the race had its fair share of drama in both GT 500 and GT 300. And congrats to Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy, and, Tatsuya Kataoka and Nobuteru Taniguchi for winning the Championship in their respective category.