Be patient, we are making progress!
It was a third difficult round in a row for Benoît Treluyer and his Nissan GT-R at Mount Fuji last weekend. But, in spite of the Motul Autech team encountering technical problems, a sense of optimism was at least in the air.
After promising free practice sessions allowed Benoît to continue the development work of the new Michelin tyres, the Frenchman entered qualifying with the hope of progressing to the Super Lap session reserved for the top ten fastest runners.
"Unfortunately," Benoît rued, "It was a difficult decision as to which tyres to take and we ended up opting for the harder compound..."
Despite setting the eleventh fastest time, Benoît and co-driver Satoshi Motoyama were promoted to the Super Lap thanks to the disqualification of another car. This time, the team chose a softer tyre which Benoît used to good effect by qualifying fourth.
"In terms of raw performance we were in good shape, even if we were still quite far off the pace of Toyota, who were using a new 'reduced drag' aero kit for the first time which allowed them to run 5km/h faster than anyone else on the straights. Despite this, we were quite confident for the race as our long stints were reasonably solid. All was working well, perhaps even a bit better than we had hoped for. From then on, the objective was to score points."
Unfortunately, during the 8 minute warm-up session before the race, the 2008 Super GT champions' car inherited a vibration which became ever more severe throughout the three laps completed.
"I immediately suspected a transmission problem and came back into the pits," said Benoît. "The team checked the car for 10 minutes hoping that the vibrations were linked to something else but were eventually forced to change the gearbox. In the end, we took the start two laps down."
From that moment on, the Motul Autech squad decided to use the Fuji round as a test session.
"During my first stint," said Treluyer, "I found myself 4 seconds faster than the leading cars and I was able to maintain their rhythm. This means that if we had been able to make the start under normal circumstances, it would have been possible to achieve a good result."
At the end of his stint, Treluyer handed the car over to Motoyama. This time, it was the engine which ended up breaking down.
"In fact," concluded Benoît, "our problem was coming mainly from the engine. That meant changing the transmission and when we rejoined the track things were going better. But we still hadn't cured the origin of the problem. Very quickly, everything started to get worse and the engine ended up letting go. In the end, the result is disappointing but we have seen good potential for the rest of the season. Michelin is making progress each time we run and on our side, apart for the engine which hasn't evolved enough in my opinion, we are doing a fantastic job on chassis set-up. So, logically, the coming rounds should be more positive. For sure, I would have liked to race in Fuji, but sometimes you have to be patient."
The objective at Sepang, Malaysia, on June 19 will not be to run another test session during race conditions but to finish on the podium. Sometimes, patience also has its own limits!