"An absolute pleasure..."
The 'Sprint Cup', the final, non-championship round of the 2010 Super GT 500 season is the biggest celebration in Japanese motorsport with the GT500, GT300 and Formula Nippon categories all on the bill. For the drivers and teams in the country's leading race series, it's a time to enjoy themselves, particularly as the races are so short with team-mates racing separately in 22-lap events.
On Friday morning, Benoit Treluyer and Satoshi Motoyama took the wheel of their Motul-Autech team's #23 Nissan GT-R to take part in free practice and prepare for qualifying. With the sessions reduced in length, set-up work had to be done quickly.
"For the first time this season we didn't have the same feeling with the car as Satoshi and this definitely complicated things," explained Benoit at the end of the first day. "I got behind the wheel first and the car felt quite well balanced to me so I asked my engineer not to modify the set-up too much as the track was still quite green."
However, Motoyama chose not to follow this advice, making some tuning changes in a bid to get the tyres work better. Unfortunately the alterations meant an unwelcome surprise for the Frenchman in qualifying.
"We discussed the changes together and I wasn't very keen," said Treluyer, "but taking into account the small number of laps I'd done, it was difficult to be 100% certain. However, in qualifying I found myself with huge understeer and was only 12th fastest. It must also be said that the track conditions had changed a lot."
Benoit then made some further set-up changes to the car that allowed Motoyama to do better during his own qualifying session, where he ended up ninth fastest.
"It didn't go too badly for him, although he found the car a bit too stiff at the rear. But, along with his engineer, they went a bit backwards in terms of set-up."
A bit too far backwards perhaps as, the following day, Benoit found the car had huge oversteer during the first ten laps of the race.
"The new Michelin tyres work really well during the first two laps," he explained. "They deliver performance quite quickly but they take time to get the pressures up. I made a fantastic start and found myself in sixth at the end of the first lap. But after three laps, the rear became very unstable and I lost a few places. From then on, I adapted my driving to the car and, at the same time, we started to lose a bit of overall grip and the balance started to get better, so I managed to climb up to fifth place."
The performance meant Benoit ended his season on an fairly optimistic note.
"We are already flat-out ahead of 2011," he confirmed on Saturday. "This last round has confirmed all the progress we've made. Even during cold weather we are now constantly able to fight for the top four on merit and we could have been on the podium with a better set-up. We have found a good direction with Michelin and, this winter, we will work twice as hard. In terms of the engine, progress has been slower but we a definitely getting there! We are now at the same level as the Hondas, but still a little bit behind the Toyotas. But unlike both these manufacturers, we have created a racing engine from scratch, starting from just a production block."
On Sunday, while Motoyama took his turn to represent the Motul-Autech squad, Benoit met with fans and toured the VIP boxes, while keeping a careful eye on the track where Satoshi gained three places to take the chequered flag in sixth.
"I'll be back at Fuji on 4 and 5 December for the 'Nismo Festival', an annual end-of-season meeting where Nissan puts its best racing cars on track for the pleasure of the fans," said Benoit. "It's like a big family party which brings together all the lovers of the marque. It's purely for fun and is very enjoyable."
Enjoyment being a great way to say goodbye to 201o...