You can’t win ‘em all!
It was essential not to make any mistakes in tyre choice during Sunday’s Super GT race at Suzuka. Inspired in their decision making at the start, the Motul-Autech team took the lead thanks to a daring gamble before surrendering it after a second roll of the dice proved less successful. Nevertheless, Benoît Tréluyer would eventually take the chequered flag in an impressive fourth position, keeping his hope of securing the championship alive.
It rained throughout almost the entire weekend at the famed Suzuka circuit. This was to the benefit of Tréluyer and his Nissan GT-R Motul-Autech team-mate Satoshi Motoyama, with both feeling that their Bridgestone-shod car was slightly less efficient during the sole dry practice session than it would prove to be in the wet.
“In dry conditions I was going well, but our pace was nothing special,” reports Tréluyer. “In the wet however we were competitive. I comfortably set the eighth fastest Q1 time in qualifying and this allowed Satoshi to try his luck in Q2. He did a great job and qualified the car for Q3 where I set the fifth fastest time. In fact, I could have done better had I not been blocked by a slower car during my lap. Had I been one tenth faster I would have set the third best time. It is frustrating, but as the car was easy to drive we were confident for the race.”
This is where the team took their most audacious gamble. Whilst all of their competitors opted for wet tyres, Tréluyer decided to follow the advice of his engineer and start on intermediates.
“The first four laps were quite tricky as I didn’t know where the standing water was,” Tréluyer recalls. “Nevertheless, I managed to hold on to fifth and once I had the surface figured out I upped the pace and managed to pick off the cars ahead of me.”
Having taken the lead Tréluyer quickly pulled away from his rivals and ended his stint with a 45 second advantage at the head of the field.
“We then decided to fit wet tyres for Satoshi’s stint as it had started to rain again and our weather forecast was predicting that it would become heavier during the following hour,” continues Tréluyer. “Unfortunately, whilst the rain did arrive it was not as heavy as we’d anticipated and certainly didn’t justify wets. Satoshi gave it his all but the lead built during the first stint quickly evaporated. The team could have called him in to fit intermediates, but this would have meant taking another risk as our weather bulletin was still predicting the arrival of this damned heavy rain!”
Having fallen to eighth the Motul-Autech Nissan GT-R rejoined the track for the third and final stint with a fully pumped-up Tréluyer at the wheel.
“Unfortunately, I touched a competitor when I rejoined the track. It was my fault: I simply braked too late,” he admits. “So I got a drive-through penalty and, shortly after, I spun whilst trying to make my way back up the order. I was lucky as I didn’t lose too much time and I went on the attack again when I rejoined. I was pushing all the way to the flag and managed to get fourth place. I had a great time, but we just missed out on the podium.”
Does the Frenchman have cause for regrets? Not really: the time lost during the second stint made fourth the best he could have hoped for.
“We’re not pointing the finger at our weather experts as it was their advice that allowed us to make such fantastic progress during the first stint,” says Tréluyer. “During the second stint they correctly forecast the arrival of the rain, just not its intensity.
“Besides, we have to be realistic and admit that, at the moment, it is difficult to catch the Michelin cars. Despite 80 kilos of ballast the Nissan GT-R of Masataka Yanagida and Ronnie Quintarelli still took pole. This says a lot about the potential of the whole package. On one hand I am a little disappointed, but then I remind myself that we did some great development work last year when we were running the Michelins.”
In the championship, Benoît and his team-mate now have 48 points and sit third in the standings. Ahead of them are the #46 Nissan GT-R (70 points) and the #1 Honda of Takashi Kogure and Loic Duval (54 points). As such there is still plenty to play for.
“We go to the next race in Fuji without too much extra weight on the car,” says Tréluyer. “This weekend our objective was third place, so as to remain in the hunt for the title without receiving too much ballast. All things considered fourth isn’t too bad a result.
“We also ran a new engine this weekend. We’re yet to see any real gain compared with the previous one, but it is a brand new unit and we are at the beginning of its development. The good news is that the potential is there, but we need to work on the power curve. At the moment the window is too narrow and we have to change gear a lot.”
In Fuji, an increasingly competitive Tréluyer will not only be looking to find his way back on to the podium – he will be targeting a place on the top step.