Benoit Treluyer was excited to begin the Japanese-based Super GT championship season at Suzuka last weekend. That excitement was, however, tempered slightly by the uncertainty of a series of important car modifications to his Motul-Autotech Nissan GT-R over the winter, which included a new 3.4 litre engine and a switch of tyre supplier to Michelin.
Nevertheless, qualifying went well for Treluyer and his Japanese team-mate, Satoshi Motoyama. "The track conditions (at Suzuka) have changed a lot since our winter tests and it was necessary to adapt the setup, but we still did quite well," said the Frenchman at the end of the session. Eighth in Q1, Benoit handed the car to Motoyama for Q2 before taking over again in Q3 and setting the third best time.
Starting from the second row of the grid, things looked well set for race day until a drastic change in weather conditions overnight. Temperatures fell by 10 degrees Celsius on race day and Suzuka was hit by heavy rainfall. "Before the start we had another rain shower mixed with a sand storm that had blown in from China," explained Benoit. "As the temperature had dropped so much we had no grip and the tyres were deteriorating quickly. Bad luck always seems to come in patches, so it was no surprise when the motor which powers the windscreen wiper broke down on the warm-up lap and left me with zero visibility!"
Inside the cockpit of the #23 Nissan, the Frenchman endured a torrid time, but stuck to his task until pitting on lap 18 to hand over to his team-mate. Motoyama rejoined with a different tyre compound which should have degraded less quickly, but the difference was not significant enough to have any real effect. "We had hoped that the temperature might go up on race day, but the opposite happened," explained Benoit. "The previous day we were already on the limit in terms of how the track temperature suited our tyres and we knew it would be crucial that it did not drop any further."
Nissan's 2010 package was decided relatively late. New engine regulations forced a move from 4.5 litres to a 3.4 litre capacity and, with a new tyre supplier to adapt to and a windscreen wiper failure in heavy rain, a finishing position of eighth was somewhat of a miracle.
"In terms of pure performance we are up there over the course of single lap," said Treluyer. "But in race conditions, when the temperature is too cool, we cannot keep the correct amount of heat in the tyres. The lack of experience on the Michelins did not help us, but this is only a question of development. In warm weather, the tyre works perfectly well and it is only when the temperature drops that they lose grip. We knew this was the case, so it wasn't a surprise. We also weren't shocked to discover that we are a bit behind with our engine. The top end power is there, but the torque needs to be improved as does the reliability."
In two weeks time in Okayama, Benoit is expecting another difficult weekend on a track layout and temperature which may not perfectly suit the Michelin tyres. However, at Fuji at the beginning of May, the 2008 Super GT champion thinks he should be in a position to fight for the podium once more. "Despite everything, we finished the first race in Suzuka with more points than we did last year," he said, looking on the bright side.
Meanwhile, Benoit left Suzuka happy to see that his cartoon character, Benoit-Poy, was as popular as ever. Available on DVD for the first time, the adventures of Benoit-Poy have proved to be a huge success, thanks to its creator as much as his creation.
-source: benoit treluyer