ARTA team explains bizarre quadruple drive-through penalty

The ARTA Honda team has explained how it bizarrely ended up serving four drive-through penalties in a SUPER GT race at Sugo it had appeared well set to win until that point.

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After Nirei Fukuzumi put the Honda outfit on pole position in qualifying, teammate Tomoki Nojiri led comfortably in the first stint of the race to pull a gap that peaked at over 20 seconds.

While this was cut back as the race progressed, Fukuzumi was still six seconds clear of the chasing pack led by Kazuki Hiramine in the Impul Nissan when he took over the car from his more experienced teammate.

The 24-year-old was comfortably leading the field when the ARTA squad was handed a drive-through penalty for a pitstop infraction on lap 45.

ARTA couldn’t immediately serve the penalty as Ritomo Miyata stopped on track at the exit of the final corner with his Racing Project Bandoh Toyota having caught fire. This triggered a prolonged safety car intervention, with race control closing the pitlane as is the norm in SUPER GT.

At the end of lap 53, the pitlane was reopened while the safety car remained out on track, prompting ARTA to try and take advantage of the situation and minimise the time loss by bringing Fukuzumi into the pits.

As it turned out, the drive-through penalty Fukuzumi served under the safety car didn’t count and he had to head back to the pitlane soon after.

Worse still, it was found that Fukuzumi jumped the red light at the pit exit at the first occasion, prompting the race director to hand the ARTA team yet another penalty.

Fukuzumi eventually ended up making four trips through the pitlane although retirements for several rival teams in the closing stages meant he and Nojiri still salvaged a point in 10th place.

ARTA’s chief engineer Ryan Dingle told “The first drive-through penalty was for a pitwork infringement. The front-left changer took off the tyre, and it wasn’t flat on the ground. The tyre [taken off] has to be flat on the ground before the tyre can be changed.

“That resulted in a drive-through, and while we were challenging that, the safety car came out. 

“The race director made it clear we couldn’t serve the penalty while the pitlane was closed. When the pitlane reopened, there was confusion in the team whether that would count. At that point we were kind of screwed anyway, so we tried it.

"After that the pit exit light was red, and we went through it. So that was another penalty, and the first penalty ended up not counting, because it was under the safety car. We had to do another penalty.

“The race director [told us] from here, 'you have to do two laps in the pits in a row'. I thought it included the second penalty [for driving through the red light], but that penalty hadn’t been announced yet, so I think we ended up doing an extra run through the pits ‘just for fun’. 

"Then later in the race we got a stop-and-go penalty for the exiting under the red light infraction [that hadn't been announced prior].”

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This is the second time this season that the ARTA team has lost a likely race win due to a penalty after Fukuzumi was hit with a drive-through in the Fuji 500km race for overtaking under yellow flags.

Dingle admitted that the ARTA car wasn’t as quick after the pitstops as it had been in the first stint with Nojiri behind the wheel, but he remains convinced that Fukuzumi would have hung on for ARTA’s first win of the season had the team not been hit with the drive-through.

“We didn’t have amazing pace in the second stint, it would have been a tough stint for Nirei, but I think he would have done it,” he said. “Everybody’s pace came back after the safety car, so we definitely would have been in the fight had the penalty not happened.

"It’s twice this year now [after the Fuji 500km], and they are both team errors."

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