SUPER GT 2023 Final Round at Motegi: Pacing Troubles and Unpredictable Weather, the Team Battles Despite Overwhelming Odds
Igor Omura Fraga competed in the final round (300 km race) of the Super GT series at the Mobility Resort Motegi located in Tochigi on November 4 and 5, with teammate Yuga Furutani for ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage.
An unusually difficult race week
The venue for the final round of the Super GT Series 2023 was Motegi, a challenging circuit that's both fast and includes a number of tricky sections. The ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 isn't especially suited for this type of track, so the team went into the weekend expecting some serious challenges.
Also, the team struggled with tire issues right from the start because the conditions of the track were not what the team officials were expecting, and the tires they'd brought proved far from optimal. This resulted in the drivers' not being able to maintain a quick pace.
Fraga meets with the engineers.
Igor Fraga's initials, IF, light up the front position display on the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3.
"It's thanks to Igor Fraga's speed, we were able to get through Q1 and into Q2," Team Director Katsumi Takeda said.
In unfavorable conditions, Fraga headed onto the track for Q1. He set the 7th best time out of 13, putting the team through to the next qualifier. The team finished Q2, placing it in 15th position on the starting grid of 25 GT300 cars.
In a bold strategy, the team considered a "no tire change" race
On the day of the final, the hearts of the team members were somewhat heavy because they knew they had a huge challenge ahead of them. It's no easy task to run a 300-km race on the wrong set of tires.
On Sunday, November 5, the race began at one o'clock sharp, with Fraga taking the first stint. His intent was to do all he could to defend his 15th place position.
"Compared to the other teams, our car just didn’t have the performance. It was going to be a difficult race. So, I really had no other choice in strategy, but just to drag the car through as many laps as I could before handing it over to Futurani."
With a difficult race ahead of them, the team devised a number of possible strategies.
One was to keep tire wear to a minimum and shorten the pitstop by just changing drivers, eliminating the need of a tire change. Or, like in Round 6 where they saw a lot of one-sided tire wear, they could try changing tires on only one side of the car, or for this race, even change only the rears.
"We had already realized there was no way we could beat our opponents in a head-to-head battle, so we decided we needed a bold strategy if we wanted a chance to win. If it was possible, we wanted to go with a 'no tire change' strategy which would save us the most time. So, I took the first stint and tried to keep going as long as I could while keeping an eye on the condition of the car," Fraga said.
Patiently following in the tracks of his opponents ahead, Fraga kept a watchful eye on the condition of his tires and updated his team over the radio.
"Partway though, our pace started to pick up a bit. I was beginning to wonder if we'd be able to come through with a no-change strategy, and as I ran lap after lap, the tires slowly began to lose grip. There were still 20 laps left, so if the grip on the rear was this bad now, I knew it was only going to get worse later. That’s when we decided we would have to go with a rear tire change."
In Round 6 at Sports Land Sugo, the team changed only the more severely worn left-hand tires and managed to gain a significant number of places with this strategy. Like at Sugo, the team once again had the option to swap just the left-hand tires, but they decided instead to change the rear ones.
"In theory, it would have been better to just change the left-hand side. But with our car, we were losing a lot of traction on the rear and spinning the tires as a result. In the main race, the wear on the back-right was much worse than the left-front tire, and that was beginning to seriously affect lap times," Fraga explained.
As the other teams began to head to the pits for a driver change, Fraga stayed out on the track until finally coming in on Lap 34, improving his position to P2. Furutani took over the wheel, while the team changed the rear tires. After refueling, Furutani headed onto the track, continuing the race in 15th place.
Poor weather sends the final leg into turmoil
Conditions would have soon changed, though, and sudden showers quickly created wet conditions on track.
With only a few laps left to go, the team decided to change to rain tires. Furutani was called back to pits for the tire change before heading back out.
"In the final leg of the race, the rain started to pick up, and we were struggling with pace. The other teams were pushing on with dry tires, but with our car and tires, it was beginning to get undrivable," Furutani recalled. "Considering the possibility that the rain could get even worse, we decided to change to rain tires and take an aggressive stance. Things were feeling very good when I got back on the track, but then almost immediately, it stopped raining and the track started to dry up. I don't regret the decision to change tires though. I think it was the best choice we could have made at the time."
Furutani was unable to make up for the time lost in the tire change and the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3 finished the final race of the season in 17th place.
"This weekend, we really had nothing to lose even if we took a big risk, so we knew there wasn't any other choice but to take the gamble," Fraga commented about the race week. "If it had just rained a little harder toward the end, we could have perhaps just squeezed into the points range. But in the end, our strategy worked against us and we left with no points at all. It's disappointing, but I'm satisfied that we did everything we could as a team."
And so, the 2023 Super GT Series came to an end with Igor Omura Fraga and Yuga Furutani finishing 23rd in the driver rankings with five points, while team ANEST IWATA Racing found itself in 17th place in the team rankings.
SUPER GT 2023 GT300 ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage
Event / Qualifying Position / Final Position / Points
Opening Rd.・Okayama / 7th / 12th / --
Rd. 2・Fuji / 17th / 14th / --
Rd. 3・Suzuka / 15th / 17th / --
Rd. 4・Fuji / 8th / 19th / --
Rd. 5・Suzuka / 5th / 10th / 1
Rd. 6・SUGO / 20th / 7th / 4
Rd. 7・Autopolis / 15th / 11th / --
Final Rd.・Motegi / 15th / 17th / --
Total points: 5
Driver Rankings: 23rd (Igor Omura Fraga / Yuga Furutani)
Team Rankings : 17th (ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage)
Fraga greets a fan and autographs his back.
The 2023 Super GT GT300 Class ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT and its three drivers. Photo: Round 2, Fuji Speedway.
GT500 Class season champion No. 36 au TOM'S GR Supra, driven by Sho Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata.
Fraga's GT300 class rival. Season Champion No. 52 Saitama Toyopet GB GR Supra GT, driven by Hiroki Yoshida and Kohta Kawaai.
Next up: November 18 and 19, SFL Rd.16-18 at Mobility Resort Motegi
Fraga’s next race will be his final real-world race this year. The venue is Motegi for the Final Round of the Super Formula Lights, he’ll be looking to score his first victory since Round 6.
You can follow all of Igor's racing in the 2023 Super GT Championship (ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage) on the Igor Fraga Report page.