SUPER GT 2023 Round 2 at Fuji: Igor Omura Fraga Embarks on a Long Stint After a Tough Qualifying
Igor Omura Fraga competed in the second round of the SUPER GT series on May 3 and 4 at the Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka, Japan. His driving partners in the ANEST IWATA Racing with Arnage team were Yuga Furutani and Miki Koyama.
The team prepared for the race with Miki Koyama—the first female Japanese driver to become Series Champion in an FIA-regulation formula car race series—designated as the C Driver. She is a rookie in the Super GT Series, but because she has spent a considerable amount of time with the other drivers, including Fraga, in the tests before the opening round, she has become good friends with both Fraga and Furutani.
The first job for the three drivers was to arrive at Fuji Speedway a day before the practice to greet the fans of ANEST IWATA Racing. At the visitor booth of ANEST IWATA Racing, in the general public spectator area, a time trial session on Gran Turismo 7 was set up.
As a service for the fans, each of the three rigs were prepared with recorded lap times of Fraga, Furutani, and Koyama, and the fans were able to drive the Fuji Speedway in the game and challenge those lap times. Depending on how well they did, they were awarded prizes. The three real race drivers made a visit to the booth while it was being prepared to record their lap times and had fun while driving the virtual Fuji Speedway on Gran Turismo 7.
Fraga interacts with the many fans that came to the circuit.
From practice, qualifying to the final, FUJI Speedway was blessed with good weather throughout the weekend.
Working together as a team to move forward
“The atmosphere in the team is great," said Yuga Furutani. "With all three drivers being about the same age, it’s really easy to talk, and we can discuss things openly including how to drive, and I feel we are trying new things and teaching each other how to improve.”
Igor Fraga agreed: “All of us are rookies so we can’t grow without working together. So, we are trying not to hide anything from each other and talk and think about what to do to become better together, to try to advance together.”
Struggles in qualifying, unable to fully warm the tires
By early evening, the three drivers participated in a meeting for the race, which was set to start the following day. It was decided that the official Q1 qualifying session would be taken on by Furutani, while Q2 was appointed to Fraga who can drive with consistency while caring for the tires.
The team decided to start Fraga for the final race, to establish a strong early position and allow Furutani, who was designated to drive the second half, aim for at least a 10th-place finish, and thus, earn championship points.
On May 3, official qualifying took place under sunny skies. Fraga drove the car to check its condition in the practice run and discovered that it was taking too much time to warm the tires. He suggested changing the settings slightly for Furutani in his Q1 time attack. The team heeded this request and performed some fine adjustments to the car’s settings in preparation for the official session in the afternoon.
In the official Q1 qualifying session, Furutani went out on track, and he too noticed that the tires were not warming up quickly enough. Therefore, he ended the 10-minute time attack session without being able to completely warm the tires to an adequate level.
As a result, Furutani managed only P9 out of out of 13 cars, but the team needed to finish within the top eight to advance to the Q2 session. But they ended Q1 behind by 0.079 seconds of 8th place, so they were unable to improve their position. In the end, pole position went to the Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R with J.P de Oliveira/Teppei Natori driving, and the ANEST IWATA Racing RC F GT3, which was 1.041 seconds off the leader's pace, started in 17th.
The Final race
The sun came out again, and the skies were clear for the May 4th race. The final contest began at 1:30 pm. Starting in 17th place, the team opted to employ a clever pit strategy to move up in position during the race.
Fraga, who began the race, cautiously maintained his position in the midst of rivals who were trying to get ahead. He came in for his first pitstop after just seven laps. The strategy was to not follow the conventional pitstop strategies of the other teams and create some distance ahead so they could run some clean, uninterrupted laps.
After completing a "splash-and-go" pitstop with only refueling, Fraga returned to the track with no traffic in front of him. After completing 48 laps, which signaled just past the halfway point of the race, he made his second refueling pitstop and handed the car over to Furutani.
Furutani dropped to 20th place during this pitstop, but as the other cars started making their second pitstops, Furutani's moved up to 14th place. He maintained that position after completing 91 laps of the race.
The team made a bold strategic decision in the final, but the tire pressure became too high while driving, and the drivers were not able to improve their lap times as much as they hoped. Also, they found that the pit team needed to work on shortening their refueling techniques. As a result, the ANEST IWATA Racing team could not score any championship points, and the GT300 class victory went to the de Oliveira/Natori team.
Koyama, who didn’t get to drive in this races, commented: “In this race, even if I was able to drive, while that would make me happy, the turn of events for the team were not great, and that would not make me feel better. So I had mixed feelings, it's unfortunate I didn’t get to drive, but the team was able to get long run data and finish the race on a positive note, so I think that was good.”
Igor Fraga, who drove 48 laps before changing places with Furutani, looked back on the race:
“At the opening round of Okayama, the race ended without being able to really drive properly at all so I feel I was able to do that today to my heart’s content. However, it’s a bit unfortunate that the tire selection might have not been suited for today's conditions, and so we didn’t get the pace that we were expecting. But we were able to complete the race with no major issues, and were able to gather data for the long run. We will be working and discussing together how to best use this data for the next races to come.”
It looks like the teamwork of the three drivers has reached new heights as they look forward to Round 3 of the SUPER GT series at the Suzuka Circuit in the first week of June.