The full motorsports season is finally on, as it is also in the virtual world with GT Academy starting soon. On April 5 in Japan, the first round of the Super GT “Okayama GT300km race” has seen the debut of Lucas Ordóñez, the first GT Academy Champion, in the GT500 Class (the full race footage is available on NISMO TV for some countries outside of Japan).
A simple explanation of the Super GT to overseas motorsports fans would be “the world’s fastest touring car race”. Top speeds exceed 300km/h, and laptimes are clearly faster than LMP2, approaching that of LMP1 class racing cars. The mixed class races with GT500 and GT300 cars racing at the same time requires a different set of driving skills than needed for a typical race. This is the reason why many former Super GT drivers are successful in the WEC and the Le Mans.
Car regulations for the GT500 class was partially matched with the DTM starting in 2014, but because of engine and tire performance differences the cars are faster than those of the DTM. Cars like the Nissan GT-R, Lexus RC F and Honda NSX Concept-GT are all participating in the race.
These 3 major works teams fight for their pride in the championship.
In the GT300 Class there are 3 classes of cars including FIA GT3 cars, JAF GT cars (built to Japanese domestic specs) and the general chassis called “MC” (Mother Chassis). There is a wide variety of participating vehicles, on a level rarely seen around the world, including cars like the Audi R8 LMS Ultra, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, BMW Z4 GT3, Porsche 911 GT3R, McLaren MP4-12C GT3, Lamborghini Gallardo GT3, Ferrari 458 GT3, Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, Lexus RC F GT3, Subaru BRZ, Honda CR-Z GT, Toyota Prius GT, Toyota 89 (MC) and Lotus Evora (MC).
One of the attractions of the race is that the personality of the commercial cars are preserved, and cars from a lower price class can fight their way to the top.
This is car number 24 of the KONDO Racing Team that Lucas will be driving this year. The team director is Masahiko Kondo (a really famous former Japanese singer). Lucas will be racing for the podium together with Daiki Sasaki.
* Since Lucas will be racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours race on June 13, he will be in the Super GT up to round 3 of Thailand.
Lucas was in the Q1 qualifier and placed 11th on the grid ahead of car number 19, the WedsSport ADVAN RC F using the same Yokohama tires.
The weather at the start of the final made things extremely difficult with semi-wet conditions on the track. Daiki Sasaki was set as the starting driver, with Lucas standing by in the pits. In recent years, the Super GT has collaborated with the local police and as a result, police bikes of the Okayama Prefectural Police led the parade run.
Though there was an accident in the beginning with one of the leading police bikes being laid down during the parade lap, the race started with no further issues, and the Number 24 Kondo Racing Team machine began its fight. The track conditions changed quickly from semi-wet, dry, to wet, and the positions of the works teams changed drastically as a result. Teams who expected the rain to stop took a direct hit.
Near the end of the race, the rain picked up as Lucas took the wheel, and he had to deal with heavy wet track conditions.
*The blue ID light on the front windshield means that Lucas is driving.
Though there was one overtaking penalty in a yellow flagged area, he completed the race under the difficult conditions in 11th. Just short of point rankings, we have high hopes for his next race at the second round, in the Fuji GT 500km race.
I interviewed Lucas after the race:
Pit Stop (P): Congratulations on your GT500 Debut! Japan’s Super GT is pretty much the fastest touring cars in the world, probably one of the fastest class of cars you’ve driven. What do you think of them?
Lucas (L): Thanks, the GT500 is incredible every time, I’ve driven the 2013 model in a test before, but at the time it was just a bit faster than a GT car. But now the current cars are faster than LMP2 cars, in terms of downforce and braking performance it’s so much better, and they’re the funniest cars to drive.
P: Does it feel much different to drive at the Okayama circuit with a GT500 car compared to a GT300?
L: Yeah absolutely. It’s much more speed for sure, the laptimes are about 7-8 seconds faster comparing the GT300 to the GT500. It’s a very short track, very narrow, the walls are very close and obviously ABS and traction control in GT300 makes to drive this track much easier, but with GT500 cars with no tire heaters and no traction control and no ABS it’s so difficult. It’s very complicated to get the tires warmed up in the right way in the front and in the rear, and in the rain its very dangerous and very complicated to for example make the S turn 3 flat on throttle, and we saw a few crashes there. And though it’s very dangerous I really enjoy driving GT500. In Okayama, you have to work on the steering wheel all the time, you don’t have any rest on the straights, and yes for sure there’s a big difference compared to GT300. But I really enjoyed yesterday though the conditions were really hard.
P: You were in Q1 and 12th place, and marked the top time out of the Yokohama tire equipped teams. How do you think you performed?
L: To be honest it was a bit disappointing though of course it’s good to be in front of the other Yokohama cars like the Lexus #19. But the expectations for me and for the team were to place within 8th to go to Q2 and to give Daiki the second shootout to fight for a good place in qualifying. But this is what I mean about GT500, I need more experience with this car especially with new tires, and I paid for this lack of experience in qualifying. What happened is that we used a very soft compound and I always try to save the rear tire a lot to have the best performance for one lap, but when I did the warm up laps I had enough tire temperature on the outside of the tires but not enough on the inside when I pushed; checking the data later the tire internal temperature, especially in the rear but also in the front, was not right; the tires were not ready. That’s why my performance was not so great; but we learn from mistakes as we say, we learn from experience. This is what I got from this. For sure I wanted to be in Q2 but I had this little mistake or this lack of experience – and it’s what happened. But it definitely feels good to be at least in the lead amongst Yokohama equipped cars.
P: The rapidly changing weather was tough in the final, and you finished in 11th after taking over from Sasaki. I think it’s important for you to finish the race without damaging the car especially because your participation this time is limited to the 3rd race; now what did you think of your first outing in the GT500?
L: For sure it’s always good to complete the race and to do the maximum number of laps as possible, especially with this car and under those conditions. The conditions were really really difficult for me especially as my first race in this car, the traffic situation and everything was so complicated. The Okayama racetrack, the weather conditions and with 40 cars on track, it was a big challenge for me, so I kept calm during the weekend, tried not to put a lot of pressure on myself. Again it was disappointing about our pace during the race, because we worked so hard to have a good balance for dry conditions and had a good setup, but then the conditions of the track were really bad for us. For our Yokohama tires especially because we don’t like this type of damp and drizzle conditions on the track; we need either a lot of water or fully dry conditions to perform well. But yes, I definitely learned a lot during the race. I also apologized to the team because I got a penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag at the end of my stint, it was really on the limit; there’s a different regulation here in Japan than in Europe and I think in Europe I would not have gotten that penalty, but here I overtook when I got the green flag in the next post of the accident. But yes, overall I’m happy with my performance, I know where I can improve, what I have to do to improve my driving with this special car and there’s a lot of data to analyze now, preparing for a full year of racing. And next week in Sugo we have more testing. So yeah, Overall I’m happy to do a few minutes, good minutes during the race. Disappointed about the results, about our pace during the race, but there’s nothing we can do.
P: Are there any drivers you think are really incredible?
L: I think everyone in GT500 is a very very good driver. If they’re not really good, he will be really good by the end of the season. The experience that the GT 500 gives you is absolutely incredible. There’s no other championship in the world that gives you this much knowledge about tire development, full attack performance for qualifying and traffic management. For example, to train for the Le Mans 24 Hours race this is a perfect championship, as there’s no other championship anywhere that gives you this much knowledge, about traffic management, full attack from lap 1 to the end. I know very well that the Nissan drivers like Motoyama-san and Ronnie Quintarelli-san, they are absolutely incredible drivers, they go flat out with no mistakes and they develop tires every week, and the experience they’ve gained in their years in Japan are key points in their careers. Even people like Michael Krumm, he has been racing here for 20 years now, so every driver here is very special and has the ability to perform greatly everywhere. You can see that from the Le Mans 24 Hours, many of the top drivers for Toyota in LMP1 and Porsche, many of them come from racing in Japan in GT500. So I feel really lucky and proud to be in this championship now, and this is just the beginning. I hope to do a good job in these 3 races this year and hopefully come back next year for a full season.
P: It’s been 7 years since you became GT Academy Champion in 2008, what are your next objectives now in your 7th season as a professional driver?
L: It’s a been a long journey, 7 years now as a racing driver, who would have thought this in 2007 when I was studying in Spain. But yes, now as a full professional racing driver I’m in the top class of racing in Japanese Super GT, and I’m going to race in the Le Mans in the LMP1 class – to be honest these were my targets in my racing career. So the next for me is just to keep learning, keep competitive, to get a chance to drive for a full season in Super GT next year, to keep working for LMP1 projects for the future and as you know this year I joined the Japanese F3, which is really good training, so I hope to do a very good job there as well, but I’m competing against young drivers with experience in single seaters and for me it’s my first year in single seaters, so that’ll be a big challenge. But if I do a good job, next year will be a really exciting season; hopefully a full program in GT500 and LMP1. That’s my target. Many people ask me about Formula 1 and stuff but that’s not realistic, I’m 30 years old, I’m a Nismo/Nissan driver and my target is to keep being at the top level of sports car and endurance racing.
P: So can you share the secret to winning the GT Academy for players aiming for the top of GT Academy in Japan?
L: The small advice I can give to Japanese GT Academy competitors is that they have to prepare themselves to become a racing driver. You join GT Academy and you want to win and become a racing driver, and for that you have to make a big effort. It’s a big change in your life, and if it’s your dream to become a racing driver it might look very good and very exciting but it’s a very big change on your life, and you have to be really ready for that. And if you want to win and become a racing driver, you need to train a lot in Gran Turismo, try to understand how you get faster on the vehicle side, train physically, as fitness is very important to become a racing driver, and I think because GT Academy is global, the language barrier is something very important; if you can learn to speak a little bit of English, being a Japanese it will be great for your future racing career outside Japan. And for sure it’s all about passion and all about making the big effort to keep in practice, to keep working every day and to listen to the people around you to improve your driving. To work with engineers, the way you communicate is very important, so for sure training on Gran Turismo, communication, fitness, and language are my main suggestions for success in becoming a new GT Academy winner.”
P: The 2nd round at Fuji held from May 2 to 3 will be a super high speed race reaching speeds of over 300km/h. There will be lots of Japanese Gran Turismo players spectating there and we all have high expectations for you.
L: If everything functions properly, tires related matters included, I think we can achieve great results. Arigatou gozaimashita! Otsukaresamadeshita!