We've been following the progress of our friends at Studie AG in the Japanese Super GT racing series. The renowned Japanese BMW tuner finished fifth in the first race at Fuji in a BMW Z4 they bought from Schubert Motorsport in Germany - the same company that builds BMW's endurance racers.
The car is powered by a 4.4L V8 from the limited edition E92 M3 GTS and develops about 500hp. However, the GT300 class means the team must use an intake restrictor to limit power to about 300hp and weight to 1150kg (2535 lb).
The car is driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi, who is widely regarded as one of the top race drivers in Japan. He shares it with Taku Banba, a young driver who is showing lots of potential.
Working with GSR and TeamUKYO, had canceled pre-season testing sessions because of the tsunami disaster in Japan. The first race of the season was also canceled ahead of the Fuji race already mentioned.
Since then, the Studie Z4 finished fourth at Okayama and sixth at Sugo in July with 68kg (150 lb) of success penalty onboard.
For the fifith round, the team traveled to Suzuka for a 500km endurance race known as the "40th International Pokka GT Summer Special" and the longest race of the season.
With its continued success, the team had piled on 78kg (172 lb) of ballast, which is added by the organizers in an attempt to keep the field competitive.
For qualifying, the circuit was cloaked in thick cloud, which made the conditions dark and it looked as if rain would come.
In the first of three knockout qualifying sessions, Taku Bamba recorded a preliminary time of 2:8.235, which was good enough for sixth. However, Nobuteru Taniguchi moved them up to second with a time of 2:6.887.
This advanced the team into Q2 just in time for the rain to start falling. Yet with Taniguchi at the wheel, he recorded a time of 2:23.735 on rain tires, which put the team tenth and ensured advancement into Q3.
For the final qualifying session, Bamba again returned to the cockpit and the wet track. His initial time of 2:25.475 saw the team in second place, but as the session wound out, he improved to 2:25.196 but dropped to sixth place overall. This would be their grid position for the race.
With heavy rain on Sunday morning (8/21/2011), free practice was again on a wet track but it starts to dry out as the big race approaches at 3.10pm. However, another shower would see the race start on rain tires, with Taniguchi passing another driver on the opening lap to claim fifth.
He holds the position for a further eight laps until the wet-weather tires start to go off, dropping him to tenth position by lap 16.
This encouraged the team to run its first pitstop on lap 17, with Bamba taking over on wet tires again. The new rubber enabled him to slowly claw his way back to 15th by lap 25 of 87.
On lap 37, one of the more powerful GT500 cars crashed, causing the safety car to be deployed. With some clever strategy, the Studie BMW Z4 had reached 12th position by lap 41, after which car #4 found some real speed on the drying track. A lap time of 2:23.792 saw elevated the team to 11th overall, before a 2:20.857 got them into 10th.
After 35 laps at the wheel, Bamba pitted for Taniguchi to take over again. The dry track finally allowed the team to fit slicks, even though it appeared that rain might return again. It was a gamble by the team but it paid off as Taniguchi recorded the fastest GT300 lap at 2:17.056 on lap 55. This moved them up to 14th and eventually they reached ninth position. However, the team was awarded a drive-through penalty following an infringement during the refueling procedure in the pits.
Returning to the track, the driver got his head down to string together some quick times. He needed to reach eighth position to claim any points but more rain made this more difficult.
The experienced driver was able to master the conditions and by lap 67 was in 7th place. Ahead of him is car #11 - the team's points rival and somebody they needed to beat to advance in the series. They were 25sec behind and more rain was on the way. But by lap 74 the gap was down to 15sec, with Taniguchi cutting it to just 6sec on lap 77.
On the final lap, the two cars were together, crossing the line just 0.873sec apart but with the Studie BMW behind in fifth place. They hadn't beaten the other team but had won valuable points in their continued pursuit of the GT300 championship.