We've been following the exploits of our friends at Studie AG - a Japanese BMW specialist that has entered a BMW Z4 (bought from Schubert Motorsport in Germany) in the GT300 class of the 2011 Autobacs Super GT series.
To summarize, the car is powered by a 4.4L V8 from the limited edition E92 M3 GTS but its restricted to about 300hp and 2535 lb by the series regulations, meaning the engine must use an intake restrictor.
The car is driven by one of Japan's top drivers, Nobuteru Taniguchi, as well as relative newcomer, Taku Bamba. The car is prepared by GSR and TeamUKYO, and got off to a slow start after pre-season testing was canceled following the major tsunami. The first race of the season was also canceled but the team finished fifth in class at the Fuji race. The Z4 then finished fourth at Okayama and sixth at Sugo in July. Following that, it scored fifth in the Suzuka 500km endurance race despite heavy rain.
Round six was back at Fuji for a 250km race in September. The car was carrying success ballast as a means to balance the performance of all competitors, but Taniguchi was still able to set the fastest time in first practice despite very high track temperatures.
For the Super Lap session the next day, Taniguchi recorded a best time of 1'43.416, which was enough for the team's second pole position of the year.
With rain falling on race day, everybody was relieved to see the sun reappear in time for the main event, with track temps again rising. At the start, Taniguchi held the lead until he was passed in the second corner. But a mistake and contact by the leading vehicles allowed him to recapture the class lead again.
With its driver extending his lead by almost 1sec per lap, the team decided to extend its pitstop from lap 30 to 35 in order to increase their advantage. He pitted with a 25sec lead. He handed over to Bamba, who was able to maintain a 20sec lead to take the checkered flag.
This win from pole put the Hatsune Miku Goodsmile BMW Z4 in the championship lead, passing the leading Ferrari in the points tally and increasing its lead over the Porsche in third place.
Round seven was the 250km race at Kyushu but again the team had to contend with 65kg of weight penalties. As a result, the car struggled in practice and had everything to do in qualifying.
With Taku Bamba at the wheel, they could only record a best lap of 1'54~55. However, Taniguchi cut that to 1'52.464 and put the car in sixth position. The time eventually dropped them to tenth, but it was enough to advance into the Super Lap session.
In a tense qualifying round, Taniguchi improved his time to 1'52.222, which put the car in seventh on the grid. Their main rival, Ferrari #11, which is second in the championship, was alongside them in sixth.
For the race, Taniguchi would again start, this time on cooler conditions. From the flag, he manages to take two places, moving up to fifth position, which he holds onto despite his lap times increasing.
With the pitstop window opening from lap 15, the team waits until lap 23 to change drivers, with Bamba emerging onto the track in 12th, one place behind Ferrari #11.
By lap 38, Bamba is in 7th but the Ferrari has moved up to 5th, maintaining its lead. However, an incident with two other cars distracts Bamba, dropping him to 9th on lap 42, while the Ferrari has moved up to 3rd.
At the checkered flag, the Ferrari finishes 2nd in class, with the Studie Z4 remaining in 9th. This moved the Ferrari back into the championship points lead going into round eight at TwinRing Motegi. But with no more weight penalty, the advantage has swung back to the BMW team for the final round.
The Motegi practice session is run in the rain, so the times are slow. The rain continues into qualifying, with Bamba setting a best time of 2'04.024 in Q2 to set pole, with Ferrari #11 in third. With Taniguchi taking over for Q3, he sets a time of 2'04.356 and claims another pole position for the team. However, their main rival was alongside them in second position.
The final race would see Bamba drive the first session for the first time all season on what was now a dry track. He held the lead in the opening laps, while car #11 was passed for second by car #62, until it was forced to pit with mechanical trouble. However, Bamba had extended the lead to 5sec by lap nine, giving himself a cushion.
The Ferrari was then passed a second time by another competitor and chose to pit on lap 18. The Studie Z4 in turn pitted the following lap, when Taniguchi took control.
Returning to the track in the lead, Taniguchi ran a succession of 1min 57sec laps to demoralize the competition, building a lead and allowing him to then settle back to preserve the tires.
With a 20sec lead over Ferrari #11, the BMW took the checker and the team won the 2011 GT300 championship. They also secured the driver's title to make it a perfect year.
Following the final round, the GT series holds the JAF GP Fuji Sprint Cup with Super GT and Formula Nippon both participating. There are two races of 22 laps, or about 100km each, with both using a standing start rather than the usual rolling starts during the season.
With short races, qualifying was very important each driver would compete in one race each. Taniguchi would qualify for race one in the rain and had an exciting duel with series rivals in the #11 Ferrari, swapping fastest times. The BMW would finally qualify in second place but ahead of the Ferrari.
For Bamba's session, he was plagued by a drying track that wouldn't allow either slicks or wet tires to operate efficiently. Although a drying line had emerged toward the end, the driver was only able to qualify 12th.
For the first race, Taniguchi emerged from the first corner in first place. He then proceeded to set a blistering pace, building a 7sec lead after 15 laps. But with the track surface being very abrasive after the rain, the tires start to deteriorate. He manages to hold his lead until the last lap, when the Porsche #33 slips past to win by 0.092sec.
In race two, Bamba made up for his poor qualifying by climbing three spots to 9th in one corner. By the end of the second lap until he was in sixth, and after the fifth lap he was second, recording the fastest lap of 1'44.840. He finally past the leader, car #11, on lap seven and established a 5sec lead, which he held remained until the checkered flag.
The team had completed an incredible season and established a competitive edge that remained with them throughout the year, finally rewarded with the championship title, race wins and pole positions.