The 2012 Autobacs Super GT series moved onto round 4 at the Sportsland Sugo circuit for a 300km race in late July. Located in Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, this was one of the areas most affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, so the teams were happy to be returning.
Once again, car #0 would be driven by regular driver Nobuteru Taniguchi paired with Tatsuya Kataoka. The #4 car was shared by driver Taku Bamba and partner Masahiro Sasaki.
During free practice, both squads worked on set-up for qualifying and the race under sweltering conditions.
Qualifying would be run in a Super Lap style, with slower cars eliminated during the sessions. In the early stages of Q1, the cars were floundering in positions 42 and 43 respectively, but a red flag on the course allowed them to make some set-up adjustments.
With only 8min remaining, the cars returned to the track, where Kataoka in car #0 set a best time of 1:23.656. With one tenth of a second was Bamba in car #4 who set a time of 1:23.665. Sadly, neither time was good enough to advance to Q2, placing the team in 16th and 17th place respectively on the grid. This would be the first time since 2011 that neither car made it through to the Super Lap qualifying session.
Before the main race, team sponsor BMW Japan collaborated with Save the Children Japan for the Tohoku Earthquake charity. They brought many children to the pits, making the pre-race pit walkabout more lively than usual.
Lining up on the grid, car #0 was moved up to 15th and #4 in 16th, with Taniguchi and Sasaki taking the first stints in each car.
After the warm-up lap, the pace car pulled into the pits but two Nissan GT-Rs in the faster GT500 class collided almost instantly, causing a yellow flag for the following GT300 pack. Car #0 held its position but #4 dropped to 17th.
Once the race went green, the positions fluctuated during the opening laps until lap 13 when car #0 set its fastest lap a 1:25.105, with car #4 keeping similar times and climbing up to 12th.
By lap 29, the GT300 class leader headed for the pits, triggering a charge for new tores. However, Kataoka in car #0 felt the rubber was holding up so chose to stay out. He remained on-track until lap 40, climbing to 3rd before he pitted.
The team changed just two tires and sent him out quickly, returning the car in 10th position, reaching 8th by lap 44.
Similarly, car #4 was looking after its slicks and remained on-track until lap 43, returning in 11th position, where it would remain until the checkered flag.
Meanwhile, Kataoka in car #0 was in a battle. It had been chasing down #61 Subaru BRZ that eventually spun in front of him. However, #911 Porsche 911 GT3R was catching the BMW fast, its speed on the straights able to overcome the Z4’s advantage in the corners.
On lap 70, the Porsche passed, relegating Kataoka to 8th, but problems for one of the Nissans helped them regain the place. Then #31 Toyota Prius starting falling back in reach of the BMW, but #11 Audi R8-LMS was catching #0.
Fighting over sixth place, the three cars switched positions several times, with the Prius falling back and the R8 taking the advantage. Car #0 started the final lap just 0.3sec behind the Audi but, try as they might, the BMW couldn’t pass and came home in 7th with another four points towards the championship title.
We hope to catch up with the Studie AG BMW Z4 Super GT300 team after the next round of the Autobacs series.