Mazda WIM Selection Team Complete Roadster 4-Hour in 14th
The five women selected from the 26 members of this year’s WIM project were Yuri Hayashi and Hiroko Komatsu, who competed in the Super Taikyu Fuji 8-Hours in a Demio SKY-G, Yumiko Sekizaki, who had her race debut in mid-July at the Mazda Fan Endurance (“Maz-Tai”) Kyushu round, Enami Kitahara and Saori Murasato. They, along with every other team, would be competing in a new model, 4-hour endurance spec Roadster (MX-5) provided by Mazda. The three novices, Sekizaki, Kitahara and Murasato would drive this race car for the first time during the test runs set up on the 4th. However, the amount of test time allocated to each team was a mere 30 minutes, allowing only the most cursory of familiarization. Before and after this session, the WIM members adjusted their seat cushions to their own physique, and repeatedly practiced driver changes.
With strong rays of sunlight occasionally breaking through the clouds on the 5th, the course remained dry from the morning right until 8pm. The temperature hovered between 25°C to 28°C and was very humid. Driving in the morning’s free practice was Komatsu, who is accustomed to both Tsukuba Circuit and the Roadster. Following on from her, Murasato and Yuri took the wheel. After this a strategy meeting was headed by project leader, Keiko Ihara, where the other drivers listened intently as Komatsu explained the key points to handling the MX-5. In official qualifying held after lunch, team ace Komatsu went out onto the course. She recorded a best time of 1 minute, 12.73 seconds, 25th fastest out of the 27 competitors. That being said, their difference with the top time was a mere 1.4 seconds, with all other teams recording times around 1 minute 12-13 seconds, demonstrating the uniformity of performance in every vehicle. The “Jinba Ittai” Team, in which Mazda executives (Managing Executive Officer, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Managing Executive Officer, Masahiro Moro, General Manager, Design Div., Ikuo Maeda, General Manager, Powertrain Development Div., Ichiro Hirose and Mazda Driving School’s, Akihiro Nakamoto) qualified 13th.
Yuri would act as starting driver for the final race, followed by Kitahara, Murasato, Sekizaki, with Komatsu taking the role as anchor. Another project member, Yukiko Morimoto, took the role of Team Principal, recording lap times, calculating estimations of fuel consumption, and preparing drivers for the next change. In addition, several other project members came out to support and take on various tasks to help out. Ms Ihara took charge of communicating with the drivers during their stints. The Mazda WIM team steadily ticked off laps following race-start, avoided getting embroiled in any accidents or other trouble and began climbing up the order. Morimoto’s calculations also showed that their fuel consumption was proceeding at a sustainable rate. Although the safety car was dispatched towards the end of the race, due to machines stopping on the course, there were no severe accidents throughout the event. On the other hand, the intense fight for the top continued right until the end of the race, with the leading 3 cars carrying out an enthralling battle. At that point in the race the Mazda WIM team was running in overall 19th. Around this time, there were more than a few cars running out of fuel and stopping on the course with just a few laps remaining before the checkered flag. In spite of this, the Mazda WIM Roadster, being driven by Komatsu, lifted its pace and pulled away from the rivals to its rear. Then, at 8:04pm, the leading Potenza J-Wave Roadster crossed the finished line and took victory. They achieved this despite being assigned a 180 second pit-stop handicap due to being last year’s winner, displaying exceptional performance to take consecutive victories. The Mazda “Jinba Ittai” team also successfully completed the race. Provisional results were not announced for quite some time and, after rulings on penalties for rule violations were completed, the official results were released at 10pm. The “Jinba Ittai” team had officially finished 12th. Despite being handed a 1-lap penalty for overtaking during a yellow flag, the Mazda WIM team still placed 14th. Final driver Komatsu lamented, “There were a number of cars stopped at the exit to the last corner and I was preoccupied with avoiding them and didn’t notice the yellow flag. I feel bad about that.” That being said she was clearly happy with the 14th place finish.
This Roadster 4-Hour race was a milestone in the Mazda Women in Motorsport project, which began with orientation a mere 5 months ago in April. It is not too much to say that they have shown female drivers can achieve commendable results in motorsports. It will be interesting to see where this project goes from here.