MAZDA SPIRIT RACING’s Two Cars Make an Appearance at the “S-Tai” Fuji Test!
Car 55 “MAZDA SPIRIT RACING MAZDA3 Bio concept” in ST-Q class suffered from drivetrain problems in the last round last season, but it seems that countermeasures were taken during the off-season. On the day before the official test, the team carefully prepared for the race and entered the garage after only a confirmation run. On the 23rd, although a cold wind blew from time to time, the skies cleared up and it was a perfect day for the test. Mazda development driver Kazuhiro Terakawa started the first session. Terakawa has experience as a Gentleman Class champion in the Interproto race held at Fuji Speedway. The race started off smoothly, but about 15 minutes into the race, a red-flag stoppage caused by another car going off the course brought the team to the pits. For the next 40 minutes, team principal Ikuo Maeda was the sole steer driver. In the first afternoon session, Kaoru Ijiri started the race and was replaced by Yutaka Seki halfway through. The four drivers ran for almost the full two hours, completing a total of 51 laps covering approximately 230 km, bringing the test to a close. Seki, who got off the car at the end, said, “The car is going well. I had heard that understeer would appear, but I didn’t think it would be a big problem. As we continue to accumulate more mileage and data, I am sure we will be able to find the ingredients for faster driving. Car 55 is scheduled to run several private tests before the opening round of the season, the Suzuka 5-hour Race, on March 19.
Car 120 in ST-5 class has Shohei Oda, Takuya Minowa, and Junji Ueda who participated in the Suzuka test at the end of January, as well as senior drivers Haruhiko Sugino and Noriyuki Higuchi, Eiichi Honda (64) who finished 2nd in the 2022 Roadster Party Race West Japan Series, 2nd in the Roadster Party Race East Japan NC Series (by the way, 1st Yuta Nakajima (26), 2nd place in Roadster Party Race East Japan NC Series (by the way, the 1st place went to professional driver Kaoru Ijiri), and Yuto Kikuchi (26), 2nd place in Fuji Champion Series ND Race, who had observed the last test at Suzuka, were entered. A total of eight drivers took turns driving car No. 120. Yasutaka Hinai, a professional driver from Hiroshima, acted as coach for the rookies. The nine drivers arrived on the morning of the previous day and met up with OVER DRIVE team representative Takayuki Takechi, who was in charge of machine maintenance and also served as the No. 120’s supervisor. From the morning, the team ran the car vigorously. Drivers were to take turns running each of the five planned 30-minute running slots in 15-minute shifts. The drivers are given detailed instructions by on-board camera in real time, and by analyzing the driving data. Coach Hinai said, “Some of you are new to slick tires, and some of you are used to Fuji but this is your first experience with an S-production car. Although it will be a short period of time, let’s first concentrate on getting used to the car and the course. Of course, it is natural to pay attention to what’s ahead, but especially since there are many fast cars coming from behind, you should keep in mind that you need to coexist with them by putting on your blinker early to let them pass you. Once you get used to it, it is important to have the feeling that you can control the overtaking points of the cars behind you. Although there was a brief red-flag interruption on this day, there were no problems or accidents on car 120, and the day’s running was able to be completed as planned. The last slot of the day was for “if anyone wanted to drive” and the driver was undecided, but when we asked for those who wanted to drive, everyone raised their hands, and in the end, two drivers, Sugino and Oda, were chosen by Amida lottery to drive. Veterans and newcomers are all equal here.
On the second day of the test, the official schedule provided for one hour in the morning, two one-hour slots in the afternoon, and a night session, but as on the previous day, the team took turns running in 15-minute shifts. Even so, the eight drivers continued to drive hard, remembering Coach Hinai’s advice based on the driving data analysis. As the sun went down, the ambient temperature dropped rapidly, but steam was rising from the racing suits of the drivers as they got out of their cars.
After two days of driving, Honda, the oldest driver, said, “I am tall and stiff, so it was hard for me to get in and out of the car, and I wondered if the roadster was this tight. This is the first time I have driven at Fuji on slick tires, and I still think it is more difficult than in a party race car. I will drive at Autopolis in late July, so I will do my best to catch up with the other drivers by then. Fuji is my home track, and I have driven the OVER DRIVE roadster in last year’s S-Tolerance Motegi round, but this was my first time to race with fast machines in the night session, so I was not satisfied with my performance. Nakajima, who is the manager of the TC Corse team that competes in JeGT in addition to the party race NC series, also served as an advisor at the Real Driving Lesson for eSports drivers held recently at Tsukuba Circuit. I’m still getting used to the car. I am still getting used to the car, so I was too busy operating the car, and although I knew it was an endurance race, I wasn’t able to drive in a way that was considerate of the car. In the night session, “It was hard to see beyond the corners, and unlike daylight, it was easy to lose sight of the landmarks,” and “I felt that the braking points and turn-in points I learned during the daytime were a little off. I felt that the braking points and turn-in points that I learned in the daytime were a little off.” There were also some moments when we were nervous about the differences in our driving style, such as “It might have something to do with the road temperature and tires. Even so, this test seemed to have been run to the limit. Coach Hinoki said, “Each of them still has some issues to work on, but I think the young drivers in particular have a lot of potential and room to grow. It was a good test. I am looking forward to the future,” he said with a smile.
Preparations for both Car 55 and Car 120 are steadily progressing, and we look forward to the opening round of the Super Taikyu 2023 series, the Suzuka 5-hour Race, to be held on March 19 at the Suzuka Circuit.
Text and Photos by MZRacing