First in class again in the Qualifying Race
All roads lead to The 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
The Qualifying Race for The 24 Hours of Nürburgring took place on April 22-23.
Although the purpose of this six-hour race is to qualify for entry into the 24 Hours race and to decide a top class seed team, many teams use it as an opportunity to perform last minute testing and fine-tuning before the main race. As with the VLN series, our aim was to thoroughly test the car and the team under race conditions. This involved conducting trials and gathering data while gaining actual race experience to establish individual’s roles and iron out problems in the run up to The 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
Even with things going relatively smoothly during the VLN, there were still some minor problems which the team handled by updating the tuning with incremental improvements before competing in the Qualifying Race.
The three drivers for this race were Takuto Iguchi, Takamitsu Matsui, and Naoya Gamo. Alongside the Lexus RC on the SP3T class entry list was the Subaru WRX STI, which did not compete in the VLN but will join the Lexus RC in the lineup for The 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
Two Corolla Altis vehicles from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Team Thailand also entered the race. Takayuki Kinoshita, experienced TGR driver of car No.124, said that “the pure enjoyment of the Thai team and the all out commitment of the drivers reminded me how I felt when I started racing. I’m sure this enthusiasm among the team members will keep us going in the 24 Hours race.”
During the morning practice sessions on April 22, the team tried out wet tires in response to the Nürburgring’s typical misty rain. The rain subsequently stopped, however, and the track was dry when Qualify session 1 started at 6:40pm. Rather than going all out to secure a good grid position in the main race, the aim was to conduct testing and fine-tuning. Even while changing aspects such as the aerodynamics during the race, the team recorded a time of 9 minutes 14.219 seconds.
The team trialed further setups during Qualify session 2 which started at 9:00am the following day, Qualified as second position in the SP3T class and 46th overall. Top position in the SP3T class went to the Subaru WRX STI with a time of 9 minutes 7.096 seconds, although its lead was significantly shorter than last year.
First-time Lexus RC chief driver Takuto Iguchi commented on the improvements to the vehicle, saying that “the car performed really well right from the start thanks to Matsui and Gamo’s efforts in the VLN1.”
The six-hour main race began at noon on April 23. Starting in 2nd position, driver Iguchi smoothly stacked up the laps before rising to the class top position in lap 6 as the Subaru WRX STI gave up its lead for a pit stop. After falling back to 2nd position due to a pit stop in lap 8, the Lexus RC regained the top position in lap 13. Thanks to the margin gained earlier, the Lexus RC was still in the lead position when it left the pits following a second visit in lap 15.
Subsequent laps continued trouble-free and without visiting the pits except for routine pit stops in the scheduled laps. After completing the full six hours, the team finished 23rd overall and took the top position in the SP3T class for the third time following on from the VLN1 and VLN2.
More important than the class top position, however, was being able to steadily complete the full six hours while trialing various setups and gathering data with each successive lap. It was evident that not only the car but also the engineers and mechanics had improved since the previous race, in terms of how they responded when decisions had to be made, how they communicated with each other, and how they tackled individual tasks.
The vehicle itself seemed fine, but problems were found with the suspension, and the drivers reported insufficient power when accelerating out of corners. While not causing too much difficulty in this race, such problems could be critical in the 24 Hours race. Despite the limited time available, it was vital to review the setup and implement the necessary measures, continuing to refine aspects such as the power train right to the very end of this short race. The team made every effort to bring out the strengths of the Lexus RC, so that the drivers can compete in The 24 Hours of Nürburgring with even greater confidence.
With their morale boosted by the favorable results in both the VLN and the Qualifying Race, it’s easy for the team to become complacent. But we must remember that it’s all about “making ever-better cars”, and we will incorporate the findings from the Qualifying Race, driver feedback, and each member’s improvements so that we will be competing in The 24 Hours of Nürburgring in an even better-performing car.
Takuto Iguchi, Driver
This was the first time I had driven since the testing in Japan. The car performed really well from the start, and I am sure that we will be able to achieve an effective balance between fuel economy and lap times in the 24 Hours race. There were some new problems, however, such as a slight understeer tendency that exerts excessive load on the front tires, and a lack of power when accelerating out of corners. Otherwise the performance was really good—maybe even too good in some ways! You can never be sure what will happen in The 24 Hours of Nürburgring. I hope that through closer communication with the engineers and mechanics, the whole team will be able to compete with a greater sense of unity.
Yasuo Hirata, Chief Mechanic (Employee of Toyota Motor Corporation)
Both the team and the car performed as expected. It was great to see our efforts reflected in the actual lap times, fuel economy, and finishing position. This also helped to boost the team’s motivation. So that the mechanics could get used to working under pressure, I had them perform any non-routine work on the pit road during the race. Naruse-san, who led this project, also told them to focus on the tangible aspects. For example, considering ways to improve individual components while they work will also contribute to improving workability. I want them to improve their precision and become able to work independently. We are still working on some suspension problems so that the drivers will have a safer and more comfortable car by the time they arrive on the starting grid at The 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
Keisuke Chatani, Vehicle Engineer (Employee of Toyota Motor Corporation)
Testing through actual driving enables us to make steady progress towards our goals. This race revealed several issues including some minor problems, and we changed various specifications along the way to resolve them. This has only been possible by continually driving the car, which has also led to performance improvements for both the vehicle and the team. It is great to see the results reflected in the time and position, as well as boosting the team’s confidence and motivation. Even minor problems can be critical in the 24 Hours race, and we will apply the extra confidence and motivation we have gained here to continue refining and maximizing the Lexus RC’s strengths right up to the last minute.
SP 3T CLASS
|1||170||TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||LEXUS RC||23th||38|
|2||93||Lubner Motorsport||Opel Astra OPC Cup||37th||36|
|3||96||Lubner Motorsport||Opel Astra OPC Cup||44th||35|
|4||97||Lubner Motorsport||Opel Astra OPC Cup||45th||35|
|5||94||-||Opel Astra OPC Cup||52th||34|
|6||91||-||Opel Astra J OPC||58th||33||7||95||Hyundai N||Hyundai I30 N||67th||30|
|DNF||90||SUBARU Tecnica International||SUBARU WRS STI||DNF||29||DNF||92||Hyundai N||Hyundai I30 N||DNF||10|