Although I’m not a big fan of Twin Ring Motegi, I can usually bring home good results. In 2013 during Pro Series, I was battling in 5th position when I was disconnected. In 2014 I qualified in 9th position and ended in 9th position. Qualifying is absolutely crucial on this track as there is no way to pass the car in front without the driver making some big mistake. The only other way to pass contenders is to select a different strategy .
My race preparation went very well. I used the base setup developped since Watkins Glen and adapted it to the slippery surface of Motegi. I was able to combine great turn-in with good traction out of Motegi’s U turns. As usual, my qualifying pace was not the fastest: I was around 2 tenth slower than my team mates. But my race pace was very good. The strategy chosen by the team was a 1 stopper with a longer first stint as we knew that 2 stoppers would struggle to overtake 1 stoppers.
My first flying qualifying lap started very well up to the last chicane where I lost more than 1 tenth of a second. Nevertheless, it was enough for a provisional 8th position. My second flying lap was a little bit too slow in the first corners. Trying to compensate I made it worse up to an offtrack in the last chicane. In the end, my first flying lap was good enough for 14th position on the grid.
Knowing that the start was very important here, I tested a new starting procedure and practiced starting more than I usually do to get the most out of the tyre grip at the start. The start worked very well: I think this is the first race of the season where I can hold my grid position. But in T3 Martti touched the rear end of my car unsettling it and making me loose concentration when Tommaso jumped in front of me. During my emergency braking I slightly touched the rear of his car, but it was enough to destroy my front wing. I discovered the level of damage of my front wing in the following lap and decided to pit to change it. I knew that with this additional stop it would be very difficult to score good points, but I also knew that my pace was good: my aim was then to get into the top 20.
I came out of the pits in 31st position behind Jeremy. I knew his car was damaged as I could quickly catch him. Knowing he was much slower than me, he let me pass without resisting: thank you Jeremy. On lap 15 the 20 second gap to the Lindsays was closed. I passed them both and started to close another 7 second gap to Tomo. I overtook him on lap 24 and took the 25th position. I was closing the gap to Michael and Robin when Mitchell came out of the pitlane right in front of me. Trying to overtake him I made a mistake in the last chicane, which allowed Tommaso to overtake me. I was able to get the position back on lap 31. I had the gap to Robin almost closed when I had to pit on lap 34.
During the pitstop (which should have been my only pitstop) I pressed a button set for 45kg of fuel by mistake. I discovered I was now on a 2 stop strategy while driving down the pitlane … Being lightweight I knew I had to overtake as much cars as possible to compensate for the time to be lost in the third pitstop. It was a blast! I came out 4 seconds behind Paul and Joni and was able to catch and overtake them in only 2 laps. On lap 43 I had another 5 seconds gap to Richard closed. After overtaking him, I was only 3 seconds behind my team mate Alex. I texted him I was fast on a 2 stop strategy and he let me pass without resisting on lap 45. Thank you for that Alex. I then closed the gap to Dion when he pitted in front of me. I then closed the gap to Mitchell and Andre on lap 50. Knowing I had to pit in 2 laps, I didn’t want to take the risk of attacking them.
I pitted on lap 52. The pitstop was short so I didn’t loose too much time and came out in P20 behind Paul and Joni. With my fresh tyres I was much faster. I catched them and passed both on lap 56 and 57. After Tommaso’s disconnection I was then chasing Martti for the 16th position. I could bring down the gap from 8.5 to 1.5 seconds but the race was slightly too short to take the spot.
Lap by lap driver positions and time distance can be found in the Race Position Chart.
I’m really glad I could come back from the end of the pack to this 17th position. My race pace was really good: I took the 3rd best laptime, just behing Gregger and Martin. It was really a blast to pass so many drivers on a track well know for impossible overtakes. I’m also pleased with what is ARUK’s strongest showing in iWCGPS with Sebastian‘s P3 on the grid and P4 finish and Alex‘s strong race from P21 to P13.
Afterthoughts: On one hand I am pleased with my pace but on the other hand I am really disappointed to not be able to put together a clean race when I am strong. On the strategy side, I was really surprised how my mistake in the pits turned out to be a very effective strategy to overtake. Something to keep in mind.
Gratz to Greger, the podium and Sebastian.