JAF Grand Prix, Super GT – Fuji Sprint Cup 2012
Nestled at the foot of Mount Fuji, the Fuji Speedway this weekend hosted the spectacular finale to the Super GT500 2012 season, the JAF Grand Prix Fuji Sprint Cup. The race format comprises two 22-lap races held over the weekend, the first run on Saturday, the second today (Sunday).
Fifteen of the world's fastest GT cars took to the grid on Friday morning for a single one-hour practice session – it being the only opportunity available to Marino prior to taking on the daunting task of having to qualify the Bandoh Racing team's WedsSport Advan SC430 500bhp Toyota Lexus around the 16-turn 4.563km Fuji Speedway circuit.
It was also to be a baptism of fire, mastering a car he had never driven before on a circuit he had never seen before, but it was a challenge Marino was reveling in and had grasped with both hands. Seiji Ara, a regular driver with Team Bandoh, who had also co-driven with Marino in September at the Nurburgring, was once again his team mate. Seiji went out for the first 20 minutes of practice to check the car leaving Marino the rest of the session to familiarise himself with both car and track. By the end of the hour he was setting very respectable times and was as prepared for his afternoon qualifying session as he could be.
The 20-minute session was split into two with all the action taking place in the last remaining minutes as the Yokohama qualifying tyres only have two laps maximum grip. It was on Marino's 2nd flying lap that he set his time of 1:32.401 to give him 13th place on the 15 car grid, a remarkable effort considering the pole time of 1:30.823. “I had zero expectations going in to qualifying, in my mind I thought if we’re not last then that’s a big success so I was fairly happy with our performance”, said Marino.
The first race on Saturday with Seiji Ara at the wheel got underway in atrocious conditions. Dark skies and torrential rain made track conditions almost impossible for racing; so much so that on lap eight the Safety Car appeared and just two laps later as conditions continued to worsen, the race was abandoned.
Conditions were in stark contrast for Marino’s 22-lap race here today, the track had completely dried out and the sun shone. Having driven through the pit-lane before taking his place on the grid gave Marino the opportunity to practice his launch control for the first time, and it paid off well because when the red lights went out Marino’s start was perfect, so much so that he had to immediately pull out of it to avoid hitting the Honda in front that had not been so fortunate on his start! Marino immediately dropped back two places to 15th, but the very soft Yokohama tyres came in very quickly and by lap seven Marino had progressed to 12th. However as quickly as the tyres gained in performance, so they speedily deteriorated and he found himself fighting for position once again, but somehow he managed to hang on to 13th place for the remainder of the race.
“I got a great launch off the line, but there was a traffic jam in front that meant I couldn’t do anything with it unfortunately. Straight away it was obvious we had a big issue with front tyre graining, I managed to keep battling for a couple of laps, but after that I had a pretty lonely race. I have to thank Team Bandoh, Lexus and Yokohama for the chance to come and race at Fuji this weekend and huge thanks also to my team mate, and teacher, Seiji Ara.
. Marino Franchitti Racing
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