Analysis: Buriram Super GT Race – Individual driver rankings

The most recent Buriram Super GT Race gave us an opportunity to do something we could not do for any other round of the championship: To provide detailed rankings and evaluations of nearly every driver who ran in the race.

In-depth analysis of every driver’s individual performance has become commonplace in the FIA World Endurance Championship, in IMSA, and the European Le Mans Series, just to name a few major sports car racing series. It’s never been done for Super GT, however – so we wanted to give it a shot.

Using the lap time data made available from RaceResults.nu, who also provided live timing and scoring of the Buriram Super GT Race, here is our driver rankings from the most recent round in the Autobacs Super GT Series.

Our driver ranking methodology is derived from that used by racing driver David Heinemeier-Hansson, one of the most multi-talented and respected drivers in present-day sports car racing.

Hansson’s evaluations rank each driver by the average lap time of their twenty fastest race laps. It’s a good measure of not only how fast a driver is, but how consistently they can continue to run at an elevated pace over an extended stint in the car.

Hansson has compiled rankings like this all season long in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as in select IMSA SportsCar Championship events like the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. But Super GT is a different sort of animal from the WEC and IMSA – with many elements that can dramatically affect each drivers’ performance.

For instance, there’s the success ballast – and this race just happened to be the one where teams will carry their highest weight handicaps of the season, up to the maximum 100 kilograms for the GT500 Championship leading #1 Motul NISMO GT-R. There’s also the four-way tyre war between Bridgestone, Michelin, Yokohama, and Dunlop – who each have shown their own unique traits, strengths and weaknesses from race to race. One tyre manufacturer may be exceptional at one circuit, then prove poor at the next.

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© GT Association

Therefore, we listed each driver with the weight handicap on their car during the race, and the tyres they were carrying as well – to give further context to their performances. We also listed whether the driver drove the “opening” stint of the race in their car, or the “closing” stint – teams will often skew their strategies either way, and deploy their drivers accordingly. In a 300 kilometer race such as this one, each driver only gets one stint in the car, and only one chance to perform as needed.

Some drivers aren’t ranked simply because they didn’t complete 20 racing laps. Tsugio Matsuda and Hideki Yamauchi were caught up in accidents before they could complete enough laps. Seiji Ara and Manabu Orido deliberately pitted early to execute aggressive undercutting strategies for their respective teams. Lest we forget Kazuho Takahashi and Hiroki Katoh, who didn’t get to race at all when their Syntium Apple Lotus Evora crashed in Saturday practice.

Still, getting data for 74 out of a possible 82 drivers who took part in the weekend is good. And even though there are a lot of variables in play, the results generated still produce fair, representative rankings for each driver – demonstrating that even in a series engineered around parity, success ballast and tyre compounds will not entirely overwhelm innate driver ability and team preparation.

Of course, there’s a few surprises, both pleasant and less-than-pleasant that came up from the rankings in this race.

So without further ado, here’s how the drivers ranked in GT500 and GT300:

GT500 Driver Rankings

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GT300 Driver Rankings

2016_buriram_gt300_driverrankings

There’s a lot of things to cover. In the interest of brevity, though, we’ll try to focus on just a few key takeaways from these rankings.

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Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh driver Yuhi Sekiguchi. © Toyota Gazoo Racing

This race offered a glimpse of Yuhi Sekiguchi’s 2016 brilliance – The “Bad Boy” was perfect as he led every lap of his 32-lap opening stint, holding the fastest race lap for most of the day, and setting a Top 20 Average almost three-tenths faster than the next driver. Sekiguchi did what he had to do to win his, and Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh’s, very first GT500 races – and he did it very well.

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Calsonic Team Impul driver Joao Paulo de Oliveira. © Nissan Global

Oliveira might have had the pace to give Calsonic Team Impul a chance, however – He was the only other driver besides Sekiguchi to post a Top 20 Average under the 1 minute, 27 second threshhold, but after getting pinged for a pitroad violation, the best the Calsonic GT-R could manage was fourth place. A real shame, given that the left rear tyre failure on the WedsSport RC-F at the very end of Sekiguchi’s stint could have been a real opportunity for the Calsonic team to capitalize. Hironobu Yasuda had a better Top 20 average in the Calsonic GT-R than Yuji Kunimoto in the WedsSport RC-F, but that may also be down to Yasuda pushing to recover from a penalty and Kunimoto driving conservatively for most of his stint to protect the lead.

A misstep from Michelin? – The French tyre maker has had the best dry-weather race tyre for much of the last two seasons, but today they showed quite poorly in GT500 compared to Bridgestone in particular. Ronnie Quintarelli was pretty solid given his ballast situation in the non-finishing Motul NISMO GT-R, but the pace of the S Road MOLA GT-R of Motoyama & Chiyo was shockingly underwhelming.

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Drago Modulo Honda Racing driver Tadasuke Makino. © Honda

Tadasuke Makino’s GT500 debut meets, exceeds expectations – The top flight debut of Honda’s 19-year-old prodigy was one of the key stories of the race at Buriram. After his sensational first outing in GT300 at Suzuka, how would Makino fare in the top class? As it turns out, very well. Makino posted a nearly identical Top 20 Average to his more experienced co-driver Hideki Mutoh, and his pace went a long way to score a sensational second place finish on his first crack in the 500 class.

Hirakawa, Caldarelli sterling for Lexus – Caldarelli’s drive gave the Wako’s RC-F a crucial podium finish to move into second in the GT500 championship, while Hirakawa did the best that he could to salvage points from a race compromised by a drive-through penalty in the KeePer RC-F. I wouldn’t have gone as far as Racing Japan Press did and award Hirakawa the “Man of the Race” award for Buriram, but his stint was especially given his ballast situation at +60kg – as was Caldarelli’s at +70kg, so I could see why they did.

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NDDP Racing driver Jann Mardenborough. © Nissan Global

Jann Mardenborough was the only GT300 driver to do a lap under 1 minute, 34 seconds – and he did three sub-1:34 lap times, all in succession. On sheer race pace, he did a superb job to give the B-Max GT-R a fighting chance to win its third successive Buriram Super GT Race, chasing down the VivaC 86 of Matsui to the bitter end. Had he not had his hands full with Yuhki Nakayama for a few laps, he may have caught Matsui at the end.

Takamitsu Matsui has turned a corner for the better in 2016 – and his performance this weekend was a testament to that, with pole position on Saturday and a solid 35-lap closing stint on double-stinted Yokohama tyres that still had more than enough pace, even after 60 laps of racing! It was more than enough for Matsui to take a long-awaited first win for VivaC Team Samurai this year as he asserts himself as the ace driver of the team.

In it for the long haul – Takashi Kobayashi, Jörg Müller, and Kazuki Hiramine did in excess of 40 laps in their stints to secure big results for their teams – a podium for Kobayashi’s ARTA M6, a 6th for Müller’s Studie M6 to snap a run of poor fortune at BMW Team Studie, and a 10th and final point for Hiramine’s ManePa Huracán. All three teams benefitted from their undercutting strategies and long closing stints from their drivers. That said, some of them might have exceeded the 2/3rds race distance rule, if it were enforced to the letter of the Super GT Fun Book law as it is in some Western series with similar minimum drive time rules.

The difference between hybrid and non-hybrid? – In the case of the two Toyota Prius GTs of apr Racing, it was seven-tenths of a second per lap between Yuichi Nakayama in the hybrid-equipped #31 car, and Kota Sasaki in the #30, which didn’t have its battery-driven hybrid system. And that’s without factoring in that the #31 was carrying 72 more kilograms of ballast than the #30!

Miscellaneous awesome GT300 performances – In some order: Both the #0 and #11 Gainer team cars had brilliant race pace on Dunlop tyres, Naoya Gamou had a brilliant stint and was only undone by running out of fuel at the end, Naoya Yamano was surprisingly close to the pace of his more renowned co-driver Bergmeister, Morgan Haber and Nattavude Charoensukhawatana were both refreshingly solid as wildcard entries.

The brilliance of present-day GT300 racing in one example – Veteran drivers Takeshi Tsuchiya and Kazuki Hoshino, driving two very different cars, with two very different design philosophies in the JAF-GT300 versus FIA GT3 war, put up an almost identical Top 20 Average to within 0.020 seconds of each other – on the same tyre and on almost identical ballast levels. Don’t change a thing.

If anyone else has any takeaways, insights, and opinions on the Buriram Super GT Race and these driver rankings, by all means leave a comment on the post, shout us out via email (supergtworld.editor@gmail.com) or Twitter (@supergtworld). We’d really like to do this sort of thing again in the near future, and perhaps on a regular basis as well, if this timing and scoring data were made available for the Japanese rounds.

 

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