A series tracing the journey of ROOKIE Racing through the images of photographer Noriaki Mitsuhashi. Part 6: 2021 Super Taikyu Series Round 5.
In Round 5, Toyota teamed with more partners aiming to achieve carbon neutrality
Known as one of the most challenging courses in the world, the Suzuka Circuit in Mie was the third race participated by ROOKIE Racing’s hydrogen-powered Corolla, the ORC ROOKIE Corolla H2 concept. It made its debut in the Super Taikyu Series Round 3 Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours Race.
In the Suzuka race, the team welcomed new partners that also aim for carbon neutrality, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Iwatani Corporation, and Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-Power). In the previous round at Autopolis, a new challenge was to “produce” green hydrogen using electricity generated by a geothermal plant. This time in the Suzuka race, Toyota challenged itself to “transport” hydrogen, for example, by air transporting lignite hydrogen made in Australia and using hydrogen- and biomass-fueled trucks on land.
Furthermore, on the “using” side, in just a month and a half since the previous Autopolis round, the team improved the power and characteristics of the hydrogen engine to the same level as those of the mass-produced GR Yaris. It also halved the time required for hydrogen filling by replenishing hydrogen from both sides of the vehicle. These quick improvements with enhanced agility attracted attention from all quarters at Suzuka.
Amid concerns about the weather due to a typhoon, the team went into race day following better-than-expected practice and official qualifying sessions on the first and second days.
“The team atmosphere was excellent. Above all, Morizo always had a smile, which I think was a big factor. If Morizo feels good at the wheel, it shows the vehicle is well set up,” says Noriaki Mitsuhashi, the exclusive photographer for the ROOKIE Racing team.
As this remark suggests, the race proceeded smoothly. But, after two and a half hours, anxiety suddenly spread across the team. The GR Supra driven by Masahiro Sasaki pitted in due to contact. Soon after it was repaired and pitted out, the hydrogen-powered Corolla pitted in with electrical problems. The team worked together, and both vehicles returned to the race without any incident. Such unexpected dramas are part of racing. Every time there is an accident, the team identifies the problem and becomes stronger. That is how the team went on to take the checkered flag and finish on the podium.
At this eventful Round 5 in Suzuka, Mitsuhashi says he was most struck by a press conference comment Morizo made, using his other hat as the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) chairman. Asked about the successive cancellation of Japanese car races due to COVID-19, Morizo asked, “The Olympics [five rings] are OK but why not four wheels and two wheels?” This single statement encapsulated the thoughts and sentiments of everyone in motorsports. Morizo was resolved to represent their voices singlehandedly and won the sympathy of many people.
Impressed by this scene, Mitsuhashi makes a persuasive and memorable remark:
“The glorious moments of individuals cannot be captured in photos simply by snapping the shutter at those in front of you just because you are there. You cannot move people like that.”
Mitsuhashi is driven to capture and convey the thoughts of all members of the team, and this mission makes his photographs all the more stunning.
2021 Super Taikyu Series Round 5 Suzuka, as captured by Noriaki Mitsuhashi
On Thursday, Super Taikyu officials and others had not arrived yet in Suzuka. ROOKIE Racing team members were there from early in the morning.
The location of the hydrogen filling station differs each round. This time, it was set up at Paddock-E by the last corner. Morizo himself, along with Project General Manager Yoji Kanie from GR Project Operation Division, planned the route from the pit road to the hydrogen filling station and the installation of safety pylons.
Once again, Toyota’s partners based in Mie helped with the installation of the hydrogen filling station.
The world of motorsports is evolving agilely. The number of hydrogen filling systems was increased from one to two. The hydrogen filling time, which took five minutes in the first race at Fuji, was down to two minutes here at Suzuka.
On Friday, the weather was still unstable due to the effects of Typhoon Chanthu. The Suzuka track was dry in the morning, but by the afternoon heavy rain made driving conditions difficult.
A team meeting is always held after the first day run. Members discuss their respective times, settings, any noticed irregularities, and necessary kaizen to the machine based on their respective intuitions. Even at this serious meeting, everyone is always smiling at the honest opinions of petrolheads.
On Saturday, the morning run was cancelled due to an anticipated storm. This photo of Anna Fuwa, ROOKIE Racing’s race queen, was taken during the freed up time.
The sun began to shine while photographing Leena, the other race queen. The weather turns nice even when stormy weather is forecasted, thanks to the invisible power known as “Morizo power.”
Morizo shares his honest opinions on the situation of motorsports at the press conference
On Saturday afternoon, Toyota Motor Corporation and Kawasaki Heavy Industries held a joint press conference.
Suzuka was the third race entered by the hydrogen-powered Corolla, which debuted at the Fuji 24 Hours Race. A press conference is held at every round, with each race attracting more media. The media’s quest for “communicating” has been added to the hydrogen cycle of “producing,” “transporting,” and “using.”
“The Olympics [that are symbolized by the five rings] are allowed but four wheels and two wheels are not.”
Akio Toyoda shared his honest opinions regarding the situation of motorsports, not as driver Morizo but as JAMA chairman. Applause then erupted at the venue. The JAMA chairman moved his eyes across the venue, almost as if to thank each and every person who shared his opinions. He looked at them not with the same gaze as that when he is behind the wheel as a master driver. His eyes showed the strength to move people’s hearts and the kindness to appreciate people’s compassion. Mitsuhashi snapped the shutter frantically to make sure he captured this very moment and Toyoda’s passion.
“Racing drivers are also athletes.”
This is a pet phrase of driver Morizo. Driver Kamui Kobayashi who secured his first win at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was conferred a gold medal and second place finisher driver Kazuki Nakajima a silver medal.
Kamui, who was scheduled to speak at the press conference, was instructed to wear his WEC team shirt instead of his ROOKIE Racing wear as he may be talking about Le Mans. Similarly, Kazuki was told to attend in his WEC team shirt because they might be filming.
That was all they were told. The medals were a surprise. The joint press conference on hydrogen-powered engine turned into a gold and silver medal presentation ceremony for the two world champions and into a venue to celebrate their accomplishment.
The medals presented to the two were each carefully crafted by the members of Toyota Motor Corporation’s Model Creation Section No.2 of the Design Management Division and the Prototype Division.
On the front is a design that resembles the Circuit de La Sarthe at Le Mans showing the consecutive winning years from 2018, and on the back is an engraving of the GR logo and Morizo’s signature. Both were gifts from Morizo to the two filled with gratitude.
Morizo sets a time comparable to professional drivers’ in the qualifying session
The official qualifying session was held on Saturday afternoon. Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ “Flying K” emblem shined on the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla’s front bumper. Kawasaki’s emblem on Toyota’s machine signals the growing network of partners teaming together across corporate boundaries for the realization of carbon neutrality.
In light of the weather conditions, B driver Masahiro Sasaki ran followed by A driver Takuto Iguchi in the qualifying.
Sasaki returned from the speed run. He was not smiling like usual.
“I am able to drive well, but it is not reflected in my time.”
Going into this race, the team once again made significant updates to the engine power output and torque characteristics. Sasaki’s challenge is faced only after reaching a certain level. Until now, chassis performance had been superior to engine performance, and more or less the chassis had been set to help the engine.
Now that the power output had increased, the acceleration performance had improved, and the top speed had risen, it became clear that the team needed to update the suspension and aerodynamics. It meant the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla machine made further advances into racing development territory while expanding options for achieving carbon neutrality.
C driver was Morizo. Based on feedback from A driver Iguchi and B driver Sasaki, Morizo fine-tuned his senses as the master driver.
As the clock ticked down to race time, the two race queens cheered on the tension-filled cockpit through the rearview camera.
The time set by Morizo, 2 minutes 33.619 seconds, was comparable to that of a professional driver. He returned to the pit with the sunny Suzuka Circuit in the background. It was as though the stormy weather in the morning was an imagination.
ST-Q class award ceremony on race day
On Sunday’s race day, the #28 Supra made its way through rival cars and headed for the starting grid.
The starting driver was Daisuke Toyoda.
The starting driver of the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla was Sasaki. Sasaki chats with Morizo at the grid.
At 11:30 a.m., the green light signaled the start of the race. Daisuke’s challenge was to demonstrate his driving skills by trusting the vehicle and to be conscious of tire management. He honed his keen sense as a master driver in conversation with the machine. After 25 laps, the second driver, Kenta Yamashita, took the wheel.
About two hours after the race started, the #28 Supra was in the pit garage.
On lap 42, the lower arm and tie rod were damaged due to contact with an ST-Z class vehicle. The mechanics made every effort to repair the damage so that the vehicle could be sent out on the course as quickly as possible with no second to waste.
Yamashita was at the steering wheel. Feeling responsible as a professional driver, he watched from the waiting room as the mechanics worked. However, Morizo would probably smile and say, “Now the Supra is one level stronger.” The mechanics sent the #28 Supra out on the course in 1 hour and 12 minutes.
God gives kaizen one test after another. Not long after sending out the #28 Supra, the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla, which had been running smoothly, slowed down and was forced to pit in.
The mechanics opened the rear hatch to find out the cause of the trouble.
Morizo ran over to Sasaki who returned to the pit to check the situation.
After his conversation with Sasaki, Morizo immediately discussed solutions with President Koji Sato from GAZOO Racing Company and Chief Engineer Naoyuki Sakamoto from GR Project Operation Division. Such actions by master driver Morizo allows for more agile development of the vehicle.
An error had occurred due to electrical trouble. Abnormal voltage was also found. The ROOKIE Racing team worked together to find the cause of the problem and sent the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla out to the course in just 20 minutes.
Toward the end of the race, the #28 Supra received a drive-through penalty for pit road speed violation. In ROOKIE Racing, the vehicle had been competing in the ST-Q class, which is home to manufacturer prototypes having no rivals in the same class. Therefore, the vehicle was rarely subject to contact or penalties. After the race, Morizo said that the issues faced in this race, such as contact and penalty, were “the result of purposeful passion and action.”
The last driver of the #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla was Morizo. The petrolhead with a profound love for cars with shining eyes.
Iguchi passed on the steering wheel to Morizo who returned to the course with full throttle acceleration on his pit exit.
At 4:30 p.m., the vehicle reached the checkered flag. The #32 hydrogen-powered engine Corolla successfully completed 90 laps in a five-hour endurance race. The distance traveled was 522 kilometers. The #28 Supra completed 95 laps.
After taking the checkered flag, a pleasant surprise awaited the team. The ST-Q class award ceremony that Morizo had been hoping for became a reality. Toyota Motor Corporation’s vision for agile kaizen in ROOKIE Racing motorsports had permeated the Super Taikyu Organization (STO).
The view from the podium must have been a sight filled with a promising future and hopes for a new type of racing, as expressed by the smiling faces of the ROOKIE Racing team members on the podium.