SUPER GT Rd.1 Suzuka

L. Duval finishes 10th,
A.Couto finishes but with no points


After an approximately 3-month break, the first round of the 2008 AUTOBACS SUPER GT season was held at Suzuka Circuit on March 15th and 16th.
With optimal weather conditions for the opening of a nationwide motor sports event, a total of 52,000 fans came to watch the 38-car race over the course of the 2 days.


While the new NISSAN GT-Rs in the GT500 class are definitely gaining the lion’s share of attention this season, TOYOTA and HONDA have also improved their cars in the winter tests. SUPER GT will be an even more intense battle this year, with all 3 manufacturers going for championship glory with vast knowledge and effort put into their campaigns. GRM drivers Andre Couto and Loic Duval both gave their best to their respective teams for this opening round.

For official qualifying, held on Saturday March 15th, the Super Lap system was adopted ? as it had been last year. The first qualifying session was held in the morning, followed by the afternoon’s SL, which saw the top ten cars from the day’s first session battling the clock one-by-one for final grid position.


In the first qualifying session, Loic Duval controlled his NAKAJIMA RACING EPSON NSX (No. 32) well to mark a 1’53.079 ? the 8th best time, guaranteeing him a berth in the afternoon’s SL.
In SL, Loic was the third car to warm his tyres out on track. However, the car in front of him crashed at the Degner Curve, bringing out red flags and interrupting the session. After an approximately 10-minute break, Loic went into Super Lap and set a 1’54.221, earning him 7th on the grid.

Loic Duval:“The interruption in SL definitely influenced the tyre temperature (I was warming them up so I could minimize the gap to the top time) as well as my focus. So it wasn’t easy; but I think I was able to attack without making any mistakes. However, the car’s balance wasn’t perfect as there was oversteer. My rivals are fast, and so I was running in about 6-7th place. Tomorrow, Hiranaka will start and I’ll drive the second half. I’d love to finish the first event on top ? it would really kick the season off on a good note.”


Andre Couto, in the DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 (No.39), suffered severe understeer and finished the first qualifying session 16th, with a time of 1’54.873.

Andre Couto:“Since we started with the new Dunlop Tyre package this year, we go to races with many new developments. Usually, we would perfect the setting in the official practice on Friday, but with the rain, I couldn’t drive too much ? so the time I recorded in the first qualifying session wasn’t that great. It’s disappointing, but I’ll drive steadily and focus on catching up to those ahead of us tomorrow.”

The following day, Sunday the 16th, dawned cloudless, with temperatures of 16 degrees Celsius ? typical mid-April weather. The 52-lap race started at 14:00. One car from the GT500 class started from the pitlane, and the machine that started in third position left the battlefield after spinning off immediately after the start, thus leaving the race up to the 14 remaining cars in the class.


Katsuyuki Hiranaka, GRM driver Loic Duval’s new teammate from this season, was the starting driver of the No.32 car. The Japanese put in a strong stint, driving consistently with no mistakes.
On lap 23, Loic took the wheel, continuing the car’s steady progress throughout the race. There were no major position changes however, and the car took the checker flag in 10th place.


Loic Duval: “We didn’t get the most out of the conditions today, and came away with a disappointing result. Overall, it’s due to the car suffering from oversteer. However, the next race is at Okayama, one of my favourite circuits ? so we should go better there.”


Andre Couto took the wheel of the No.39 car for the opening stint, running 14th on the opening lap. By lap 10 he had the car up to 12th, before passing the baton to Toranosuke Takagi on lap 24. Takagi showed his veteran skills to finish the latter half in 12th. They couldn’t get points, but managed to collect lots of precious data.


Andre Couto: “This was a very difficult weekend for us. The matching of the car and tyres wasn’t great, and the set-up of the car itself wasn’t perfect either. I’m really not satisfied with the outcome of this race.
Right away, the team and I are going to start planning our tactics for the next race.”

Photos by T.Moriyama