Loic Duval takes 2nd step on the podium!
Andre Couto completes gritty drive to 13th

SUPER GT has entered the final stage of the season, Round 8, the “SUPER GT IN KYUSHU 300KM” took place over two days, October 18th and 19th at Autopolis, located right on the border of Oita and Kumamoto prefectures. A total of 44,100 fans gathered at this main event in Kyushu to witness the fiery hot skills of those driving the 39 machines.

A lap around Autopolis is 4,674 kilometres, the track featuring an elevation of some 52 metres in that distance. As well as the up-down nature of the circuit, it is also known for its high-speed corners and a track surface that eats tyres – all in all, a challenging place at which to race.

The mountainous region around the Aso area covered in saw grass had favourable autumnal weather for the official qualifying sessions, held on October 18th.
In pleasant temperatures of 21℃ (track surface measured at 29℃), the first of the two official qualifying sessions got underway at 10:40am for the 16 cars contesting the GT500 class. Putting in a strong performance in the #39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430, Andre Couto set a 1’42.304 on his first time attack. After verifying a set-up improvement, Andre went out again, this time setting the best time among all cars in the first sector. A good overall time was expected. However, just before the first hairpin, Andre spun backwards into the sponge barriers, becoming stranded.

Fortunately, there was no injury to Andre himself. “The car was good, I was able to attack at high speed, but at a place where the circuit is bumpy, the car leapt up and spun. It’s really disappointing,” he said regretfully afterwards.

Meanwhile, before the red flags brought out for Andre’s crash, the #32 EPSON NSX of Loic Duval set a best time of 1’41.226, guaranteeing the car a berth in the afternoon’s Super Lap.
Loic: “The car balance wasn’t at its best, but despite this, even though I was on only my second lap and still warming the tyres, I was a little surprised by the position! The car would advance to the second session, and get some adjustments in the meantime.

The top 10 finishers in the first qualifying session went on to SL at 15:20. Loic Duval was among that group. Although the white and blue-coloured EPSON machine of Loic Duval saw an improvement (1’41.201) from the morning session, he was unable to secure the top-two spot, having to settle for third.

Loic Duval:“This track is bumpy, the car jumps around and this makes it difficult to control. In the position we’re in, I believe we are in good shape for the race and will be able to go for a strong result. I really gave it my all and made no mistakes, so I’m quite satisfied with the job I did. As for tomorrow’s race, I’m aiming for the centre of the podium, and I’ll fight to get there!”

The following day, Sunday the 19th dawned in bright and in sunny blue skies. By the time the main race started at 14:00, the temperature had risen slightly to 24℃(track surface 36℃), and it was getting a little hot. At this point, the 65-lap SUPER GT race got off to a roaring start.

From third on the grid, the #32 car of Loic Duval made a super start to vault into 2nd place at the first corner. From the opening lap, he settled into 2nd place. However, approaching from behind, on lap 7 a car got past (the #1 NSX of R. Firman) demoting Loic one position to third. From there, Loic followed the top two machines while preserving his tyres as he counted down the laps. When the two top cars pitted on lap 28, Loic ran top, and was now leading the race. After that, he made his stop on lap 30, handing the wheel over to his trusted teammate Katsuyuki Hiranaka. On lap 37, when all cars had completed their first stops, the #32 car was running in fourth place. Hiranaka maintained a solid quick pace, rising to 2nd when two other cars pitted on lap 45. With beautiful driving, he ran the rest of the race to finish in this position! It was the driver pair’s first podium of the season.

Loic Duval:“I was able to make a good start partly due to the fact that we have no weight handicap, but during the race, I wasn’t able to bring down the gap to the cars in front. I think Hiranaka also gave a great performance, and really ran well. As for the result, I think it’s good for both the team and for Dunlop. I want to thank the sponsors and our fans for all their support.”

On the other hand, the #39 DENSO-liveried car of Andre Couto started the race in 15th place. The car fell to 16th early on, but took the position back on lap 7 with some gripping driving. The car opted for a 2-stop strategy, making its first visit on lap 20. This, and the previous overtaking of one car saw Andre move up to 12th. Then, at the end of his 35-lap stint, Andre came in to hand the car over to his teammate.
The team changed tyres and put in fuel, and the car was handed over to Toranosuke Takagi. He continued with a stable drive, running 14th, but on lap 50 lost one position. From there, a tenacious drive to the finish saw the car complete the event in 13th place.

Andre Couto:“The car was easy to drive in this morning’s warm-up session, but in the race the car lacked grip, so mush so that the rear of the car was coming out and causing oversteer. As for the last event in the season, we would like to have a trouble-free event. We ask for and appreciate your continued support!”

The final round of the 2008 SUPER GT season takes place over the November 8-9 weekend at Fuji Speedway.

Photos by T.Moriyama