SUPER GT Rd.9 Fuji

Final Race Played Out in the Rain
L. Duval takes 4th as A. Couto caps off his season with 5th.

SUPER GT reached its seasonal climax in Round 9 at Fuji Speedway, the “FUJI 300km RACE” where approximately 73,600 race fans gathered for the final event of the season.
GRM driver L. Duval was aiming for a third consecutive final round win, while A. Couto a race that would end his challenging season with DUNLOP.

November 8th, Saturday. Unfortunate rain in the first of the two official qualifying sessions meant wet conditions. After the 27 cars in the GT300 class had done their bit, it was the turn of the more powerful 16 entries in GT500 machinery to take to the track for 20 minutes from 10:30. The temperature stood at 11 degrees Celsius, while the track surface was measured at 13 C. These low temps meant it was difficult to get the cars’ tyres to work well, the water spray and slippery conditions also contributing factors. Despite this, they were somehow able to improve on their earlier times.

In the #32 EPSON NSX, Loic Duval, who commented, “This is not my favourite circuit”, still managed to set the 2nd quickest time, his 1’45.305 guaranteeing him a berth in the afternoon’s Super Lap (SL) session.

On the other hand, Andre Couto maintained his attack in the #39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC 430, though ended the session in 14th (1’46.655). “I was in the top ten in the wet, but we had a lack of rear-end traction in the dry areas, and so couldn’t bring down the time due to oversteer. “It’s disappointing not to be able to optimize the set-up,” he said regretfully.

The afternoon saw Super Lap, the second of the two qualifying sessions that determines the top ten grid positions in the race, get underway at 14:55. By now, the rain had ceased, but the still low temperatures (12 Celsius) meant the wet track surface remained. All cars went out on rain tyres, aiming to improve on their earlier-set times. Ninth out, Loic Duval started his out-lap at a reasonable pace, and made the dash for his attack. However, after the long straight at Fuji, the first turn caught him out and forced him off track! The ensuing time-loss was enough to scupper his otherwise brilliant pace, and although he got right back on track, the added time (1’45.008) meant he would start tenth. Duval, who seemed frustrated over the incident, commented: “I locked up the brakes – so sorry. I can’t believe I missed this chance! Arrrgh!”

Sunday, November 9th. The weather hadn’t improved and it was a blanket of thick cloud that covered the area around Fuji in the morning. Despite the wet forecast, the track had nearly completely dried and all cars went out on dry tyres.

Soon after, the 14:00 start was upon the competitors. With large raindrops falling and the surface visibly wet, it was a difficult call in terms of tyre choice. While the lion’s share of the GT500 grid chose shallow-grooved intermediates, the #12 (CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R) and #39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC 430 gambled on slicks.

After two formation laps in temperatures of 12 degrees (track surface 10 Celsius), the final round of the 2008 SUPER GT season, a 66-lap event contested by 42 cars, kicked off.

Starting 10th, Loic Duval in the #32 EPSON NSX, ended the first lap in ninth position. However, with the track surface changing faster than expected, similar to other cars, he made a stop on lap four, returning to the track on slicks. Duval made his stop on lap 30, while running eighth. Thereafter, the track once again became semi-wet, and teammate Katsuyuki Hiranaka, who was in charge of the latter half, chose the shallow-grooved intermediates. He managed to move up to sixth, though spun at Nets Corner after contact with a lapped car on lap 38. Despite the incident, he didn’t lose any positions, and continued on his way. An overtaking move on lap 47 saw Hiranaka move up to fifth. With another pass on lap 61, he moved into fourth, where he remained to the flag.

Loic Duval: “I failed in my attempt to qualify yesterday, but I drove well in my stint today. We were so close to stepping onto the podium, but Hiranaka and I both gave our best so we have no regrets. To all those fans and sponsors who have cheered the Nakajima team on, it is greatly appreciated, thank you!”

Andre Couto, on the other hand, started from the 7th row on the grid. Marked last on the opening lap due to his slick tires, he nonetheless managed to take over the top spot on lap 6 as the rest dived into the pits for slicks. Couto tried to hold onto the position, but was overtaken by the No.12 car on lap 18. His full-body driving technique allowed him to keep 2nd position throughout his 26 laps in the car. From that point, Toranosuke Takagi took the wheel, but soon after the driver change, the No.39, as well as the rest of the field, were required to stop once again as the heavens opened and the rain started to fall in earnest.
These circumstances dropped the No.39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 to 11th place. But Takagi’s strong driving gradually moved him up to 6th place on lap 54, after overtaking 2 other cars. The No.39 machine overtook one other car and ended the race in 5th place.

Andre Couto: “Choosing the slick-tires for the start wasn’t a bad idea. I chased after the No.12 right after the start, but after passing it within 2 laps, the car seemed to be in great condition, and I was able to smoothly jump to the top. The front tyres tightened up around the 15th lap, and there was some slight understeer – but I was OK (I didn’t panic). If we had delayed the pit stop for another two laps, then it would already have been raining and we would’ve been able to change to rain tyres like the No.12 …that gives me a little tinge of regret.
Anyway, the subject for this year was to test the car on DUNLOP tyres in various conditions and situations, and I’m glad that this was a great race where the team gathered together in force on the final round. This was a long season but it seemed short, and thanks to all of you for cheering us on.”

Photos by T.Moriyama

GRM drivers continue their journey after the racing season ends in Japan.

Andre Couto, who lives in Macau, will participate in the final round of the WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) with N.Technology in a week’s time. Couto will drive a Honda Accord, and challenges the home event as Macau GP champion.

Loic Duval will participate A1 GP as a French ace. Duval has already won 1 race in the opening round of the 2008/2009 season 2 (on Oct 4-5th at Circuit Park Zandvoort, the Netherlands, in the Dutch A1 Grand Prix), and is scheduled to continuously challenge the series with his home country team (A1 GP Team France) starting from the 3rd round in Sepang on the November 22-23 weekend.