LOIC DUVAL at 9th, ANDRE COUTO at 10th – Points gained by both drivers

Over the two days on April 18th and 19th, at Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture), 2009 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Rd. 2, – the “KEIHIN SUZUKA 2&4 RACE” unfolded under blooming springtime skies. Some 57,000 motor sports fans gathered during the weekend for this special event held at Suzuka Circuit which has just recently been unveiled after a great deal of full-fledged renewal work done over the spectators’ and paddock facilities since September of last year.

April 18th (Saturday), blessed with good weather throughout the day with sun shining brightly on the fresh-new buildings and facilities of Suzuka Circuit, first, the Official Practice (of 1 hour and 30 minutes) began at 8:25am, then followed by the 1st heat of the Official Qualifying session starting at 11:20.
After the mixed session of GT500 and GT300, a time-trial session by just the GT500 class started under the temperature of 23 degrees centigrade (Track temperature: 34 degrees C). One of the two GRM drivers, Loic Duval took the steer of EPSON NSX (Car 32) in crisp blue and white designs and gave his fullest to mark the time (1’54.706) that came in 8th, however in the last part of the session, faster times were outputted by others which pulled EPSON NSX (Car 32) slightly down to 9th and to miss qualifying for the Super Lap, a session by the top 8 positions. Duval said with a bit of a regretful look on his face, “Going over the curb on Degner might be one reason …”
Meanwhile, Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM SARD (Car 39) from early on in the session showed some aggressive driving making efforts to improve the time, timed a 1’55.664 (14th position) and called it a day. Commented Macau-star driver, “Machine was quite a bit easier to handle than this morning, but the setting isn’t finalized yet,” who then headed to the meeting where the next day’s race strategies were to be discussed in the team.

19th (Sunday), some more sunny skies spread over Suzuka Circuit and the Free Practice started at 9:50. With GT500 and GT300 classes together, 35 machines made final checks into their conditions before the Race scheduled in the afternoon. Then, between sessions and in the few hours leading up to the Race, Andre and Loic spent their time appearing on Dunlop talk shows and pit walk functions to enjoy exchanges with their fans.

With a huge number of SUPER GT fans watching from the stands, finally the Race commenced for the battle of 52 laps under nice weather conditions and temperatures reading 24 degrees C (Track temperature: 41 degrees C).
Car 32 Loic Duval starting from 9th was passed by 2 machines in the opening lap, and stayed on to running at 11th for a while. After further positioning down to 13th on Lap 8 and time-gap with the race leaders growing wider, the French driver positioned up 1 notch to 12th in Lap 18, but evidently still ‘not quite there’ with the speed. Consequently, experiencing a further drop of lap time, just upon finishing the 21st lap, driver change from Loic Duval to Yuhki Nakayama took place. From there, Honda’s big rookie-driver took over and kept up a good level of concentration – sticking to 13th position from one lap to the next. Meanwhile in the last phase of the Race where the heat-up of battle in the top-group started to rage everyone, at the point of 5 laps-to-go, an accident involving 3 cars caused the Safety Car (SC) to come in. From thereafter, the remainder of the Race trailed behind the SC all the way to the chequered flag. At that point, Car 32 finished the race at 10th, but later as another car had to be penalized, EPSON NSX moved up one position, and the final outcome for EPSON NSX was 9th place.

“It was a hard race. This morning in the Free Practice our time (1’55.398) came in 6th, which said to us that the machine had been improved, but in the Race, the tyres got uneasy and it seemed difficult even to stay on the course. But even then, Nakayama did well till the end, and because of the stir-up in the last part of the race we turned out to place 9th, which we could say it was lucky on finishing the day. We’ll work hard towards the next race.”

As for Andre Couto, operating Car 39 and starting from the 7th row took charge and as always with his inbred talent, the Portuguese driver drove consistently working the positions steadily upward to 13th position in Lap 18, but in Lap 19 fell to 14th position. Then, eventually, finding it hard to bear for much longer, Andre went in for an earlier than scheduled pit-in on Lap 20 and passed the steering over to Kohei Hirate. Taking over, trusted Hirate pushed strong and onward with steady driving just as his teammate, without any worries even amid that big stir in the last several laps of the Race until getting the chequer at 11th position. In this case also, final classification for this team was the 10th place, for another car in the upper position had to be drawn out from its provisional placing.

“4th (1’55.827) in this morning’s Free Practice, then in the Race we kicked off with a good race pace from Start, and the feeling of the machine was never so bad. But perhaps the unexpected rise in temperature made our tyres incompatible with the track surface and the driving itself to become difficult. We’ll have to study more about matching the machines and tyres, and aim for better results in the next round.”

The next race ahead, the SUPER GT Rd. 3 will take place on May 3rd and the 4th during Japan’s “Golden Week”, at Fuji Speedway.

Photos by T.Moriyama