SUPER GT Rd.9 Motegi

Series final round with points gained, A. Couto places 5th, L. Duval 6th

The 2009 SUPER GT Round 9 “MOTEGI GT250km” was staged at Twin Ring Motegi over November 7th and the 8th as the season’s closing event. The last race was battled over the shorter than usual distance of 250km and “0kg” machine-weight handicap applying to all machines. Moreover, the qualifying procedures on the knockout rule also enhanced the thrill more than ever – just the way fitting to the very last race of the season! And though neither of the GRM drivers was part of any last fights for the series champion this season, nonetheless, before a large audience counting 49,000 this weekend both Andre Couto and Loic Duval gave out their utmost to finish off the final GT round of the season.

November 7 (Saturday), in beautiful autumn weather, the Official Practice session got underway from 09:55, lasting for 45 minutes with 14 GT500 machines and 22 GT300s running mixed. Everyone finalized the machine setting tuned to the Official Qualifying to start in the afternoon. Then, from 12:50 to 13:35 was the 1st run of the Official Qualifying held in dry condition with the temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (Track temperature: 26 C), and from each team, two drivers challenged respectively to achieve the baseline time required to advance farther.

From 14:35, qualifying on the knockout method began. In Session 1 where the top 12 cars get decided, Kohei Hirate drove No. 39 DUNLOP SARD SC430 marking a 9th position time (1’45.475) to stay on towards Session 2. Then Andre Couto, who next took charge of this machine struck the top time (1’44.821) during the 7-minutes of Session 2, and the team advanced to Session 3 (7 min.) competed by the top 8. According to the rule of one driver not allowed to make consecutive stints, Hirate took the steer again in this last session and here the team chose that tyre they were considering to use at start of the race the next day. As a result, an 8th place time (1’46.091) was marked and their place on the race grid was confirmed.

Meanwhile, Loic Duval on No. 32 of EPSON NSX with the machine and tyre not finding a good enough set-up, had only to finish Session 1 at 13th (1’46.087) with no advance to later sessions. Now, after this one race all the Honda NSXs are to discontinue their 13 years participation in GT races, and this time everyone belonging to the NSX force came to their home course Twin Ring Motegi, aspired to show favorable actions and sort of performances befitting for their “last run”.

Came November 8th (Sunday), the race day opening under cloudy skies and with 30 minutes of Free Practice session from 08:45. Here again, Andre Couto was in high gear, as he continued to do well marking a 3rd position time (1’47.302). Veteran engineer, Ricardo Divila who joined LEXUS TEAM SARD in this round also reconfirmed the machine condition to be in good shape as making final tuning and touchups for the race.

As the clock hit 14:00, the season’s champion-deciding battle of 53 laps was off with a hot start! No. 39 Andre Couto from the 4th row showed aggressive driving, passing machines going in front in Lap 4 then again in Lap 5, and soon worked up to 6th position! Then in the 9th lap, No. 39 got overtaken by one car, but insisted to stick close behind as running 7th for another while. In the 19th lap, after regaining one place up to 6th, Andre went in for a pit stop and trusted the machine to Kohei Hirate. His Japanese teammate also continued on with a constant race pace, but in Lap 36 one of the cars splattered off oil somewhere near the 8th post and drew in the Safety Car. Here having to join the trail of machines, gap between everybody had to be reset and when it came the time to restart on Lap 39, DUNLOP SARD SC430 was going 6th. On the 50th lap when another machine in front coursed off, No. 39 rose to 5th position and onward it pushed till the chequered flag with Andre Couto and Kohei Hirate taking 6 points in the last GT race of the season.

“Today we did a race where I gave out everything that I have. In the qualifying too, we were very competitive this time and thus we were able to finish the season gaining some points. This season went by like a flash, but I challenged many things together with LEXUS TEAM SARD, also as being supported by many fans… I’m sincerely grateful for everything, thank you so much!”

Loic Duval on EPSON-colored No. 32, started the race from 13th on the grid and kept up a consistent pace throughout. Finishing off the rather long stint of 33 laps, Loic gave the machine over to teammate Yuhki Nakayama. Nakayama, upon bringing car No. 32 back to the field in 10th position was soon to pass one machine, then with one car coursing off due to a slip over oil, the team found itself up to 7th when the 5 laps of the SC run began. As soon as the 14 machines were released from the SC, everybody fired up again to fight on through the remaining 14 laps of the race. In the meantime, with one more car falling out of the frontline, No. 32 moved up by one more position, and Loic Duval and Yuhki Nakayama finished this final round placing 6th.

“Yesterday’s qualifying was disappointing, but considering that, our race result today is not so bad. This was the last run on the NSX which I really worked into my last 4 years, but looks like Honda will bring out a new machine next season so I’m sure that SUPER GT will be ever more exciting and also become a tougher series to fight. I really want to thank the many fans who supported us all year long, and truly look forward to seeing everyone again!”
Photos by T.Moriyama