SUPER GT Rd.1 Suzuka

2010 AUTOBACS SUPER GT celebrates the opening of a brand new season!
Andre Couto takes a 5th place finish, earning points from a rough and stormy race!

The 2010 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Series, much awaited by all the motorsport fans around Japan opened the year with “SUZUKA GT 300km” event held over March 20th- 21st, and the audience totaling 53,000 over the two days at Suzuka Circuit was truly intrigued with a raging battle already from the bare start of the season!

Portuguese driver, Andre Couto who entrusts his management to GRM this season is once again teamed up with Japanese driver, Kohei Hirate as in the previous season to fight through the 8 rounds of the Series with LEXUS TEAM SARD. Also, veteran engineer Ricardo Divila, known for his numerous achievements over the past also working with the SUPER GT and Formula NIPPON series in Japan, has recently assumed the post as the Chief Engineer of this team, and now the team finds itself on an ever stronger footing as one honorable team.

Present in the GT500 class of the SUPER GT this season are the Toyotas (total of 5 teams = 5 machines) including LEXUS TEAM SARD as one of the 5 entries, with carbon monocoque chassis “LEXUS SC430” finished to a 3.4 litre V8 engine, FR (Front Engine – Rear drive) SPEC, ready to compete against those of the same SPEC, Nissans (3 teams = 3 GT-R machines), and the Hondas (5 teams = 5 machines of HSV-010 GT, their new model from this season) and indeed some very exciting, heated actions are likely from round to round!

March 20th (Saturday) at Suzuka Circuit, the stage for this Round, was blessed with pleasant weather and sunshine throughout the day. First the Official Practice Session began at 9:00am which lasted for 2 hours and 40 minutes, and the 13 GT500 cars and 20 GT300 cars practiced in a mixed session preparing for the later Qualifying heats. In this session, car No. 39 “DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430”, back again in Denso colors after 2 years, was run by Andre Couto working in 19 laps, then followed by his teammate Kohei Hirate running 14 laps, finishing the session at 12th position (1’56.317).
From 13:15 started the first qualifying heat of 45 minutes duration and the two drivers went on clearing the standard time required to pass the Qualifying (to be within 107% the time average marked by the Top 3), then further worked on the setting in time for the next qualify session starting at 15:10 on the knockout style. And again just to explain what this knockout style is, it is a method whereby the race grid is decided according to top 10 places from Session 1, the top 7 from Session 2, and the 7 top ranks of Session 3. Also, one driver is not permitted to drive two consecutive sessions (which means, the order of either A – B – A or the B – A – B pattern is allowed) . Moreover, the machines advancing to Session 3 must have on those same tyres as in session 3 at Start of the Race. Provided these regulations, LEXUS TEAM SARD went for Session 1 with Andre Couto. Under dry condition of 18 degrees Celsius (Track temperature of 28 degrees C), Andre tried his times in the 10 minutes of session, but not being able to find the right grip, resorted to 13th (1’55.019) and the team was not able to make Session 2.

March 21st (Sunday), due to rain which poured down the night before, the Free Practice Session in the morning was held in a rather chilly, 15 degrees C temperature. Declaration for the Wet was announced, but the track started drying from mid-session and all the teams busied themselves making adjustments on their machines. LEXUS TEAM SARD, the user of Dunlop tyres confirmed their condition to be fine in the semi-wet, as driven by Andre. Furthermore, in the last half on slick tyres, Hirate drove constantly marking some consistent lap times.

Then, at 14:00 finally the very first battle of the 2010 SUPER GT series was set to begin! Under cloudy skies with strong winds blowing from the northwest, together with yellow dust (blowing from China) the 13 GT500 machines kicked off full-bore with a rolling start, to the First Corner and on farther toward the goal of 300 kilometers ahead! Right after Start, circuit announcement told that rain was starting to fall over in the West course of Suzuka. Meanwhile, Andre Couto serving the starting driver on DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 jumped from the very back row all the way to 10th position in the opening lap with clever techniques in spite the odds over the course, which was then turning quite slippy. Furthermore, with aggressive driving which is the forte and inherent ability of this spirited Portuguese GT driver, No. 39 rose to 8th position in the third lap, and eventually in the 9th Lap, Andre passed one car in front on the straight end now jumping to 7th position and keeping this momentum overtook another car in the 10th lap, moving up farther to 6th!
However, in the 11th lap of the race, a crash involving two HSVs occurred at the First Corner!! Immediately the Safety Car was drawn in and up to the 16th lap when the race was resumed. It was then however that rain droplets started coming down again and yet the 10 remaining GT500 machines continued on with their stride, all of them on slick tyres. Then from around 19th lap many started to pit in for refueling, tyre change as well as for driver change. Andre Couto came into the pit when he finished his 27th lap, then handed the vivid white and red colored machine over to his Japanese teammate.
Kohei Hirate took after the stable pace running 7th for a while, sticking persistently to the machine in front. Near the last laps of the race, the skies over Suzuka were turning clear and blue, and Hirate who was then striving in the fight for 4th place came onto the 51st lap, found a chance to get around and through the gap of other two machines going in front who were busy battling just between themselves, and jumped up to 5th!! Therefore, LEXUS TEAM SARD which started the season-opener round from the back grid pushed hard rising dramatically up to the 5th place (6 points gained), finishing the race with sound results.

“In my stint the conditions were quickly varying and thus it was quite a tough race, but compared to yesterday’s qualifying session the tyres matched and the machine was steady which made it easier for me to trust the car and push hard. Starting from the 13th and going up to 6th, I really enjoyed the race. Pit stop also went smooth and Kohei did a great job at very fast pace, also bringing us further up by 2 notches so today’s race was a kind of race achieved with the team working as one. It would be nice to keep up this pace in Round 2 and in many more rounds, always winning some points!”

“If the pit-stop timing came just 3 laps sooner, even our 4th place finish was possible perhaps. In any case, considering our qualifying results, to have made such a big recovery and gain the results that we have, is really great. We will continue to work closely with Dunlop in the development of the tyres and be a kind of team that can always battle in the top positions.”

SUPER GT Round 2 will be held on the weekend of April 3 – 4 at Okayama International Circuit of Okayama Prefecture.

In efforts to save Afonso, Andre Couto’s son now suffering of leukemia at very young age, all the many members concerned, many friends and fans of SUPER GT have demonstrated heartwarming support and help. GT Association has also begun actions calling for your greater attention towards donor registry in the bone-marrow bank Supported by the LEXUS fan seats, all the LEXUS drivers bear the www.saveafonso.com logo on their helmets and machines, and moreover from a group of younger fans, “thousand” paper-crane ornaments and letters filled with sincere wishes and hearts for Afonso’s recovery were handed to Andre who would like to express in return his heartfelt appreciation to all the supporters, while he continues his strive to to draw more donor registry to the marrow bank. Let us all unite and save as many leukemia patients we can!