SUPER GT Rd.2 Okayama

With perseverance Andre Couto holds out to finish 10th

With many scenes still remembered fresh in mind from the last race in Suzuka, which was the season’s first, as well as a very “fierce” battle, now the stage came down to Okayama International Circuit (Mimasaka-shi of Okayama Prefecture) over the weekend of April 3 -4th, for Round 2 of the 2010 AUTOBACS SUPER GT, the “OKAYAMA GT 300km RACE”.
In the previous round held two weeks ago, GRM driver Andre Couto together with LEXUS TEAM SARD gave a brilliant performance in his stint to finish 5th starting from 13th on the grid, hence contributing to the team’s point-getting. With that same spirit and momentum, he came on to challenge strongly again for the team that is blessed to also have veteran engineer Ricardo Divila by their side, who brings all the savvy to consider the best machine setting suiting to the technical course layout and features of Okayama this weekend. Meanwhile, in the SUPER GT races, weight handicap is imposed on each car according to results from the previous race and No. 39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC4305 this time is loaded with a 12kg weight.

On April 3rd (Saturday), the one day of Qualifying began amidst beautiful blossoms of “Sakura” trees blooming everywhere in the city of Mimasaka, but with very cool temperatures still felt in the morning and evenings. The two sessions of Official Practice took place in the morning, 1-hour each, and all the teams worked to adapt their machines for the later sessions which is to be under dry conditions (Temperature: 7 degrees Celsius / Track temp.: 9 degrees C).
In Session 1 (am8:20 – 9:20), Andre Couto was the first one up to drive 14 laps, with teammate Kohei Hirate up next putting in 9 laps, and here the team marked a 9th position time (1’26.726). Then, in the 2nd session (am10:15 – 11:15), Andre doing the 12 laps and Hirate with 19, ranked 10th (1’26.164) at this point.

In the afternoon, everyone proceeded to the next agenda programmed for that day – the Official Qualifying sessions where the two drivers in turns make attempts to clear the required time norm. Without a sweat, No. 39 passed the first heat of the Qualifying and went on to the next heat which was to start from 15:20 on the knock-out style.
Session 1 (of 10 minutes) under 13 degrees Celsius and track temperature of 29 degrees C was trusted to Andre Couto, who pushed intrepidly to take the 9th position (1’24.628) from this heat, and the team advanced to Session 2. Next, Hirate who took the steers continued on with a fantastic time-attack in the time-period limited to 7 minutes. However, as coming to the last sector his path was blocked by others and the time for No. 39 had only to standoff at 9th position (1’24.671) for not much more could be done, and regretfully the chance of moving on to Session 3 slipped away.

April 4th (Sunday), given the perfect sunny weather many GT fans showed up already from early morning at Okayama International Circuit where according to later reports, the count of spectators totaled to 25,000 over the two days. Some hours following the Free Practice session held that morning from 9:00AM, finally at 14:00 the Race commenced and the 13 GT500 and 20 GT300 cars coming off the 1 lap of formation went bustling off for the 82-laps race. By then, the temperature had risen to 18 degrees C (Track: 30 degrees C), and DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 which jumped out from the 5th row on the grid with Andre Couto serving the Starting driver, for a while had to stay watching carefully inside a pack with a 6th position car struggling to build pace. In spite of so, eventually the Portuguese driver passed No. 32 (EPSON HSV-010) in front and rose to 8th position. On the 11th lap however, No. 39 was passed by No. 8 (ARTA HSV-010) and was drawn back to 9th. Then on the 14th lap, it passed No. 23 (MOTUL AUTECH GT-R) to run at 8th again, and for a while without much change in positions, No. 39 continued to chalk up constant laps.
In this position, Andre Couto stayed focused on the race with patience, but perhaps due to performance of the tyres it became hard to improve his pace and gradually, the gap with the foregoing machines grew large. Eventually, in the 31st lap, No. 17 (KEIHIN HSV-010) coming from behind, and also in the 33rd lap No. 100 (RAYBRIG HSV-010), two cars overtook No. 39 and the team slipped down by 2 positions. Unable to hold out any longer, Andre headed to the pit on Lap 36 to hand the steering over to teammate Kohei Hirate. Hirate driving the car that was then just refueled and switched to fresh tyres tried his best persisting at 10th position for the rest of the race, but without more ways to improve their situation to a better note, DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 held on till getting the chequered flag and finished the race placing 10th.

“With temperatures rising, we suffered a bit with the match of the machine and tyres. After Start, the first 5 to 6 laps were fine but from thereafter the tyres lacked some grip and we could not improve our position so much like we did in the last round. Therefore, I had to pit in about 10 laps earlier than planned, but Kohei really pushed hard through the second stint of 46 laps and held out to finish the race. We’ll review all the data we got today, analyze them well with my engineer Ricardo and the Dunlop staff, and put them to good use in the coming races. In fact, the next round will be a long, 400km race so we are really counting on your continued support for us!”

SUPER GT Round 3 will be held on May 1st – 2nd at Fuji Speedway located in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Andre Couto is calling for everybody’s awareness and registry in the bone-marrow bank to save his little son Afonso as well as many patients suffering of leukemia around the world. GT Association who manages the SUPER GT Series also joins Andre with these efforts, and together in collaboration with the relevant organizations, will dedicate efforts to enhance the bone-marrow bank registry movement among the public, such as by providing opportunities and places where these calls can be better promoted.