SUPER GT Rd.3 Fuji

LEXUS TEAM SARD and Andre Couto with an unfortunate retire …

Over May 1st and 2nd, at Fuji Speedway (in Shizuoka Prefecture), “FUJI GT 400km RACE”, the Round 3 of 2010 AUTOBACS SUPER GT took place. This event, which is held right during the annual ‘Golden Week’ holidays of Japan, is known to be a race battled over long distance. Indeed it is one of the most popular GT rounds in the season and therefore many GT fans flock to this event coming from all around the country. This time too, the Organizers announced the total attendance figure of 79,600 for the 2 days.

GRM driver, Andre Couto came to this stage again with his team, LEXUS TEAM SARD, as currently ranking 9th in the Drivers Ranking (Team Ranking is 8th). Some of the features characterizing this race in Fuji are the “Super Lap” method, the 400km race distance which is longer than usual, and also the rule to Pit-in twice (2 times). So all the excitement felt from this race attributes greatly to such factors that surely press ever bigger challenges on each team, and from the fan standpoint too, very thrilling to watch – it’s definitely a “can’t-miss” sort of race!

On May 1st (Saturday), the mountains around Fuji were blessed with dashing weather and clear skies shining upon the fresh-green, and from the morning’s Practice to the Qualifying sessions, everything of Saturday’s official program was held under the Dry condition, the whole day through.
This time, with No. 39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 carrying a 14kg weight load (handy), Andre Couto and teammate Kohei Hirate checked out their machine carefully through the official practice sessions. Then, based on the feedback reported from the two drivers, such as, “There’s under-steer, lack of tyre grip…”, all the data were examined by the team’s veteran engineer, Ricardo Divila and reflected in the final touchups on the machine-setting tailored to the Qualifying heats scheduled in the afternoon.

At 13:50, the first run of the Qualifying Session began. Under the temperature of 21 degrees Celsius (Track temp.: 40 degrees C), first the GT500 and GT300 classes ran the mixed session (of 25 minutes) aiming the standard qualify time to pass and advance to the next. The two drivers of LEXUS TEAM SARD cleared the time easy, especially with Couto marking the 6th position time of 1’36.048, and moving to the next 10-minutes of time-attack by GT500s only. And here, as a Qualifying session attacker, Andre Couto charged again with a strong push like his usual, rewriting the sector times. The time marked was 1’35.465, and because of placing 10th at this timepoint which ended being outside the Top 8, the team’s expected advancement to the SUPER LAP did not come along.

On May 2nd (Sunday), it was like early-summer at Fuji Speedway again from the morning and at 8:30am, the Free Practice session by 37 GT machines (13 – GT500 / 24 – GT300) began.
Following that and in the few hours preceding the Race, all the drivers spent relaxing times attending various pre-race events and joining friendly meetings with the fans.

And finally, as the clock struck 14:00, now it was time to fight! The temperature by then was 22 degrees C (Track temp: 35 degrees C), and the long 88 laps of race got underway over the circuit of Fuji Speedway with the track length of 4.563km per lap, particularly well-known for its 1.5km-long stretch of home-straight.
Jumping from the 5th row on the grid, Andre Couto was off with a brilliant performance soon overtaking one machine in the 1st lap. At this point, running at 8th he then went pushing on for several laps more, but from the 7th Lap somehow the lap time started to drop, and from there on after each lap, the team lost positions. By the 10th Lap, it was down to 11th, even though Andre strived to manage DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 in any way that he could, trying to raise it to a better pace. Meanwhile, the gap with the front field just continued to grow, and as finishing up Lap 31, LEXUS TEAM SARD went in for the first pit-in, and the driver switch took place from Andre Couto to Kohei Hirate.
Hirate took over the machine, drove on with the same patience like his Portuguese teammate, but on the 44th lap suddenly had to stall the machine on B-Corner, and step out of the machine. Thus, LEXUS TEAM SARD had to leave the race with a retire due to an unfortunate machine trouble.

“For the first few laps from Start, we were able to run with the same pace as the leaders’ pack, but suddenly there was a grip-down of tyres and then after that, we just could not help but be passed by other cars, one after the other. Kohei also tried his best, but suddenly the machine seemed to have troubles with the drive-train, and he had to stop. Anyway, we will try to detect the reasons and root out the problems. Here at Fuji there were perhaps some shortcomings on our part, my team, and sadly we had to retire from the race. But otherwise, all the SC430s won the race dominating from the 1st to 4th places, so as a member of the LEXUS group, we are happy.
Towards the next race, we will have to find the best tyre – machine package, then rise to challenge again! Give us your grand support!”

The next race, SUPER GT Round 4 will be held in Malaysia at the International Sepang Circuit over June 19th and 20th.
Photos by T.Moriyama
 Result, Ranking, informations: SUPER GT Official Website

For Andre Couto’s young son, Afonso, and many other patients fighting leukemia, this weekend at Fuji Speedway there was a blood-donation unit in place, organized by the Japanese Red Cross. Kohei Hirate also showed up to make special contributions by signing up in the bone-marrow bank registry.
“Like many others, I used to have a bias, looking upon both leukemia and bone-marrow transplants with a heavy, serious image. But actually I knew only little about what they really are. With my teammate now facing such problems and hardships, it gave me a chance to study and learn more about this illness, the ways of cure and treatment, etc. And now I have come to realize that donor- registration procedures can be quite simple. With my donor registry, if someone’s life can be saved or helped from such risks, I would be very proud. Also, if my actions will encourage other people to join the donor bank, I would find that very rewarding!” said Andre Couto’s trusted teammate.
This time, over 30 volunteer staff gathered on site this event, to promote the bone-marrow donor registry, distributed pamphlets and stickers to voice the calls, and close to 100 SUPER GT fans helped joining the efforts signing the bone-marrow registry and giving blood-donations!