SUPER GT Rd.4 Sepang

Andre Couto finishes a tough race at 10th place

This weekend the SUPER GT series has traveled on down to Malaysia, for the 4th round unfolded at the Sepang International Circuit over the weekend of June 19th and 20th. Since the very first one held in the year 2000, this flyaway round celebrated its 10th anniversary this time. Every year, this is the one race that imposes many challenges on the drivers and teams, staged in a country near the equator with scorching tropical heat pressing burden upon the drivers, the machines and tyres. GRM driver Andre Couto who won and came to glory in 2004 in this very challenging battle, is currently ranked 10th in the series-ranking this season, and to earn definite points from this mid-season race might imply what the rest of the season may hold for he and his team.

June 19th (Saturday), without interruptions by sudden rainshowers that are typical in the tropical regions, Sepang Circuit was under sunny weather throughout the Qualifying day.
The day opened with first the Free Practice taking place from 10:45 – 11:15, where the temperature read 32 degrees Celsius (Track temperature: 40 degrees C), and the 13 cars of the GT500 class and 19 cars of GT300 practiced as making adaptations for the afternoon’s Qualifying session. DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430, with the time of 2’00.465, placed 11th in this session.
From 14:15, the 1st Qualifying session got underway. In the first 30 minutes where GT500 and GT300 classes ran mixed, the two drivers cleared the standard time required. Then next, the time-attack session by each class followed. Meanwhile, temperatures were on a constant rise, and by the time this session was to begin, it was 34 degrees C (Track temp.: 42 degrees C). Andre went out to the field for time-attack attempts, on No. 39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 for the 10-minutes of this session, giving the max. But with the tyre properties perhaps not so suited to Sepang’s track that has many mid-speed, high-speed turns and because of specific track surface conditions, the time marked was 1’59.315. As this did not result with a position higher than 13th, the team could not advance to the Super Lap.

On Sunday the 20th, though the morning’s Free Practice began under slightly cloudy skies, yet it was hot and humid with the temperature already reading 31 degrees C and 70% humidity – just the usual racing day at Sepang! Each team made final checks on the machines during the Free Practice, then waited for 16:00, the scheduled ‘Start’ time for the main race. In the mean time, over on the course the support races: the Scirocco Cup China, Toyota Vios/Yaris, GT3 Asia Series took place, with also Pit Walk and other special events held here, there all around the circuit. The motor sport fans gathered about from Malaysia and nearby regions must have all enjoyed the one day filled with various excitement and spectacles. (Attendance figure: 27,500 spectators, as announced)

Finally, the clock rang for the main event – the 54 laps of SUPER GT, the “SUPER GT INTERNATIONAL SERIES MALAYSIA” kicked off amid blazing heat which by then had climbed to 37 degrees C (Track temp.: 48 degrees C)! The trusted starting driver of the team, Andre Couto from the 7th row and coming off Rolling Start, soon took the inside line but was stagnated by a machine in front struggling with troubles, thus no clear start-up could be made. Nevertheless, with his usual aggressiveness the Portuguese SUPER GT driver then at 12th position pushed strong to catch up with the front-going pack. Shortly, on the 13th Lap there was a car which had to draw back due to penalty, so No. 39 was able to move up one notch. Even then, the rivals in front were still high-paced and the gap with the top kept growing. In the 19th Lap, No. 39 was back down to 12th and from whereon Andre just had to endure with patience until midway in the race. As the race came on to its 22nd Lap, the GT500 machines started to come in for pit-stops one after another, but Andre hung on till the 28th lap, then resorted to the pit as rather a slow-comer. After refueling and tyre change, the car was passed on to teammate, Kohei Hirate. Hirate took over the steady running, and in the 51st lap passed one machine that went for an urgent pit-in, then one more, who coursed out on the 53rd lap due to collision with another car, and therefore No. 39 moved up two positions. And while further attempts were pursued to go grab the 9th position in the race, only, the rear tyres could no longer hold and the car could not help but spin. Therefore, as running 10th, DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 got the chequered flag (1 point gained) and finished the race in Sepang.

“It was a tough race, very hard on our tyres. It is a pity we could not gain as much speed we wanted, but we gave out our most power and really, the very best. It would be nice if we can gain higher positions in the next race, so please support and help us achieve that!”

Round 5 of the SUPER GT series will be staged at Sportsland SUGO (of Miyagi Prefecture) on July 24 – 25th.

As previously reported, Andre’s dear son – Afonso Couto, who has been suffering leukemia since last Fall, was blessed to finally find a bone-marrow donor of a good match, in fact just a few days following the last round (Rd. 3) of the SUPER GT. Then two weeks after, on May 20th, Afonso underwent a bone-marrow transplant operation in Portugal. After success of this surgery, his squad of doctors continued to provide careful treatment on Afonso, who had just turned 7 recently. Thanks to the utmost care given by the doctors and family, the strong and brave boy is now gradually headed to definite recovery. And four weeks since the operation, at last there was permission to bring Afonso back from the hospital and allow further treatment to be done at home! This pleasing news was soon brought to Andre who was already in Sepang by the time, certainly bringing a very relieved look and a smile back on the father’s face.
Andre Couto is extending the following thanks to everyone: “It might still take some time for complete recovery but even up to now, Afonso has gone through and overcome some very difficult treatment processes. With the courage and strength that he has, I know he will be out to enjoy playing football again someday soon! My heart is now filled with thanks to everyone’s warm support, and sincerely hope that everybody will be by Afonso’s side towards his recovery. Once again, thank you very much!”