SUPER GT Rd.5 Sugo

Andre Couto with a bit regretful 10th place finish

SUPER GT has now entered the last half of the season, and over the weekend of July 24 and 25, the 2010 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 5, the “SUGO GT300km RACE” has traveled on up to Sportsland SUGO (of Miyagi Prefecture, Japan). This circuit found in the rich, lush green of Miyagi, is known as a very technical course also ‘rich’ with vertical intervals and with a variety of mid-speed, high-speed corners overall. As each race staged here is always filled with dramatic developments, this time again, some 38,500 many SUPER GT fans attended to witness the spectacles of this one exciting battle.
Andre Couto, who last year in this same SUGO round placed 2nd on the podium, rose to the challenge on this big turning-point round in the season with LEXUS TEAM SARD and teammate Kohei Hirate who has shared with Andre the same glory and joy. What’s only different this time is that their engineer Ricardo Divila who joined the force from this season, is beside them as a vital mentor.

July 24th (Saturday) was among one of the incredibly hot series of days this high-summer week, which was the case also at SUGO, and the Official Qualifying got underway amid severe heat. Official Practice Session in the morning (9:00 – 10:45) took place under 33 degrees Celsius (Track temperature of 47 degrees C), and No. 39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 which belongs to the GT500 class got through this session with a 13th position time (1’19.480).
Then, the 1st session of the Official Qualifying of 25 minutes took place with GT500/GT300 running mixed, and after the two drivers of each team had fulfilled the standard time, next was the time-attack session of GT300/GT500 of 10 minutes each. Here, Andre Couto pushed on strong to try rewriting his time with the new tyres, but his best mark stuck to that 1’18.621 time which he outputted on the 14th lap and this led the team to 13th position. Hence, moving to the Super Lap did not come about for the team.

Andre Couto:
“There was much under-steer throughout this morning’s session, but in the qualifying heats that was solved, and the machine balance got better, so much easier to drive. However, due to not enough grip, our time from qualifying just did not improve.”

The following day on the 25th (Sunday), though the skies were relatively cloudy, temperatures at the point of morning’s Free Practice was already 29 degrees (Track temp. 36 degrees C), still hot and muggy (just as the day before). As the session which started from 9:30AM was interrupted once by the red flag, it went on till 10:16AM. DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430, Couto/Hirate pair ran a total of 31 laps and placed 12th (with 1’21.611) from this practice run.

Eventually it was 14:00 – time to Start the race. At the temperature of 33 degrees C (Track temp. 44 degrees C), and though there were slight chances of rain forecasted sometime in the day, 81 laps of the race competed by 13 GT500 and 23 GT300 were underway in the dry condition. (by 1 car having to start from the Pit due to a crash in the Free Practice,) With rolling start, Car No. 39 started the race from the 12th position. Andre Couto who had to go from the back grid and work his way up the notches got off with a fine start-up running in the 1’19 seconds’, then overtook car no. 1 (PETRONAS TOM’s SC430) in the 3rd lap, then in the lap following where 2 cars going in front collided resulting with a half-spin, reached the 9th position. Then, in the 11th lap as another car in the top pack spinned off, No. 39 positioned up to 8th. However from the 13th to the 14th lap, while getting caught up inside a clump (traffic) of GT300 cars, a faster machine storming from behind passed and DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 was drawn back to 11th position. And though struggling but striving, Andre held out going in 10th position as another machine withdrew on the 17th lap.
Soon, on entering the 30th lap, which by then one-third of the race was through, there were teams coming into the pit. Moreover, just past the 38th lap, drops of rain began to fall, causing some more machines to spin. But in spite of it all, the Portuguese driver on Car 39 continued to push with high driving techniques. It was on the 47th lap where surprisingly on the hairpin, No. 39 got hit by No. 32 (EPSON HSV-010), and unable to hold, ran off to the gravel. Andre quickly returned to the pit as suffering a burst on the left-rear tyre, got it fixed and gave the car over to his teammate. Now, whenever a team sees its driver keeping up a certain pace they would let this same driver continue the stint until two-thirds (54 laps limit) of the race is fulfilled, but because of what had happened, all of that strategy they had planned was ruined.
Andre Couto’s teammate Kohei Hirate had just won the Formula Nippon Round 3 (in Fuji) held a week ago, which now makes him recognized ever more as one rising, young driver. This weekend too, Hirate fought hard on the Denso-colored machine defending the 10th position, but due to fueling problems had to pit in twice in his one stint. And though this cost the team one position down to 11th, LEXUS TEAM SARD pushed till the final lap giving its last squirt of power, passed one more front-running machine, and then took the chequered flag at 10th position.

Andre Couto:
“Including the qualifying session, the race today was a difficult one for us. Real battling was possible only in the first few laps, but soon there was a problem of grip-down, and we could not find the right driving rhythm. When hit by car 32, the impact was actually quite large and at that moment I thought we had lost it all!? … but luckily we could return to the pit and continue the race. Because reaching the upper positions today didn’t seem too unrealistic, to have finished at 10th place is really not as satisfying.”

It has been two months since Andre Couto’s dear son Afonso suffering of leukemia underwent a major bone-marrow transplant operation. Very fortunately up to now, he has not experienced any serious complications, and currently he has recovered to the point he can receive treatment at home while making regular visits to the hospital. Nevertheless, as he is yet under strong medication and still physically vulnerable to pathogens of course, the family is extremely careful providing him all the proper everyday living conditions, foods, etc., that will help him cure. All of this has finally brought a look of relief back on Andre’s face, who is everyday grateful to all the donors, and together with the volunteers continues his efforts calling for greater donor registry on the whole, which is exactly one of the important things he did, also during the weekend at SUGO.

Photos by T.Moriyama
Result, Ranking, informations: SUPER GT Official Website