SUPER GT Special Round

Andre Couto attends the Fuji Sprint Cup overcoming emotions deep down inside

Andre Couto’s dear son Afonso passed away on November 3rd at the age of just 7 years and 5 months old, after a brave and hard-fought struggle with leukemia. And though just 10 days following the saddest day for the family, Andre decided to come take part in the “JAF Grand Prix SUPER GT & Formula NIPPON FUJI SPRINT CUP 2010” held over November 12 -14th, for one, as a dedication to his beloved boy who had much love for daddy’s racing, and also to indicate sincere appreciation to the many fans and members who always conveyed kind words of support, encouraging not only Afonso but he himself throughout their fight against the very difficult illness. Hence, Andre Couto spent the whole weekend through attending the event, accompanied by his wife Graca, and their 2-year old daughter Catarina.

The event held at Fuji Speedway this time turned into one unprecedented, big event ever, staging together the two series – the SUPER GT and the All-Japan Formula NIPPON – which both finished their seasons just recently. This is ultimately for the purpose of invigorating the Japanese motorsports on the whole, and a way to show appreciation to the fans and enthusiasts in this country always loving and supporting motorsports. It was also the long-missed, traditional event title, “JAF Grand Prix” coming to a revival after 20 years. Therefore, one of the featured highlights was such as the Legend Cup competed by prominent, legendary drivers and figures in the Japanese motorsporting history, and the event truly turned into a grand festival (drawing the total of 65,500 spectators for the 3 days) celebrating all the success and glory this sport has brought around this country.
Rules different from the usual practices were also applied at the FUJI SPRINT CUP. For the SUPER GT, two drivers belonging to one team each ran a qualifying session separately held within Friday, then according to their respective qualify results, each one individually entered a 22 laps race for whichever class the GT500 or the GT300 may be – with Race 1 taking place on Saturday, and Race 2 on Sunday. LEXUS TEAM SARD in the GT500 class, chose to have the Portuguese driver Andre Couto compete in Race 1 on Saturday and his Japanese teammate Kohei Hirate in Race 2 held on Sunday.

On October 12 (Friday), under fair Autumn skies, just preceding the SUPER GT practice session in the morning, all the participating teams and drivers stood lined up over the pitlane for a moment of silence offered in memory of Afonso Couto. Then, as the session got underway Andre set out to the track driving DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 which he had been away from for more than 2 months. In Andre’s hands the car was managed perfectly just like usual – hard to tell there was any blank period – and car No. 39 advanced to the qualifying heat scheduled in that day’s afternoon. From 14:35 began the Official Qualifying (of 20 minutes) with 13 GT500 cars – the 13 drivers to run and battle in Race 1. Here in this session, Andre marked a 1’34.260 time placing 11th.
In the qualifying session for Race 2, Kohei Hirate with the time of 1’35.216 took the 13th position.

On Saturday the 13th, the piedmonts of Fuji were under an overcast of light clouds, but even so the day stayed fair and pleasant throughout. Again, from early morning there were various fan services and functions programmed for the day at Fuji Speedway, meanwhile the time to begin Race 1 of first, the GT500 and next, of the GT300 came approaching.

Finally it was 15:10. By Standing Start method which was exclusively applied as a special rule for this event, the 13 GT500 machines jumped out powerfully from the grid. Andre Couto on DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 ran the opening lap going at 4th, which was a great leap of 7 positions (!) up from the grid order. Picking up a good, fast pace, the skillful driver on car 39 pushed ever more, closing in to overtake one more machine in front of him on the 5th lap. But then gradually, the pace started to drop and thereafter No. 39 could not help but let other machines from behind pass itself, every 3 – 4 laps. Then, in the latter half of the race, Andre began reporting some major understeer problems, and finally as finishing off the 19th lap, LEXUS TEAM SARD had no options other than a tyre change, and as a result finished Race 1 at 10th position.

On the 14th (Sunday) as well, various support races and ceremonies were held with and for the fans, and following the Formula NIPPON race, soon Race 2 by each class of the SUPER GT got underway, bringing Kohei Hirate of LEXUS TEAM SARD to an 8th place finish in the GT500 race.

“My Start went well, and early in the race for some laps long, I was able to keep pushing with our utmost, but eventually the tyres started to grip down and overall, driving became uneasy.
But anyway, coming to this event, I realized ever more strongly how everybody around me is always there to support me and my family. I want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone for everything.”

This time all the LEXUS drivers wore helmets which they judged for and chose out of the “LGDA Helmet Coloring Contest”, and actually wore them in this weekend’s races. Andre Couto’s choice was the one designed by Yuka Abe (age 5), with painted sketches. This helmet will be presented to each of the winners during the TMSF(Toyota Motorsports Festival) weekend held in two weeks.

Photos by T.Moriyama