SUPER GT Rd.1 Okayama

Andre Couto finishes with no points gained due to fueling trouble

“AUTOBACS SUPER GT Rd.1 OKAYAMA GT 250km Race” which had to be postponed by the March 11th Great East Japan Earthquake finally came to unfold at Okayama International Circuit on May 21 – 22, amid rich verdure of the season. Here the track length is 3.7km, not as long – but with very tight corners and considerable elevation, overtaking points are seldom found over this technical course. As for the spectators’ points, since the GT machines can be seen running at close hand, this is obviously the one track where GT fans can really satisfy the craving they always have for a race! This weekend a total of 23,500 spectators showed up, all who must have had their fill of great fun and excitement from a hot SUPER GT battle brought to them up close.

On May 21st (Sat), though there was slight rainfall at dawn, the Official Practice session was conducted on slick-tyres. D’STATION KeePer SC430 had Wakisaka putting final touches on the machine-setting in main, then in the latter half of the session Couto reconfirming them through a long run. With the time of 1’25.434, car no. 35 headed to Official Qualifying in the afternoon in 12th position.

At 12:30 under cloudy skies, one hour of qualifying heat, the Q1 on the knock-out style began. First, the two classes of GT500 and GT300 ran a mixed session where LEXUS TEAM KRAFT sent out Andre Couto to clear the standard time (105%). Next, the machine was entrusted to Wakisaka for final checks. Then later again, Wakisaka went back on the course as he was in charge of the 10-minute Q1 competed among 15 cars of GT500. However, even with the performance of this veteran Japanese driver, still the time did not improve as much as it should. Therefore, stuck at 14th position with 1’25.293 time the team could not move on to fight the Q2 (the frame of top 11).

“Machine has been finished to a good package, but just the time hasn’t gotten better. I could feel a slight under-steer and braking not completely improved yet, so we still need to work on the setting a bit more. But anyway, just like how we did in the last round at Fuji, we know we can catch up pretty well in the Race. Chances of rain is said to be high for tomorrow, but dry or wet – whichever it may be, for sure we’ll give it our best shot!”

In the morning of the 22nd (Sun), the Free Practice session which was scheduled to take place from 08:30 to 09:15 had to be cancelled due to a heavy downpour so the Warm-up laps just preceding the Race were started from 12:38, also extended to 25 minutes long, which allowed both drivers to practice. As the rain stopped eventually, Warm-up session was held in the dry with both GT500 and GT300 classes running to make some last check-ups into the machines and on the track conditions as well.

Soon it was 14:00, and the 68 laps of Race got under way with cloudy skie still up above (Temperature: 23 degrees Celsius / Track temp.: 29 degrees C). Andre Couto on D’STATION KeePer SC430, responsible for the first stint, started from the 7th row and was quick to pave his way upward. In the 2nd lap he passed a car in front, no. 23 (MOTUL AUTECH GT-R), and positioned up to 12th. On the 11th lap however, this same no. 23 overtook back, and for another while no. 35 had to endure going 13th, gradually stressing out its tyres. Even so, on the 25th lap Andre once again brought the position back to 12th, and then went in for a pit stop. And there, as the change of tyres and switching to Juichi Wakisaka took place, just then some fuel sprung out from the filler neck due to problems with the fueling system, and slightly caught on fire! Team crew managed this all very well and quickly, and no. 35 was able to go out on the course. Wakisaka from there pushed hard, working to recover the time lost during the pit stop. Around the last half of 40th lap, when it was time that other cars started pacing down, car no. 35 stayed running steadily rising to 12th position on Lap 49, 11th on Lap 52, 10th on Lap 54, and to 9th on Lap 55! Then on the 58th lap, just when further positions up seemed quite possible in the laps remaining to chequer, D’STATION KeePer SC430 had to rush into the pit for an urgent stop. After refueling, no. 35 made it back to the field again, but this urgency costing them considerable positions down, the team could only finish the race with a 14th place result.

“After those qualifying results, we made final touch-ups on machine-setting together with the engineers and readied the machine for the Race. So the machine got better and with Juichi pushing very hard, single-finish (* finishing in 9th at least) looked quite possible for a moment there, but unfortunately by the fueling trouble during our pit-in, later we ran short of fuel and could not bring ourselves to earning points. But our machine is gradually improving so let’s definitely look forward to the next round!”

Hirotaka Teraoka, who is a more than 10-years big fan of SUPER GT, particularly of LEXUS TEAM KRAFT’s Wakisaka/Couto, traveled from Hiroshima down to Okayama this weekend. Last year in January he was diagnosed to have acute myeloid leukemia, and having gone through many months of anti-cancer treatment, he has been able to recover to the point of visiting a race weekend! Given much support from his family of course, on top of that his sincere passion for car races must have really given him the strength and power he needs to fight off the hard treatment he is going through. This time, Mr. Teraoka joined Andre Couto with the campaign efforts such as handing out stickers for bone-marrow donor bank promotions, and truly enjoyed his race weekend on site.

Photos by T.Moriyama and GRM