SUPER GT Rd.4 Sugo

A. Couto having to retire without chances to exert his true best…

The AUTOBACS SUPER GT of 2011 has now come halfway through the season (8 rounds in total) with the unfolding of Round 4, “SUGO GT 250KM RACE” staged at Sportsland SUGO located in Miyagi Prefecture of Japan, which is also where many people were victimized by a devastating earthquake tormenting the regions back on March 11 of this year. Now that this Series and its rounds are positioned to serve as tribute-events to indicate support for the Great East Japan Disaster Reconstruction Aid, messages of encouragement and relief are conveyed to those in suffering by the catastrophe. At this time, GRM driver Andre Couto, together with his team LEXUS TEAM KRAFT resumed their racing actions after some month and a half of interval.

On July 30th (Sat.), the Official Practice Session in the morning (8:23 – 10:10) began under rain. Midway into the session came more downpour causing machines to course off one after another, but during the last half of the session, eventually the skies started to clear. D’STATION KeePer SC430 was first driven for 16 laps by veteran driver Juichi Wakisaka who has gained many wins from this circuit before, then followed by Andre Couto running 7 laps towards the end of the session. An 11th position time (1’30.392) was marked by the work of both drivers, and the team was now headed to the afternoon qualifying session.

The 1st Official Qualifying session began at 12:25, which by then the track surface had mostly dried. First the GT500 (15 cars) and GT300 (22 cars) classes ran mixed, and in Lap 8 Juichi Wakisaka marked a fine time with 1’17.321, a 2nd position result from this session. But soon after, rain started to fall again and also with some machine coursing off the Red Flag was addressed. The session was resumed in the 5 minutes remaining, but most of the drivers including Andre Couto could not clear the standard time and many had to wait until the next session of 10 minutes starting at 13:39 for more time-attack pursuits. But in this run, Andre got caught in traffic unfortunately and could not renew the time. Even then however, D’STATION KeePer SC430 finished the qualifying at 10th, owing to a time marked by Wakisaka, and the team successfully advanced to the Super Lap (SL), or in other words the 2nd Official Qualifying. Later, the rain started coming down heavier, this time accompanied by strong winds and even some fog as well, and at 15:20 under – what’s called, the heavy-wet condition – the team’s Japanese driver was the first one up to take No. 35 out to the field in the SL of GT500s. Coming off the warm-up lap and onward smooth to the time-raising attempt of 1 lap, Wakisaka marked a 1’32.960, and also by the results of other 9 cars fighting the SL, D’STATION KeePer SC430 affirmed its 8th position on the Starting Grid.

July 31st (Sun.), at rather low 21 degrees Celsius temperature, Free Practice (45 minutes) began from 9:10AM. On D’STATION KeePer SC430, first Andre Couto took the steering under wet condition, checking on the condition of the machine through his 17 laps run. Then, in the last half under a semi-wet condition Juichi Wakisaka went on the wheels, and finished this session placing 8th.

With the audience of over 27,000 GT fans (overall figure was 36,200 in total) watching, finally it was 14:00, time for the race to Start. In the skies over Sportsland SUGO, with dense clouds appearing it was though rain could start pouring almost anytime. However, with dry condition declared (Temperature of 21 degrees Celsius / Track: 22 degrees C), the 250km of race (68 laps) got under way. Andre Couto, the starting driver on D’STATION KeePer SC430, rolled out well and smooth from the 4th row on grid and on the 3rd lap overtook one machine in front moving up to 7th, and then again on the 8th lap worked up to 6th position. However, even for Andre who normally favors the track characteristics of SUGO, the ups and downs were felt quite uneasy, and thus the race pace did not improve as was hoped for. Gradually losing some positions, by the 25th lap No. 35 was down to 10th, and routine pit stop was made for the driver change, lubrication, and tyre change to take place. Next, the car was trusted to Juichi Wakisaka who maintained constant pace and laps, but coming to the back-straight end on the 36th lap, with a machine going in front braking hard (!) No. 35 could not help but collide! This causing damage on their radiator, race was finished for the team instantaneously – right at this point.

“We were able to start the race today from not a bad grid position and also went pushing very hard from the starting laps but not being able to overcome problems of under-steer, really not much more could be done. We will definitely work hard to catch up in the remaining half of the season, so give us your warm support!”
Photos by T.Moriyama