SUPER GT Rd.5 Suzuka

A. Couto with a 7th place finish off a long race in unfavorable weather conditions

The all-time, well-loved summer festival event, the “International Pokka GT Summer Special” of Suzuka Circuit welcomed its 40th anniversary over the weekend of August 20th – 21st this year, also held as 2011 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 5. With the influence of the Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster of earlier this year, this one race that was competed over the distance of 700km last year was shortened to 500km (87 laps) this time, now making this endurance race not only long and enduring but to have a touch of also a sprint-race element – which only arouses greater excitement, actually! Andre Couto, with a past winning experience from this big race rose to the challenge again, this time with LEXUS TEAM KRAFT for Round 5 of the second half in this series, this season.

August 20th (SAT), Official Practice Session (9:55 – 11:40) in the morning was found under cloudy skies. Juichi Wakisaka was the first driver up to take car No. 35 out for a stride of 10 laps, then next with Andre Couto running 11 laps more to sophisticate the machine setting, the pair advanced to Official Qualifying session with a 5th position time (1’55.684). Then, from 12:55 Q1 on the Knock-out style began and in the session of GT500/300 running mixed, Couto made the standard time to farther qualify. In the session that followed of the GT500 class alone, No. 35 came to 7th position with the time marked by Wakisaka 1’54.537 and advance to Q2 was accomplished.
However, just before 15:00, finally the rain started pouring down and Q2 (15:25 -15:45) had to start in the heavy-wet. Here, the Portuguese SUPER GT driver took the steer giving his utmost, and yet the 2’10.832 time could not bring LEXUS TEAM KRAFT to the Q3, but only to 10th position on the starting grid of the race.

“From Q1, the track condition changed and under-steer grew worse, slowing our time. I’m rather disappointed with this result from the qualifying, but then it’s going to be a long race tomorow. We do have a good machine, so raising of positions even starting from 10th is not impossible! We’ll just do our best!”

The next day, 21st (SUN) from about 9AM, large drops of rain came dripping down (!) soon soaking up the grounds and hence the race day had to begin under not the best auspices. Through the Free Practice Session (10:00 – 10:45) which got under way in the wet condition, all GT500 (15 cars) and GT300 (23 cars) looked into making final adjustments on their machines. Andre Couto on LEXUS TEAM KRAFT, known for his skilled driving in the rain commented, “Machine is better than it was yesterday”, as coming off this session where the team positioned 6th (2’10.166).
Eventually, the rain once cleared but still over the skies of Suzuka lingered some very thick rainclouds. By the time Warm-up laps preceding Start were to begin, the course turned into heavy-wet condition. However at 15:10 (Temperature: 26 degrees C / Track temperature: 27 degrees C), most of that rain stopped.
From the Formation Lap and to chequer of 87 laps away, D’STATION KeePer SC430 kicking off with a decent rolling start was driven first by Japanese veteran driver, Juichi Wakisaka. In the opening lap No. 35 passed one car, moving up to position 9. Then on the 10th lap rose to position 8, and on lap 11 up to 7th. By that time, the track turned to semi-wet, and from the 19th lap many teams started making their first pit stops. No move was made by LEXUS TEAM KRAFT then and for another while until the 33rd lap when it finally went for a pit stop! After tyre change and refueling, Andre Couto was now in command of the wheels, back in the field at 10th position. Andre kept that position throughout the middle phase of the race steadily, piling up numbers of laps. On lap 43, as one of the cars crashed at 200R, from the 44th lap Safety Car got in and from there the cars assembled into one formation again for the SC run until eventually Restart could be made on lap 47. With resilience, the Macau-resident driver strove on keeping up the pace, and while other competitors went for their 2nd pit stops to switch to either rain tyres or slick tyres, again LEXUS TEAM KRAFT decided to put off their next pit stop for a while more. Then on the 66th lap, Andre entrusted the car over to his Japanese teammate and by then the rain was coming down heavy again so LEXUS TEAM KRAFT put intermediate tyres on the car for Wakisaka to accomplish the last stint. Though maintaining position 7 at high-pace, with the track now clearing up a bit more, No. 35 got passed once by a machine from behind, positioning down to 8th momentarily but on lap 83 when the clock was about to strike 18:30, which was the finishing time of the race, it recovered one position back right in time for chequer and the team achieved a 7th place result from this traditional midsummer event.

“It was really a tough, long race having to cope with the downpour off and on, but a 7th place finish from this race is a result that will bring us to the next round on a good note. I did my stint on deep-groove rain tyres, but among the rivals who were mostly with intermediate tyres I had a somewhat difficult time raising positions and just had to hang on. We have had to race a lot in the rain this season up to now, so in the next round at Fuji (September 10 – 11), let’s hope for a sunny race and there aim at getting the top positions!

Photos by T.Moriyama