SUPER GT Rd.7 Autopolis

A. Couto fights against a tough track surface, finishes at 9th

October 1st – 2nd, 2011 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 7, “SUPER GT in KYUSHU 250km” was staged at Autopolis found in the beautiful and grand natural surroundings of Aso Mountain Ranges, (in Oita Pref., Kyushu Island) now beginning to color with shades of autumn. It has been 2 years since a SUPER GT event was staged here the last time in 2009, and is also the circuit where Andre Couto has achieved a podium finish in the past. Toward the final round, Andre came ready to face another challenge, aiming to take a win from this place and with his team, LEXUS TEAM KRAFT.

On October 1st (SAT), though the winds felt rather chilly, clear skies spread over the track blessed with pleasant autumn sunshine and at 9:00am, Official Practice Session of 1 hour and 45 minutes got under way. From LEXUS TEAM KRAFT, first Juichi Wakisaka drove for 16 laps as checking into the machine setting, then followed by Andre Couto driving another 10 laps giving further checks. After both drivers’ confirming, No. 35 finished this session in 11th place (1’42.728). From 12:00, Q1 of the Official Qualifying got started. In the mixed session (25 min.) of GT500/GT300 classes running mixed, first Andre went out on the course with used tyres and cleared the qualifying standard time (1’44.659) at ease, then handed the steering over to his teammate. On new tyres, No. 35 marked a good, 2nd place time (1’41.634) and proceeded to the next Qualifying session (10 min.) competed among 15 GT500 machines. In this session, Wakisaka overwrote the time with a fine 1’40.715 result, and thus the team advanced to the Super Lap in position 5.
Shortly, at 15:19 the Super Lap of the 10 top qualifying cars from Q1 began. As the 6th car up to start the pursuit, Wakisaka on D’STATION KeePer SC430 pushed with the utmost to further trim down the time to 1’40.478, and secured 5th on the grid for Sunday, not a bad position to start the race.

On October 2nd (SUN), temperatures got even lower than the day before with cloudy skies spreading over the Aso region. Amid a 14-degrees Celsius, rather chilly morning, 30 minutes of Free Practice began. Andre Couto on D’STATION KeePer SC430 made 15 laps in the practice as reconfirming the last machine settings fit for the race.

At 14:00 it was now time to Start the race, and with a trace of sun coming down quietly upon the circuit of Autopolis, the wild hollering sounds of the SUPER GT cars roared off for the 54 laps of race. With rolling start from the third row, No. 35 under the command of Andre Couto jumped up one position in the opening lap to 4th, but on coming to the 3rd lap was passed by car no. 6 (LEXUS TEAM LeMans ENEOS) and was back down to staying at 5th during the early laps of the race. Then in the 9th lap, Andre passed back No. 6 whose pace did not improve much farther, and took position 4 again. In the next few laps however, No. 35 was overtaken by other cars coming from behind and by the point of 16th lap, D’STATION KeePer SC430 was gradually down to running at 8th. During that time, Couto judged that he cannot burden the machine too much with any unreasonable initiations or attempts, but instead tend the tyres, and went on patiently for another while. Eventually, there were many machines going into the pit, perhaps due to wear of tyres, but in the mean time Andre hung on till the last lap of his compulsory 22 laps in spite of his lap time dropping down, returned to the pit and passed the baton over to Juichi Wakisaka. From there and onward, veteran driver Wakisaka continued with a constant pace from one lap to the next, and finished the race in position 9.

“The track surface here is really hard on the tyres, and though having some margin, I tried controlling the pace as much as possible. Even then, gripping down could not be helped and we could not cling onto the leading pack. We’ll try to find the best match by the last race, and I’ll certainly give my best in the remaining races, end this season on a high note.”

F3 Macau GP winner and the hero of Macau, Andre Couto will again make a spot entry in the World Touring Car Championship (FIA WTCC), Macau Round held this year on November 17 – 20th. Same as last year, Andre will be racing with the Spanish team, SUNRED Engineering, driving SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T.

Photos by T.Moriyama