SUPER GT Rd.8 Motegi

A. Couto finds hard to hide his disappointment with a 14th place finish from the last round of 2011

This year on March 11th, all of Japan was in great sorrow and turmoil caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the major disasters it brought. As many efforts for reconstruction and recovery gradually got under way, the motorsports season also resumed its activities from May, particularly with the SUPER GT organization standing up to position the Series in the circle of actions for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Disaster Relief Aid. Now, the AUTOBACS SUPER GT Series touched down on its last stage Twin Ring Motegi (in Tochigi Prefecture) over the weekend of October 15th – 16th, for Round 8 “MOTEGI GT 250KM RACE”, the true climax of this season taking place at a track that had to be reworked after suffering some damages by the earthquake earlier in the year.

In this round, the weight handicap added up on each machine up to now were reset and zeroed for all cars so that the battle here be one that is competed purely by the performance of drivers and machines. Portuguese SUPER GT driver Andre Couto, who has not been able to exert his usual, true best all season long, is unfortunately not among the title contenders but even then, managed to maintain high motivation throughout the year. This week he rose again to the challenge with LEXUS TEAM KRAFT, for the grand finale of this season.

October 15th (SAT), amid unfavorable weather conditions with downpour and winds also blowing, the Official Practice began from 9:45AM. Already from the beginning, cars struggled against difficult conditions such as bad visibility by water-screening, slippery track surface, and therefore many coursed off. However by the latter half of the session, rain eased off and the practice session finished at 11:30AM. D’STATION KeePer SC430 was in the field with first Juichi Wakisaka running 23 laps, then Andre Couto in the last half driving 10 laps. The team finished this session with a 13th position time (1’55.490).

At 13:05, with rain pouring down again, Q1 of the Official Qualifying session began. 30 minutes into the session with GT500/GT300 classes mixed, during 15:00-15:10, 15 cars of the GT500 class set out to qualify for the Q2 (top 11 positions) of the knock-down style. Attempts by No. 35 D’STATION KeePer SC430 were conducted by Juichi Wakisaka up first, but not able to gain enough tyre grip team’s position stagnated at 14th (1’55.771), thus no advance to the Q2 could be made. On top of that, as the time marked in Q1 by Wakisaka was judged to be invalid due to overrunning in the yellow-flag zone, the time outputted by Andre Couto earlier in the mixed session became the certified result (1’55.898, P15) for this team.

On October 16th (SUN) morning, Free Practice (9:00 – 9:45) was again a wet session. By rain continuing to fall from the day before, heavy-wet condition was declared for the course. D’STATION KeePer SC430 was driven in the order of Wakisaka up first, Couto up second, with both drivers checking deep into the machine setting and conditions. Just as this session got through with the team in 14th position, now the skies started to clear and from then onward weather started to improve rapidly.

Soon it was time to begin the warm-up procedures preceding Start, (as the condition turned to dry, these procedures usually taking 8 minutes were extended to 13 minutes). All 36 machines coming off the last checks took their places to form the grid. Then at 14:05, over Twin Ring Motegi found under crisp blue skies (Temperature: 26 degrees Celsius, Track temp. 33 degrees C), the final race (53 laps) of the 2011 SUPER GT season got under way with enormous roars of the engines.

Andre Couto on D’STATION KeePer SC430 was off with a decent start from the rearmost row of the GT500 grid and soon worked up to 11th position, managing to get through unscathed an accident by two cars in the opening lap. From there, Couto continued his push on farther keeping the position, but then on the 5th lap at T3, just upon overtaking no. 24 (ADVAN KONDO GT-R) got hit on the rear by the same car, and unable to hold, spun-off! Luckily, the machine did not experience any damage and No. 35 was able to return to the course but because of the time loss, position dropped down to 14th. Having to try catching up again from backfield, eventually on Lap 9, Couto was back again running at 12th as there was one car pitting in. But then having to care for the tyres too, in the meantime No. 35 was overtaken by two cars from behind, those with fresh tyres, and by Lap 15, the position was back down to 14th. Nevertheless the resilient driver held on striving till the scheduled, routine stop. By the time of 20th lap in the race, there were many machines going for pit-stops but meanwhile No. 35 stayed going at a steady pace until Lap 28. Then, D’STATION KeePer SC430 returned to the pit for driver change, tyre change and refueling, and from there on team’s Japanese driver Wakisaka began his stint for the remainder of the race.
By this time, all machines had finished the compulsory pit-in and car No. 35 was running in 13th position. Veteran driver Wakisaka kept up a constant, high pace throughout the remaining laps but coming to the final lap, got struck by another misfortune on T12! Just after brilliant overtaking two cars no. 19 (WedsSport ADVAN SC430) and no. 8 (ARTA HSV-010) over the back-straight, No. 35 D’STATION KeePer SC430 was contacted hard on the rear by no. 8! This hit forced Wakisaka to spin-out and due to the damages caused No. 35 had no option but to stop, finish the day’s race in P14 and also the season – just like that.

“This being the last round of the season, we were keen to end the year with good feelings. But both Juichi and I got hit today by other cars, and it turned into a bitter end for us. Machine and tyres were all working so we could have gained much better results… I am disappointed that we were not able to show good performance to the 36,000 fans that attended the race this weekend.
This marks the end of the series of this year. Everything went by so quickly, it seems like. Supported by many fans and members, I was able to fight through season-long, till the very end. I would like to express my very sincere appreciation to everybody. Thank you very much! Next month, JAF GP and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing FESTIVAL will be held, also I myself will be participating in the Macau GP (WTCC), so now I look forward to giving my best in each of these races, offer some excitement to everyone.”

Photos by T.Moriyama