Much-enjoyed race for A. Couto with overall 3rd place podium finish!!

The “JAF Grand Prix SUPER GT & Formula NIPPON FUJI SPRINT CUP 2011” was staged at Fuji Speedway again this year. This event is truly an extraordinary festival of motorsports, with the two popular series of this country, SUPER GT and All-Japan Formula NIPPON – that just finished off each of their seasons respectively, – are held jointly in one weekend on the same track. Normally, in the SUPER GT there are the GT500 and GT300 classes running mixed, with two drivers per team taking turns of stints but this event’s protocol provides that an individual race be carried out for each class, with one (1) driver responsible for one (1) entire race. Also, for the SUPER GT, Formula NIPPON and even for the support races as well, all drivers were grouped into the East-West competition system (according to each one’s home regions) and therefore, the points won by each driver during this event contributed to the battle between the East vs. West as well (organizers were to decide “the East or West” for all non-Japanese drivers). In the end, the winning team is to be decided by the sum of points scored on the total. From LEXUS TEAM KRAFT of the GT500 class, Juichi Wakisaka (Team WEST) entered Race 1 held on November 12th (SAT), and Andre Couto (Team EAST) in Race 2 of Sunday the 13th.

On November 11th (FRI), in spite of the pouring rain showers, Official Practice took place from 09:30AM which lasted for 1 hour. Andre Couto took the steering of D’STATION KeePer SC430 for 8 laps under these poor conditions, checking into the feeling of the machine in view of the Official Qualifying session to come in the afternoon.

From 14:20, Qualifying heat for GT500 class’ Race 1 began. During the 20 minutes of this session however, the downpour turned heavier and heavier, with conditions becoming ever more difficult for everyone. Wakisaka finished 13th (1’50.283) from this session, and from 15:25, Couto was to run in the qualifying for Race 2, but this session had to be put off till the next morning as the rain only grew worse with no chances of recovery for the day.

On 12th (SAT), that miserable weather condition of the previous day seemed like it had never happened and skies over the mountains of Fuji were as clear as ever, but the postponed Race 2 qualifying session (GT500) had to be held over the track that had not completely dried yet – in the semi-wet condition. Andre Couto pushed hard on D’STATION KeePer SC430 with intermediate tyres, but suffering some issues of understeer had to settle to 12th (1’44.934) position on the grid.

The official schedule of the event commenced with an Opening Ceremony, then on to the official qualifying session for Formula NIPPON, and following Race 1 of the SUPER GT300 class came the time (15:15) to start Race 1 of the Super GT500 class, by the “standing start” style. Juichi Wakisaka of LEXUS TEAM KRAFT starting from 13th on the grid climbed to 9th in the opening lap already, pushed onward more with aggressive drives rising to 4th by Lap 11! From there and ever more fighting on hard especially against No. 36 (PETRONAS TOM’S SC430), finally took hold of No. 36 on Lap 19 and emerged to position 3! Thanks to our veteran driver, a dramatic outcome was brought about with a pleasing 3rd place podium finish after 22 laps of real racing – some great work done!

On the following day, 13th (SUN), Fuji Speedway was again blessed with beautiful skies and a huge crowd of spectators attending from quite early in the morning. From 10:05AM were the opening event functions, and right from noon (12:00) began the Formula NIPPON race (22 laps), which was followed by the Legend Cup race competed by the big-name drivers of all-times, and soon came the time for the SUPER GT race, the true climax battle of the weekend. After Race 2 of the GT300 class, starting from 15:25 now Race 2 for 15 cars of the GT500 class got under way.
Andre Couto who kicked off with a fantastic start from 12th of this race’s grid, jumped up to P5 already in the opening lap, and then captured P4 just in the next lap. Then soon again, overtaking car no. 1 (Weider HSV-010), the Macau-resident driver climbed up further to P3! From there on and for some numbers of laps, including Andre the top 3 race leaders fought high-paced actually for quite a while, enlarging the gap from all the rest. And over halfway through the race, the pace of No. 35 D’STATION KeePer did drop a bit but only slightly, so Andre with steady driving kept a good stride at 3rd throughout the remaining half of the race. Nevertheless, at the point of 5 laps to go, No. 36 (PETRONAS TOM’S) that was closing in from behind began raising its pace and in the final lap the two cars got into a fierce tail-to-nose condition. Andre Couto held out as hard as he could blocking the back, but then with just seconds away to Finish, or “one more podium finish” for this team, No. 36 came forcing its way and the two cars hit and spun on Prius Corner (T13) from the outside. The Portuguese SUPER GT driver somehow managed to return No. 35 onto the course in spite of this upset, and brought it to chequer at 6th.
Nonetheless, the overall count (Race 1 and 2 combined) for the team resulted as 3rd, and Wakisaka-Couto pair finished in good beauty, finishing a very enjoyable weekend and their battles standing on the Podium! Besides, something also nice is that Team EAST, to which Andre Couto belonged, won the West vs. East battle so this might have been another treat for the happy driver from his weekend at Fuji.

“Getting so close to a podium finish, it was a bit of a regretful outcome for me. The machine setup was really at its best from the beginning to the end, it was perhaps a race most well-driven and that I enjoyed the most this season. Let me take this moment again to thank all the people in the team for the many hard work and efforts we shared, all the sponsors for their backup support, – also my big thanks go to each and every one of our many fans, just as well. I’ll try to keep this vibe and bring it with me to Macau GP. Then after that, on November 27th (SUN) I hope to see everybody in Japan at the “TOYOTA GAZOO Racing FESTIVAL”.

(Attendance: 70,700 spectators/3 days)
Photos by T.Moriyama