SUPER GT Rd.2 Fuji

One long race tossed around by the mood swings of rain.
Couto and Caldarelli both finish the race but without points gained

The 2nd Round of the 2012 AUTOBACS SUPER GT, “FUJI GT 500km RACE” was staged at Fuji Speedway (of Shizuoka Prefecture) over May 3rd and 4th amid the Golden Week holidays in Japan.
This race is one of the GT rounds fighting 110 laps and where throughout, the greatest focus is on how the teams may work out strategies effective over the long distance as bringing out the best performances by machines, their tyres and the drivers, as these factors can really determine the win-or-lose outcome of the race. Thus, in spite of troubling weather, the big race over the two days drew a total of 83,000 GT fans eager to witness the large excitement this race should bring.

On May 3rd (THU), the Official Practice session (9.00 – 11.00) got off to a start under a heavy downpour. Cars all struggled over aquaplaning caused by the heavy-wet track conditions, which drove many to course off, spin or crash, but even so, Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH was able to manage skillfully the WedsSport ADVAN SC430. By the end of the session of GT500s-only, the Portuguese GT driver struck the top time (1’45.138) of all, leaving good impressions for the qualifying heats to come later in the day.
In the meantime, Andrea Caldarelli driving LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft continued to renew his time from lap to lap in the practice session, but onto his 10th lap came some more heavy drops of rain that caused Andrea to spin just on entering the 1st Corner and hit the left rear of car against the fence.

Thursday afternoon, rain eased off by Q1 of the Official Qualifying sessions but the track condition was still declared “Wet”. The GT500 session got under way on schedule from 13:15, and lasted for 15 minutes.
Couto’s teammate, Seiji Ara was up first to take the steer of WedsSport ADVAN SC430 pushing hard to qualify for Q2 (the Super Lap) run by the top 10 cars, but here struggling with some under-steer, resulted with a 12th place time (1’45.478) and unfortunately No. 19 could not challenge the upper stage of qualifying.
Andrea Caldarelli was in charge of the Q1 time-attacking pursuits driving No. 35 LEXUS KeePer SC430 which was by then, owing to swift works by the team mechanics, repaired from the damages it took earlier in the day. However, in terms of the machine setting, there was still yet to go as the large under-steer problem could not be resolved completely in time for the session, and therefore a 15th position (1’46.559) time was marked.

The next morning on May 4th (FRI), the rain from the day before had stopped by the Free Practice (8.30 – 9.00) but under a semi-wet condition. WedsSport ADVAN SC430 with Couto/Ara took a 6th position time (1’44.387), and LEXUS KeePer SC430 with Caldarelli/Kunimoto finished this session at 12th (1’46.113), respectively.

Soon it was Friday afternoon, the time for the 15 cars of GT500, and 24 cars of GT300 to set out to a long battle. At 14:00 (Temp.: 19 degrees C, Track temp.: 23 degrees C), Round 2 of SUPER GT 2012 was to begin, but 10 minutes before Start, droplets of rain started to fall upon Fuji Speedway. All the cars with slick tyres went trailing behind the Safety Car (SC) for the rolling lap (* as specified in the SUPER GT sporting regulations, – in such case “To start behind the SC”, with the rolling formation lap(s) also counted in the race laps). Gradually, the track started to wet entirely and many teams quickly decided to put on rain tyres. Therefore, as the machines returned to the pit to change tyres, everyone’s positions were stirred up already during the SC run (of 2 laps), even before the real racing got started. Quite an unusual way to Start, it was!

LEXUS KeePer SC430, No. 35 entrusted the first stint to Andrea Caldarelli, who was to run the very first 500km race of his career. Like many others, No. 35 at P15 also changed to rain tyres during the SC run, and in the 8th lap worked up to P13, then to P12 in the 9th lap. And by the 11th lap, the track surface started drying so the young Italian GT driver went to switch back to slick tyres and returned to the field in 11th position. Soon afterwards however, No. 35 was issued with a drive-through penalty for overtaking at Re-start (during the SC run), which cost Andrea 2 positions down. On the 40th lap, LEXUS KeePer SC430 was handed to Yuji Kunimoto, and in the 58th lap when a front-going machine pitted in, Kunimoto regained positions up to 12th. Then, as finishing the 83rd lap, the next driver change took place with Andrea now in charge with his second stint. Though rain began to fall again towards the end of the race, and subsequently tyres having to be changed too, still there was no change in position and LEXUS KeePer SC430 finished the race in 12th place.

“It was long race. In my first stint, I was a bit worried with the pit-in timing when it started raining, and then with the penalty I lost my pace from the early laps. Also, towards the end of my second stint, with the rain tyres again I tried hard to catch up, but now the rain cleared so soon and things didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped for. During this race week we could not work out the best flow, but being able to ‘finish’ the race and all are certainly good additions to my experiences.”

WedsSport ADVAN SC430 kicked off with Seiji Ara as the starting driver. By the mix-up caused during the formation lap, No. 19 had to start the race from P14, and as the rain eased off in the 11th lap, Ara took the car into the pit to change to slick tyres. On the 25th lap, he overtook car no. 35, and rose to P13 and from there on pushed on with steady and tenacious driving. Coming off the 40th lap, the first driver change took place with No. 19 now under the control of Andre Couto but with some difficulties keeping up the time, Andre could not help but go for an unscheduled pit-in on lap 57, as losing one position down to P14. Then, when the leaders pack went into the 65th lap, one of the GT300 cars crashed hard on the straight-end, and therefore the Safety Car was out again for five laps. And once the race was resumed, as there was one car that had to withdraw by machine trouble, No. 19 found itself one position up to P13. As finishing the 80th lap, Andre Couto handed the car to his Japanese teammate and soon after, with 15 laps remaining the rain started falling again necessitating a switch back to rain tyres. Despite all, the position stayed the same for WedsSport ADVAN SC430 who finished this long and bewildering race in 13th position.

“After yesterday, there was even a feeling for chances to gain the top positions. The machine balance was good too. But because of more than expected number of pit stops we had to make, the gap with the rivals grew large and we could not gain any better results. Towards Sepang (June 9 – 10), with the whole team together we will try figuring out solid measures. Please continue to give us your warm support.”

Andre Couto joins the bone-marrow donors awareness and PR actions
The SUPER GT Series is supporting the Marrow Donors Awareness and Promotion program ever since Andre’s son, Afonso suffered leukemia – finding the need for more bone-marrow donor registries. Andre Couto continues to be sincerely dedicated and together with these actions as an active supporter, calling out for more public attention and cooperation for the patients awaiting bone-marrow transplants.

Photos by T.Moriyama