SUPER GT Rd.3 Sepang

A. Couto and A. Caldarelli earn points from a blazing hot race.

Over the weekend of June 9th to 10th, AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 3, the “SUPER GT INTERNATIONAL SERIES MALAYSIA” – the only flyaway race of this Series – took place under the scorching sun and heat of this very beautiful country in Asia. And again this time, the venue that staged the race ‘just as hot’, was Sepang International Circuit located near Kuala Lumpur Airport. Amid high temperatures and humidity quite inherent in these subtropical regions, every year the machines and drivers must battle under some of the most critical conditions anyone can imagine, also where always high chances of squall or flash downpour await.

On June 9 (SAT) from 10:00AM, under some clouds (Air temp. 30 degrees C, Humidity 70%) began the two hours of Official Practice and here Andre Couto with LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH was off with a smooth start for the weekend as piling up good laps, and finished the session with a 6th position time (1’56.695). Meanwhile, Andrea Caldarelli of LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft driving for his first time ever in Sepang had hoped to practice for as many laps more or possible in order to gain a firsthand feel of this track, but as machine adjustment took up some time using most of his teammate Yuji Kunimoto’s slot of running time, therefore Andrea could only get 4 solid laps out of this session and stagnate in 14th position (1’57.924).

Then came 15:45, the time to begin the 1st Qualifying session (Q1, 15 minutes) that narrows down and decides the top 10 GT500 cars to advance to the Super Lap (SL).
Andrea Couto rocketed out just as this session unfolded. As warming up the tyres, the Macau-resident driver initiated strong time-attacking pursuits on the wheels of WedsSport ADVAN SC430. The session was red-flagged halfway through, for there was a machine that had stalled by machine trouble but in spite of so, with the 3rd position time of 1’57.172, Andre confirmed a place in the SL.
As for LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft, Yuji Kunimoto was appointed to drive Q1 and took the 5th position time (1’57.268), bringing the team to run the SL – a fine result gained by this team too.

From 17:15, the SL session began as drawing large attention and excitement from everyone watching.
Andrea Caldarelli was entrusted to drive in the Super Lap, the first one ever for him, just like his debut appearance at this circuit. According to the starting order, being sixth to start, the freshmen Italian SUPER GT driver glided smoothly into his SL attempts without making mistakes also as fighting off all the pressure that he must have been under perhaps, and took the 8th position (1’57.380).
At WedsSport ADVAN SC430, Couto’s fellow driver Seiji Ara was in charge of the SL. Unable to improve their time much more however, position 9 (1’57,855) was the utmost that the team could achieve at the end of Saturday.

On Sunday the 10th, from about the time of morning’s Free Practice (10:00 – 10:40) even bluer skies started to spread above everyone, igniting the temperatures to rise even higher than the day before, – but then surely the most powerful heat was to come later in the day!
During this session, all of the machines adjusted and tuned in their machines eyeing the Race held in the afternoon. On LEXUS KeePer SC430 (No. 35), Caldarelli managed 11 laps of run placing 6th (1’58.482), and on WedsSport ADVAN SC430 (No. 19) Couto settled with an 11th position time marked from their pursuits in the morning.

Then came 16:00 o’clock – the time to commence the awaited main race, with the temperature reading 33 degrees C and vigorous glare of the sun filling up the circuit of Sepang. In fact, where the track surface reached as high as up to 52 degrees C (!), 15 machines of the GT500 class and 22 of the GT300 fired up and rolled off for the 54 laps of the hottest battle of the season. The two GRM drivers also started the race in which their mission was to raise as many positions up before handing over duties to their teammates. Andre Couto, who has a winning experience also in Sepang started the race from P9. The Portuguese veteran driver strove hard from the opening lap already, and by the 3rd lap, rose to 7th and cruising steadily kept up a fine pace for quite a while. However, from the 19th lap not being able to bring up the car’s pace so much more and by the time of pitting-in after 23 laps, fell back to P12. After the switch of drivers, WedsSport ADVAN SC430 steered by Seiji Ara continued on with the stride for the remaining 31 laps of the race and finished in 9th place (2 points gained)

“The machine balance was good in the beginning and I was enjoying the race. In the last half (of my stint) however, it became hard on the rear tyres and difficult to keep the position. In time for the SUGO round (July 28 – 29th), we will study through the various kinds of data we gathered up to now, and put them to good use. In the meantime, please give us your continued, warm support.”

Andrea Caldarelli was on the steering from Start, kicking off from 8th on the grid but losing two positions by the 14th lap, and then one more – down to 11th, in the 18th lap. Later in the stint, Andrea recovered one position up, shortly before pit-in on the 27th lap for driver change. After Yuji Kunimoto took over who kept up a constant pace, eventually the position rose to P8 by the 48th lap and the rest of the race looked quite promising. However, at the 1st Corner on lap 48 due to a collision with another machine, a plus 30-seconds penalty was imposed costing the team a few positions down to 10th place (1 point gained) in the very end.

“Here at this circuit for the first time, it was also my very first time running the SUPER LAP, and on top of that, my first time to race in such a heat. Everything gained here has turned into good experiences for me. In the beginning of the Race, things were going well but my having some difficult time managing through the GT300 cars created some time loss. This is something I must improve upon and I hope it can be solved soon. It is also too bad that our position had to change with a penalty, but in any case I can feel that the team is headed in a better and better direction after every race, so let’s hope to get more points in the next round.”

Photos by T.Moriyama, M.Sato