SUPER GT Rd.4 Sugo

A. Caldarelli gets a 6th place with points! A. Couto finishes in unfortunate 12th Position.

Following a month and a half of interval since the previous round was held at Sepang, the AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 4, “SUGO GT 300KM RACE” unfolded at Sportsland SUGO (in Miyagi Prefecture) over the two days of July 28 – 29th. The circuit staging this much-awaited, middle of the summer race in the Tohoku region of Japan is famous as a mid to high speed track, and additionally with considerable elevation difference over the whole – such course features providing a perfect setting for a hot, exciting GT battle to take place each year. And also this time, the race drew large spectator figures, with 9,500 GT fans showing up on Saturday, 27,500 on Sunday.

From GRM, veteran driver Andre Couto who has won podium places at SUGO before, and Andrea Caldarelli who achieved a ninth position finish in the Formula NIPPON championship last year as a rookie came to confront another challenge this weekend, – the two drivers aspired to earn as many additional points possible from Sugo which is for both of them, one of their compatible circuits, and also now that it is exactly half way through the season.

On July 28th (SAT), under scorching summer sun and heat from early morning, the Official Practice session got underway (8:15 – 10:15) with 15 cars of the GT500 and 25 of GT300 classes running together. LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft (No. 35) decided to send Andrea Caldarelli out to the field first, where the Italian GT driver marked a 1’17.018 time in 12th position. Meanwhile at WedsSport ADVAN SC430 (No. 19), Seiji Ara went out first for the practice run, and then Andre Couto in charge of the last half the team positioned at 14th in this session with the time of 1’17.104, and prepared for the qualifying session to come in the afternoon.

The first 15 minutes of the Qualifying (Q1) for GT500 class began from 13:05 to 13:20. Under intense air temperatures reading 36 degrees Celsius (Track temp. 54 degrees C), LEXUS KeePer SC430 was in the control of Yuji Kunimoto who marked an 8th position time (1’16.192) to advance to the SUPER LAP (SL) challenged by the top 10 qualifiers. As for WedsSport ADVAN SC430 driven by Andre Couto, it could only finish this session at 14th (1’16.788) suffering some over-steer caused by machine-setting that was still not right or decisive as it should be.

In the SL for GT500 class, which began from 15:30, Andre Caldarelli who was the 3rd one up to go out to the course performed a powerful and yet stable pursuit marking a brilliant time of 1’15.537 – quite unlike someone who is still a rookie – and at that time point got himself to the very top of the standings. Only three others were able to break his time and therefore LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft took a 4th position result from the Super Lap!

“The car brought from team garage was good and we found the right setup this morning, which helped us to be strong in the SL. I wish we could have shortened the last section time a bit more, but we will continue to work on the setting tuned to Sunday, and anyway do the best to finish in a position even better than our start position of the Race!”

In the morning of May 29th (SUN), Free Practice session (from 9:05 – 9:58) began under light overcast of clouds, but again with temperatures already hitting 33 degrees C even in the shade. Andre Caldarelli on LEXUS KeePer SC430 marked a 3rd position time (1’16.909) from this session while Andre Couto on WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was in position 8 (1’17.292), with final checks and preps made on the machine for the Race in the afternoon.

At a circuit like this one sitting in a mountainous area, weather can be quite changeable and during the Pit Walk (11:45 – 12:30) there was occasional shower wetting the track, but by the time the cars formatted the grid, conditions were back to being dry, and all the machines with slick tyres, waited for Start.

Soon the time was 14:00 (Temp.: 32 degrees C / Track temp. 42 C) and the 81 laps of hot battling opened fire! Andrea Caldarelli taking part in his fourth race since debuting in the SUPER GT drove LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft as the starting driver, rolling off from 4th place on the grid. The young Italian GT driver managed to skillfully get by the top P2 – P3 machines that collided on the 1st corner, just side-glancing them, and was quick to climb to 2nd place by the end of the opening lap. Then for another while, continued to closely follow the race leader car – no. 6 (ENEOS SUSTINA SC430), until Lap 6 when the traffic got heavy with GT300 machines in the way of the top pack. Andrea of No. 35 remained calm during all of this time overtaking slow cars, also holding off no. 36 (PETRONAS TOM’S SC430) right behind him with excellent driving feats. Such battling for 2nd position continued until the 20th lap, but as the two leaders – including Andrea, struggled a bit trying to pass another GT300 back-marker, car no. 1 (S Road REITO MOLA GT-R) at 4th was keen to find room and slip in as coming from behind, overtake them, and therefore No. 35 lost one position down to P3. Then, on the 31st lap at the 1st turn also passed by no. 36, Andrea lost another notch to 4th, and again on the 33rd lap down to 5th. On the 37th lap, No. 35 went in for pit stop where the team was already on standby for the changeover and the steer was handed to teammate Yuji Kunimoto, who from there on maintained a steady pace to bring the team to a 6th place finish. As a result of this, Andrea Caldarelli and Yuji Kunimoto pair won 5 points.

“It was a very tough race. Race pace was not bad, and in P2 I pushed hard throughout the first half of the race but it was not easy to manage through the GT300 cars. Also from the 15th or 16th lap or so, the front tyres started suffering slightly and position-keeping also became difficult. Yuji worked very hard too, and we are happy to have finished in P6, so far the best result for the team this season. We now see what our issues are for the next round, and we look forward to the coming Suzuka 1000km race (August 18 -19).”

Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH in P12, started the race from the 7th row on the grid. On the 8th Lap, Andre passed one machine and moved up one position to 11th. With a constant pace in that position for some time, as coming to the 35th lap an urgent pit-in could not be helped because of power-steering trouble that occurred at the hairpin. No. 19 was back out on the course again with driver change to Ara, but the steering problem could not be solved and another urgent pit stop had to be made. Owing to hard remedy efforts made by the team for recovery, WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was able to get back on track, but on this day the best they could do was anyway finish the race in 12th place.

“Today, we were seeing good chances to finish the race in higher standings with points earned, but due to machine trouble it did not work out that way. Things are still not going as we expect them to be, but in the last half of the season, we will try to rewind and turn things over to the better so alongside, please keep up your warm support for us.”

Photos by T.Moriyama