SUPER GT Rd.7 Autopolis

A. Couto, from brilliant Pole Position, achieves two consecutive podium finish!! A. Caldarelli finishes in 13th place.

With just two more rounds remaining in the season, the 2012 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 7, “SUPER GT IN KYUSHU 300km” finally reached the Kyushu island of Japan.
Over September 29th to the 30th at Autopolis (in Oita Prefecture), the circuit which hosted this round is located in the famous Aso region. And though the entire weekend was affected by very unstable weather throughout, to this one-and-only full-scaled racing track in Kyushu, many fans gathered to see the season’s last-phase, fierce battling take place over the series championship. (Attendance figures as announced by the organizers: 11,200 SATURDAY, 21,100 SUNDAY)

September 29th (SAT), under chilly temperatures of around 16 degrees Celsius, the Official Practice session in the morning (from 9:00 to 11:10) began in the full-wet condition. Though the rain was gradually easing off, all the machines running with their lights “on” kicked off pillars of water from the ground the whole session through. When it was time for only the GT500 cars to practice the last 10 minutes of this session, rain started to fall hard again as causing poor visibility, and everybody realized by then what a difficult weekend it was turning out to be, likely to be swung around by such changeable weather conditions.
In spite of so however, Andrea Caldarelli of LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft (No. 35) challenging Autopolis for the first time on a GT machine, marked an 8th position time (1’47.702) in the morning, checking carefully the record-line each time. Meanwhile, Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH (No. 19) who knows almost inside-out about this circuit that is known to have many mid and high speed corners as well as challenging ups and downs, finished this session in 9th position (1’47.762) and onward he went preparing for the sessions to come in the aftenoon.

From 15:15, the Q1 of the Official Qualifying Session got under way. Amid still pouring showers, the 15 GT500 machines fired up to start the session. Andre Couto in charge of driving the Q1 on No. 19 gave strong time-attack pursuits and though getting interrupted twice by the Red Flag, placed 3rd before handing WedsSport ADVAN SC430 over to Seiji Ara in charge of Q2. Rain weakened a bit by the Q2 (competed by top 10 cars), and No. 19 maintaining a good note took 4th position (1’49.178), and moved to the next heat where the steering was back in the grips of Couto. Then in this Q3, Andre Couto completely dominated the scenes as giving here his utmost, strongest pushes and with the time of 1’46.534, emerged to the very top of the timing monitor! And though other six Q3 qualifiers were just as quick, with nobody else breaking his time Andre took the Pole Position!!

“I want to dedicate this Pole Position to my dear son Afonso and my family who have supported me for all this time. Today, I already had very good feelings with the car from the morning practice, and then in the Qualifying, the machine and tyres all worked perfectly. I really want to thank YOKOHAMA TIRE and my team for today’s outcome. Let’s try giving our best again tomorrow, aiming at victory!”

On LEXUS KeePer SC430, the teammate of Andrea Caldarelli, Yuji Kunimoto was up to drive in the Q1. However, under the heavy-wet condition, not much of a result could be gained in terms of time- records, and placing 13th (with the time of 2’00.633) did not bring chances for Andrea to get in the car and drive in the Q2 that he had prepared for on Saturday.

On September 30 (SUN), Autopolis was free from all the worries everyone had about the strong typhoon maybe landing directly on the region, but still some rain remained around the time the Free Practice session was about to begin on Sunday morning. At 9:20AM, practice session once began amid the heavy mist, but had to be discontinued due to visibility failure caused by a lingering, dense fog. Instead, another (30 minutes of) warm-up opportunity was urgently arranged for but again, as the weather condition was not improving this alternative session had to be cancelled as well. Hence, all the drivers participated in the event by the Grandstand, spoke and expressed thanks to the fans who gathered about in spite of such uneasy weather and auspices.

Soon the clock ticked 14:00, and finally the 65 laps of Race got under way. By then, all the fog had cleared and the rain was turning to drizzly mist, but the track surface was still found in the complete “Wet”. Andre Couto with LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH delighted with their pole position the day before, were now set to begin another important day and the Race that had to roll out after 2 laps behind the Safety Car (SC).
All 15 machines of the GT500 dashed out, splashing waters up high. Andre pushing strong, strove hard defending the top position till the 3rd lap, but after getting overtaken by no. 23 (Motul AUTECH GT-R) continued running in P2 for several laps more. On the 12th lap, a crash by one of the GT300 cars caused three laps of SC run for everyone, which erased the gap between the Leader and Andre running in P2. By around that time, track surface around the record-line were starting to dry.
With the Green Flag, on the 17th lap every car got off with a re-start and here, No. 19 was led by no. 24 (D’station ADVAN GT-R) coming from right behind, and positioning 3rd, WedsSport ADVAN SC430 driven by Andre Couto went on steadily, unruffled with always a cool, consistent pace.
And eventually coming to the 27th lap, machine running at the top was passed by P2 and P3 cars, and here the Macau-star SUPER GT driver was back to running in 2nd position again. Then, in the 31st lap, Andre Couto, as seeing car no. 24 getting slowed by a GT300 car, was quick to soar in and grab the top position back again! However, on the 34th lap, drawn back to position 2 … and like this for some time, the two Yokohama tyre-users went on fighting back and forth to take the lead.
After 42 laps of aggressively battling through his stint, Andre returned to the pit. After refueling and tyre change, WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was now handed to Seiji Ara who was to drive the next half of the race.
Rejoining the field in 4th position, on the 50th lap No. 19 passed car no. 23 that was running ahead and regained P3! But then, now getting chased after by Michelin-user car no. 1 (S Road REITO MOLA GT-R), for a moment it had to go running behind at 4th again but already in the next lap, passed another machine no. 24 … and just when doing that, saw a GT300 machine right in front and to avoid collision, could not help but spin! Swiftly returning onto the course, the best it could do was to cling on at 4th position for a little more while, but on the very last lap, No. 19 caught back car no. 24, and just seconds to Finish captured the 3rd place on the podium again!

“It was a really nice weekend. Well, especially because of getting the Pole Position too. And about today, inside my stint the race turned out to be quite a hard and busy one, – the battle was very close and it was a lot of work, but the tyres and the machine setup were all very good so I was able to enjoy the race. We also made it on the podium for two rounds in a row. Here, I also want to express my sincere congratulations to my friend Ronnie (Quintarelli) who confirmed his championship victory today! With this good pace, we will try to do the same, aim at winning the final round (October 27-28) in Motegi!”

Andrea Caldarelli driving LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft, No. 35 was entrusted to start the race from position 13. On the 7th lap, Andrea moved one notch up and rose to P12 with skillful driving over slippery grounds. However, on the 18th lap, No. 35 was passed by car 32 (EPSON HSV-010) with Dunlop tyres, known to perform well under semi-wet conditions in particular, and it was back running in 13th again. Then, in the 20th lap, mighty Andrea passed no. 8 (ARTA HSV-010), moved up to P12 and onward the young Italian SUPER GT driver continued till he finished the 33rd lap in P9, also till driver change to Yuji Kunimoto. LEXUS KeePer SC430 now with Kunimoto returned to the field in P12, managed through the battles with other cars or those that spun off, and by the 41st lap No. 35 was up to 10th position. Nevertheless, on the 52nd lap led by no. 29 (DENSO KOBELCO SC430), lost two positions down to 11th but from there and onward again, flawless driving resulted with a rise of few positions back up to 9th which pace only lasted until the 61st lap. With declining of rear tyre performances, No. 19 could not help making an urgent, remedial pit-in and having to do so, LEXUS KeePer SC430 could only finish at 13th position after a hard race.

“Today, we had to start from 13th position and all of us knew that it was going to be a tough race. In my stint I struggled a little bit due to the tyre choice, especially in the early laps, but when the track started to dry I was able to find a good pace, took care of the tyres – also raised a few positions up. But still, we are not content with the result this time. We could not find the best flow all weekend long, so for sure in the next round with everyone in the team united as one, we look forward to a more satisfying race. Please give us your warm support!”

Photos by T.Moriyama