SUPER GT Rd.8 Motegi

A. Couto closes the season with a 5th place finish, A. Caldarelli with a regretful retire due to machine trouble

Over the weekend of October 27 – 28th, the SUPER GT Series touched down on its grand finale round, the 2012 AUTOBACS SUPER GT “Motegi GT250km Race” staged at Twin Ring Motegi (in Tochigi Prefecture). The two drivers of GRM, Andre Couto and Andrea Caldarelli, both came upon this last race of the season filled with large aspirations to demonstrate their very best and complete each one’s year in a good note with 39,500 core GT fans and enthusiasts watching to follow through till the very last minutes of the 2012 series.

October 27th (SAT), the Qualifying Day was blessed under beautiful autumn weather and clear skies.
In the first official practice session that took place in the morning (09:30 – 11:30), drivers Couto/Ara on LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH positioned 6th (with 1’42.555 time), and Caldarelli/Kunimoto on LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft, marking the 13th position time (1’43.275) advanced to the knock-down sessions of Official Qualifying held later in the afternoon.

Then the time came to begin the Q1, the first segment of the Qualifying Session beginning at 14:15 and lasting until 14:30 (Temp.: 21 degrees Celsius). The 15 machines of the GT500 class fired up to exhibit actions, and there the steering of No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was in the hands of Seiji Ara driving first and who recorded an 11th position result (1’42.501) to make the Q2. Then, Andre Couto in charge of the Q2 pursuits (14:50 – 15:00) struck out a very fine time of 1’42.141 placing 3rd from this heat, paving their way up to Q3 – easy and smooth. In Q3, Ara was in charge of driving the WedsSport ADVAN SC430, and marking 6th (1’42.159) from this session and overall, the team secured their third row on the race grid for Sunday.

“In the morning during the practice session, we found several issues with the setup and the tyres, so some touch-ups were made before the Qualifying. Owing to good work done by the team, the machine was improved to a state beyond expectations, and because of that we were able to finish in the top 6 qualifiers. Tomorrow let’s try racing to our fulfillment and finish the season without things to regret!”

Over on LEXUS KeePer SC430 (No. 35), Andrea Caldarelli was in charge of driving the Q1, but perhaps due to machine setting and the package not as fully completed, No. 35 fell stagnant with 12th position time (1’42.562) at the end of Saturday.

“In the test which we did here back in September, our machine proved being very competitive so we came to this circuit with a fair amount of confidence, but somehow the track surface seemed to have changed … ever since this morning we couldn’t mark times like expected and were eliminated already in Q1. However Sunday’s race and outcome may depend on the weather too, so who knows!? We may see quite a different development tomorrow. Whatever the case may be, we are hoping to finish inside the top positions, so “Gambari masu” (will do our best)! ”

In the morning of October 28th (SUN), Twin Ring Motegi was covered with a thick overcast of clouds, and the Free Practice began (09:15-10:00, under 14 degrees Celsius/Track temp. 19 degrees C) in “Dry” condition but just barely!. As making last checks into the machine set up for the coming race, WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was managed by Seiji Ara up first, then next handed to Andre Couto who finished with the top time (1’43.373) out of everyone in this session.
Meanwhile, Andre Caldarelli was out first to command the LEXUS KeePer SC430, then his teammate Yuji Kunimoto drove the latter half and resulting with 15th position (1’45.209) the team continued their preparations toward the race to be held in the afternoon.

Small droplets of rain started to fall from after 10:00AM, and under “Full Wet”, the race got underway on schedule at 14:00 (Temp. 15 degrees C) but behind the Safety Car.
Then, on the 3rd lap when the SC withdrew, now the real battling among the 15 machines of the GT500 class, and 23 of GT300 “started” as kicking off high pillars of water screen.
Soon after start, a car running in P2 spun on the 4th lap, losing several notches down and affected by this disorder, No. 19 WedsSport ADVAN SC430 which started the race from 6th on the grid, for a moment lost one position down to 7th. Nevertheless, on the 7th lap Couto recovered P6, and then further up to P5 in the next lap, and overtaking one machine ahead on lap 9, rose to position 4! And keeping up this high speed inside the 1’52” range, the veteran Portuguese GT driver climbed to the 3rd position at last!! Holding on strongly to that position for some while more, Andre Couto finally completed his stint after 33 laps and pitted. Then, after tyre change and refueling, No. 19 was handed to Seiji Ara. But however, passed by another competitor in the pits who took the strategy of either doing no tyre-change or changed but just two tyres, WedsSport ADVAN SC439 returned to the field in 5th position and from thereafter maintained a constant pace throughout the last half of the battle until the chequered flag- still in 5th place but with points gained from a race of 53 laps in total.(Series Ranking 9th)

“In my stint, especially in the early laps the tyres were slow to warm up and therefore I lost a few positions. But gradually, I was able to fight with a quicker pace which got us up even to 3rd position, and also as keeping that position I could hand the baton over to Seiji. Unfortunately for today we fell behind our rivals, perhaps due to strategies and settled to a 5th place finish, but we earned some points in the final round and we are certainly happy about that. Also, backed up by tremendous support given from many fans, we were able to reach the finish of the season. Thank you so much!”

LEXUS KeePer Kraft who started the race in P12 with Andrea Caldarelli on the wheels, once rose to P11 but passed by no. 32 (EPSON HSV-010) running with Dunlop tyres known for high performance in rain, was soon back to 12th position. Patiently running and keeping this position for some while, on the 14th lap Andrea passed one car that took a spin, earned one position back up to 11th but then again, down to 12th on the 16th lap… On the 21st lap with two machines pitting in early, – also seeing another car losing positions after collision, No. 35 conducted by the young Italian driver went running in 9th position at one point but however on the 27th lap and also over the downhill section, quite unexpectedly the machine started slowing down! Andrea somehow managed to bring the machine back to the pit, but no longer able to resume the race and any actions back out on the track, LEXUS KeePer Kraft could not help but accept retirement from this race.(Series Ranking 13th)

“It was a trouble with the drive system. Right after start, we were passed by rivals who are good in rain, but still we had quite a good pace during the middle portion of the race. Just as we had planned from the beginning, we stayed out longer and delayed our pit-stop timing to raise as many positions up in the meantime… but unfortunately we could only finish the season with our last round ending up in this way. This year was my debut year in the SUPER GT, and I really learned many things. I want to thank TOYOTA and also everyone at KRAFT for providing me this chance. I look forward to fighting in this wonderful series again next year. Thank you once again to all of our fans for the great cheer and support given throughout the season!”

Photos by T.Moriyama