JAF Grand Prix & FIA WTCC Macau

A.Caldarelli with an unsatisfactory P10 finish. A. Couto holds out in P11 till finish.

Just weeks following the final round of 2012 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Series which recently completed its season, came the very last and also very special race week of November 16th – 18th, during which the two GRM drivers set off to challenge different races, respectively – one held in Japan and the other in Macau.

At Fuji Speedway, the JAF Grand Prix SUPER GT & Formula NIPPON “FUJI SPRINT CUP 2012” was held, and Andrea Caldarelli with LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft participated in the SUPER GT segment of the competition. This Event, known as a special meeting set aside the usual Series rounds, couples the SUPER GT and Formula NIPPON to be held in the same, one weekend. And accordingly, the race procedures are arranged differently from that of the regular where GT500 and GT300 classes do not run mixed inside the same session. Furthermore, each one (1) driver is in charge of driving alone the whole 100km ‘sprint’ race of 22 laps. On top of that, the starting method is not by rolling start but by standing start, and for sure this was a stage where the GT rookie driver Andrea’s progress of over the past year was to be exhibited.

On November 16th (Friday), the mountains of Fuji were found under the clearest brisk Autumn skies all the day through, and from 10:00am began the Official Practice session lasting for one hour. From the session, LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft recorded a 1’33.280 (12th position time) and everyone got busy with further machine setups tuned to the Qualifying to come later that afternoon. From 14:35 to 14:55 for 20 minutes, Official Qualifying for Race 1 scheduled for Saturday the 17th took place, and Andrea’s teammate Yuji Kunimoto made time-recording attempts for that race (resulting with 1’31.782, in P12). Following that, another Official Qualifying for Race 2 to be held on the 18th (SUN) got under way from 15:40, again for 20 minutes duration, and here Andrea Caldarelli performed his time-attacking pursuits.

As discussing with his team engineers Andrea chose the tyres and finished up the setting. After gaining good feelings with the new tyres of the first set, he showed very strong time-attacking attempts with new tyres of the second set, and as closing in to the pole position barely by just 0.1 seconds behind, Andrea Caldarelli placed 2nd, with the time of 1’30.925 – so far his best qualifying result from this category.

“It’s a bit regretful to have closely missed the Pole Position, but I’m happy to start the race on Sunday from the front row. Let’s go for it with confidence!”

November 17th (SAT), the weather turned drastically different from that of the day before with rain pouring down from early morning. Occasionally, showers got stronger and amid such conditions, first the Formula NIPPON qualifying session took place, and then Race 1 of the SUPER GT GT300 Class (with 24 cars) followed.
Amid the pouring rain and in total Wet condition, 22 laps of GT500 (15 cars) Race 1 kicked off. From LEXUS KeePer SC430, Andrea Caldarelli’s teammate Yuji Kunimoto took part in the race starting from the 6th row on the grid. However, rain grew heavier and worse for any further racing, and finally with the Red Flag, the race had to be discontinued ‘as is’, and Kunimoto finished the race in 12th position.

On November 18th (SUN), clear blue skies spread back above Fuji Speedway, and from 10:15 in the morning a truly fancy and grand Opening Ceremony fitting to a big event of this scale commenced before all the races. Then, from 12:00, first the Formula NIPPON race was unfolded and fought for 22 laps. Next, Race 2 of the SUPER GT GT500 Class with 15 cars started on schedule at 15:45.
Andrea Caldarelli on LEXUS KeePer SC430 on the front row and IN-side took off but with a bit slow start, and came back from the opening lap, crossing the recorder line in position 4 – as a matter of fact, missing the rear diffuser due to a car colliding against him from the back. Subsequently, on a machine which might have lost its balance perhaps, and from about the 8th lap Andrea struggled to raise the race pace and gradually lost some more positions down and could only finish the race in 10th place.

“Things were fine until the Qualifying, but in the Race today there was a clutch failure and the Start did not go like expected. The machine ahead took a penalty due to jump-start and drew back, so I was up to 3rd and clung to that position for a while. With medium compound tyres on, I was aiming at initiating strategies (to raise positions) from mid-way through the race, but perhaps because of losing the diffuser … or, picking up some (tyre) debris from the grounds, after 3 to 4 laps our tyre performance slowly started to decline… and placing 10th seemed to be the most that could be done for today. Sadly I had to finish this race in a rather unsatisfying position. This year was a GT-rookie year for me, and I learned many things. I am also deeply grateful to the fans for their tremendous support for us all season long. Thank you very much!”
(Total attendance figure: 63,800 for the 3 days, as announced by the Organizer)

Macau’s hero, Andre Couto was present in the final round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), which was held alongside the 59th Macau Grand Prix making spot-entry with SUNRED SR Leon 1.6T (No. 66).
As the dates of the two events coincided on the same weekend, Andre could not help but be absent from the JAF GP held in Japan, but the Macau-resident driver enjoyed the very last race of 2012 in his current hometown.

Following November 15th (THU) the Test Day, two official qualifying sessions were held within Friday the 16th. From these qualifying heats, the best time that Andre Couto marked was 2’35.218, a 20th position result, likely due to lack of performance of both the machine and engine, and towards the Race on Sunday some more tuning and preparations were to be made.

On the Race Day of November 18 (SUN), Andre Couto first participated in Race 1, held in the super-sprint style of just 9 laps, and there raised his positions up to 15th. Then, in Race 2 (of 11 laps) the veteran racer pushed ever harder with tenacious driving to finish the weekend in 11th position with a sense of fulfillment gained from a race over the city streets of Macau famous for its very challenging course layout.

Photos by T.Moriyama