Loic Duval from PP to 9th finish, Andre Couto settles for 11th
The 2009 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Series has only 3 more rounds to go. Round 7, "Fuji GT 300km Race" of the series held over the weekend of September 12 - 13th, was staged at Fuji Speedway where a total of 51,100 GT fans crowded the piedmonts of Mt. Fuji to see an exciting battle of the 15 GT500 machines and 23 GT300s unfold!
September 12th (Saturday), the place stayed wet and misty throughout the day. From the practice session in the morning, the GRM drivers Loic Duval (EPSON NSX No. 32) and Andre Couto (DUNLOP SARD SC430) marked times of 1-2 results, and both drivers were off with a good start for the weekend. From 12:50, the Official Qualifying began according to the given program, and with rain coming off and on, the track conditions kept changing throughout the day. Temperatures were 23 degrees Celsius, felt not too chilly, but for the track rather low at only 22 degrees.
Loic Duval of NAKAJIMA RACING kept up a good pace from the morning to finish the GT500 Qualifying session with the top time (1'45.842), affirming his advancement to the Super Lap at no sweat!
Then from 15:10 began the 1st heat of the Qualifying by the top 8 cars. Temperatures dropped slightly to 18 degrees (Track: 20 degrees C) in the afternoon, where Loic went out for his time-attack as the last one up, warmed up the tyres carefully, yet pulled out his sheer force to grab the first pole position from this series this season.
LOIC DUVAL: "I struggled over many kinds of trouble this season, but feel very happy about getting this PP. This result is rewarding also for my team who has maintained their motivation up to now and worked so hard. Today, it seemed that even the rain was on my side, and I could stay concentrated without making mistakes at any sector to make such an excellent time-attack. Tomorrow's race may be sunny and I'll do my best to get on the podium!" said Loic in high spirits.
Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM SARD placed 10th (1'46.636) after the GT500 session, then as he happened to cut the white line on entering the pit road just coming out of the mixed session, the best lap he had marked in this session became invalid by a penalty and thus he had to start the race on Sunday from 11th.
Commented Andre, "I tried the Qualifying heat with tyres different from those in the morning practice, but could not show the same sort of performance and results... it's disappointing," - not being able to hide his dismay.
The next day on the 13th, the Free Practice session in the morning was held in semi-wet condition, and on slick-tyres all the machines summed up their setting for the race. By 14:00, when the race was to begin, temperatures rose fairly high to 20 degrees C (Track: 41 degrees C), not asking for a better race-day!
Loic Duval on the steering of vivid white and blue Epson-colored No. 32 started from Pole Position, but was soon blocked by No. 36 (PETRONAS TOM'S SC430, A. Lotterer) who emerged to his In-side where going into the 1st turn. Then, on top of that, pushed by No. 6 (Team LeMans, B. Wirdheim) Loic could not help but spin! And though car No. 6 was charged with a penalty, this cost him big, having to go down to the very back of the GT500 fleet, still with the whole 66 laps of the race to go! Nevertheless, the French driver of NAKAJIMA RACING who has been giving brilliant performances the season long had no intention to stay behind everyone, drove strong and gradually worked his way up the positions, climbed to 9th by Lap 23, one-third of the way through the day's battle. Passed Lap 28, as more and more machines started to pit in, NAKAJIMA RACING returned Loic to the pit on the 33rd lap. After changing tyres and fueling, now No. 32 was under control of this team's Japanese driver, Yuhki Nakayama.
Nakayama who was in charge of the last-half of the stint ran with a constant race pace as keeping the 8th position, but towards the end of the race No. 32 got overtaken by one machine to end up finishing 9th in this race.
LOIC DUVAL: "What happened after Start was really discouraging. I opened up and gave the line to avoid collision with No. 36, but while 36 swayed to Outer-side with slow braking, I tried getting back to the top by turning to the 2nd corner from the In, ... but was hit by No. 6... After that, all I could do was anyway give my best to gain as many positions up but looks like today's result (9th) was the utmost we could achieve."
Meanwhile, Andre Couto went out as the starting driver of No. 39, did a brilliant job to avoid getting entangled into the big scramble that occurred right after start, and in the opening lap jumped up from 11th to 5th! However, in the lap which followed the Portuguese GT driver was struck from behind on the right-side by No. 100 (RAYBRIG NSX, Yuji Ide) on the last corner, and was pushed back to 11th again! Overcoming such accident, Andre forced onward then pitted in after finishing 31 laps to turn the machine over to his teammate Kohei Hirate. Hirate also gave out his very best just like his partner did, and chased the front field from behind but never being able to pace-up like they wanted, the team took the chequered flag still in the same position, 11th.
ANDRE COUTO: "Because the start went so well, that one accident is really regretted. The impact of the hit was quite large, but we were lucky it did not give a damage causing us to retire. But the machine had a critical under-steer especially on high-speed corners, and then in sector 3, time never improved ... anyway in the race today we struggled against many challenges. In the next round, we will work at recovering and pick up a better flow of things. Please stay with us and give us your large support!"
The next race, SUPER GT Round 8 will be staged at Autopolis in Oita Prefecture over October 17th to the 18th.