Andre Couto in 14th place and Andrea Caldarelli in 15th.
Along with the arrival of the much awaited Spring as well as the launch of a brand new season, the 2013 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 1, “OKAYAMA GT 300Km RACE” unfolded at Okayama International Circuit on April 6th and the 7th, where 15 GT500 and 25 GT300 classes made entry and showed hot, exciting actions before the 24,000 many devoted fans attending over the two days.
On April 6th (SAT), Official Practice began from 9:00am but got rained on after not more than 10 minutes from start of the session. The approach of low atmospheric pressure in the region brought showers upon the circuit which grew heavier over time.
Then, as the track surface turned increasingly wet, now all machines had to switch to rain tyres. From LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH, Seiji Ara was up first in this session, then followed by Andre Couto in charge of the remaining half, and the team positioned 12th from the practice.
Meanwhile, at LEXUS TEAM KeePer TOM’S, Andrea Caldarelli was in charge of scrubbing the tyres and machine adjustments, and placed 15th from this session during which time the rain continued to fall ever harder.
As a matter of fact, this official practice had to be red-flagged five times, and subsequently due to the amount of rain measured on the track itself, finally as of 10:50am, the discontinuation of this session was declared - earlier than what was scheduled.
Showers eased off slightly during the pit walkabout which began at 12:10 and lasted for an hour, but just as the Official Qualifying was set to begin at 14:00, large droplets of rain came falling and what was even worse, accompanying stormy wind!
Following the session by the GT300 class, now the Q1 (the 1st run of the qualifying pursuits) for only the GT500 class started from 15:00 when temporarily the rain turned lighter, but even then the track was in a complete, Wet condition.
During the 15 minutes time allowed for this session, Couto’s teammate Seiji Ara driving WedsSport ADVAN SC430 (No. 19) gave brave attempts, able to have good confidence over Yokohama Tires which are known to be strong particularly in the wet. Thus here, No. 19 finished Q1 in the 4th position with the time of 1’36.600 and confirmed advancement to the Q2.
Eventually, when the Q2 was to begin, once again heavy rain poured down with also blowing winds and the remaining sessions had to be called off.
Q1 results became the final classification from Saturday's qualifying, and quite unfortunately, this also took away chances for Andre to go out and exhibit his performance or any thriving towards pole-position getting.
On the other hand, Andrea Caldarelli challenged the Q1 behind the wheels of No. 37 KeePer TOM’S SC430, and marked the top time (1’37.422) out of all LEXUS machines running with Bridgestone tyres, but on the overall took the 10th position without chances for any further improvement of results within Saturday.
The next day, on the 7th (SUN) though the weather was still a bit unstable with blue skies peaking from behind the rain clouds, the racing day got off with a fair start.
Free Practice session in the morning (9:15 to 9:45) began in the semi-wet condition but with the sun eventually shining, the track surface began to dry and every machine switched to slick tyres. No. 37 finished the session in P7 (1’26.582) and No. 19 in P9 (1’26.979).
And for another while, slight drizzles of rain often fell over the circuit, but by 14:00 - the time the race was ready to begin – as the skies above were covered with only light clouds, Dry condition was claimed on the track.
Only, with strong winds occasionally blowing across the circuit, the race was to take place under somewhat chilly temperatures of 8 degrees Celsius (Track surface temp. 17 deg. C).
The two GRM pilots were given important responsibilities as the starting drivers, and from rolling start the tough 82 laps of the season-opener SUPER GT race kicked off at last!
Andre Couto on car No. 19, LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH who started from the 2nd row of the grid, had to position down drastically to P10 in the first lap.
Also struggling to move back upward in the field, Andre drew back to P12 by the end of his 44-laps stint, and entrusted WedsSport ADVAN SC430 to Seiji Ara, his teammate of these two years. Not being able to improve their position much more, and further having to lose two more positions, No. 19 got the chequer placing 14th.
Andre Couto: “Today’s race (in the dry) condition was very hard for us. From the start, due to the very cold temperature the front and rear tyres both lacked grip and driving did not come easy.
In the wet condition we were very quick, and got the 4th position from the qualifying so in spite of all the expectations there were, this is a sad outcome. For the next round, we will definitely aim at finishing in the top positions after repeating meetings with the team and with the engineers of our tyre maker.”
On the other hand, Andrea Caldarelli on LEXUS TEAM KeePer TOM’S who started from 10th on the grid, pushed hard from the early laps with his well-known aggressive style of racing and glided up to P6 already by the 8th lap!
However, having contacted by a car from behind on lap 17 he was passed by two cars losing two positions down to 8th but regardless, held on till the end of his stint of 34 laps and handed the steering to teammate Daisuke Ito.
Then, a pit-through penalty was charged on car No. 37 due to violation of a pit-work regulation. Nonetheless, veteran driver Ito went on trying to recover, pushing at high pace as clinging on to P9.
Despite all of such persevering, unfortunately in the final lap due to trouble with the fuel-line, the team settled to a 15th finish from the race.
Andrea Caldarelli: “Though our position was P10 after yesterday’s qualifying, I myself was satisfied having done my best, or whatever that I could have done for yesterday. But still, we are more than far from getting a PP in the wet condition – so I guess there is still a long way for us.
In the race today, I had a good start as overtaking 4 cars and drove with confidence even with the tyres not warmed up. But again, it was a pity being passed by two cars, after that contact from behind.
In the last half, troubles occurred in our pit-work too, also with our fuel system, and today we ended with no points. But in spite of these regretful results, we will shift our attention over to the coming round in Fuji, and work hard toward the next challenge!”
Round 2 of the SUPER GT series will be held at Fuji Speedway over April 28th and the 29th.