In the one-and-only flyaway round of the series, L. DUVAL finishes 11th, A. COUTO 13th
SUPER GT Round 4, the "SUPER GT International Series Malaysia" which closes the first half of the series of nine rounds was held on June 20 -- 21st at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit located near the Kuala Lumpur Airport. As the only flyaway round of this series, the race taking place not far from the equator is known to be one place where every year a substantial upset in the race is expected, particularly under critical tropical climates and heat. From GRM participated Andre Couto and Loic Duval, the two drivers who by now have familiarized much with this circuit in Sepang.
On June 20th (Saturday), during the 90 minutes of Free Practice that started from 10:00AM, large raindrops started falling from right after start of the session, and for a while was a heavy downpour -- or 'squall' very typical to tropical regions. During that time, it was completely impossible to carry on the practice, but with 10 minutes remaining in the session now sunlight was back again over the track. Due to this, the drivers had to run this session with rain tyres and with care, within a short time just when the squall eased off a bit.
Soon the track was back to being very dry again with temperatures up to 33 degrees Centigrade (Track temperature: 50 degrees C) well in time for the Official Qualifying which began at 14:15. In the first 30 minutes of the mixed session with both GT500/GT300 classes running, Andre Couto of LEXUS TEAM SARD No. 39 first went out to do final checkups on the car setting, as well as clearing the required qualify time. As notifying the team of what was felt, "There was some over-steer on mid -- low speed corners", Andre handed the machine over to teammate Kohei Hirate who was to manage the Qualify time-attacks. During the Qualifying time trial (of 10 minutes) with first the GT300 machines, then followed with attempts by only the GT500 class (also lasting 10 minutes), No. 39 (DUNLOP SARD SC430) with Hirate driving marked the best time of 2'01.147 and took the 14th position on the grid.
Meanwhile, No. 32 EPSON NSX went out to the mixed session with first, Yuhki Nakayama in charge. Then Loic Duval took over the Qualifying trials showing some quite intensive pushing but against expectations, the time grew no faster than 2'00.968, and the grid position for this team turned out to be 13th. "Tyres seemed to under-perform others'. It's too bad we couldn't make the Super Lap (of the top 8 qualifiers)." commented Loic about the qualifying results.
Next morning on the 21st (Sunday) the Free Practice (10:45 -- 11:15) by 14 cars of the GT500 class and 17 cars of the GT300 got underway and everybody warmed up their machines for the race to take place later in the day. As intermittent showers came down again during this session, use of the slick tyres was permitted as finding bare moments in between one squall and the next. (After the free practice session, there was a machine that moved down 10 grids by engine replacement. Due to this, now No. 32 was to start the race from the 12th grid, No. 39 from the 13th.)
At 16:00 Sunday, now it was time to start the race. Under the dry condition of 30 degrees C (Track: 47 degrees C) and with 30,586 Malay motor sports fans watching from the stands, the battle began as coming off the formation lap. No. 32 EPSON NSX steered by Yuhki Nakayama and No. 39 LEXUS TEAM SARD by Kohei Hirate rolled off from the 6th and 7th row of the grid respectively for the race of 54 laps.
After the start, No. 32 with vivid EPSON colors moved one position up, and on coming to the 7th lap as there were other competitors positioning down by troubles or by penalties, car 32 rose to 11th. Loic's teammate Nakayama stuck to the battle-line from lap to lap, keeping the position. Finally, in Lap 18 on the 3rd Corner, it finally overtook No. 39 with whom some tail-to-nose actions were fought for the last several laps. Running 10th, eventually it was time to pit-in for routine work of changing tyres, re-fueling, and passing the baton over to Loic Duval for the remainder of the race. However, the pace of No. 32 grew no better, and Loic hung on to maintaining the 12th position. In Lap 48 there was a machine that pitted in by urgency, and with this No. 32 was up to 11th again, kept pushing on and on until closing in to a machine in front (No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430). Then in the final lap on the 1st corner it finally captured and pushed back car 38, overtook the 10th position at last! Right after this fine action however, one of the tyres burst because of getting hit on the rear left-side, and the Frenchman on Car 32 could only do his best to somehow bring the machine down and over the control line, take the chequer at 11th place.
"We went onto the race without being able to solve the problems we had with the tyres all weekend, so we couldn't fight with real assertion. On the whole, there was over-steer, then coming to the last 5 to 6 laps, no grip at all. Under difficult circumstances however, we wanted to do whatever we can to finish 10th, even to earn just 1 point, but due to a hit in the final lap, we had to finish the race without much achieved."
As to the other car with the red and black coloring, No. 39 DENSO SARD SC430 drew back a bit to 14th position in the opening lap, but reworked its way up to 10th by Lap 7. Afterwards, as it got passed by No. 32 in Lap 18, it stayed going at 11th for a while until making an early pit-in after just 20 laps, which was when the machine was entrusted to Andre Couto. Andre could not find that level of grip - enough to show his inherently aggressive driving - and held on to running at 13th for some time more, which was maybe almost too long. Car 39 went all the way to chequer in that same position, and concluded their Round 4 in Malaysia.
"For my stint we chose tyres harder than Kohei's choices, but from beginning to end there was no grip in both the front and the rear, which made the driving difficult throughout the time. Actually, almost no data was available with these tyres, which was perhaps one factor disadvantageous for us this time. For the past few events, I've had to race with patience but that means no change to my willingness in taking on more challenges. The next round in SUGO is at a circuit where I tend to do well, so I'll try hard for better results!"
The SUPER GT Round 5 will be held over July 25 -- 26th at Sportsland SUGO (in Miyagi Prefecture).