Battle in the heat -- A. Couto perseveres to finish 12th; L. Duval suffers unfortunate retirement
The fourth round of the AUTOBACS SUPER GT was held at Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia on June 21st and 22nd. This is the only overseas event in the nine-race series, and due to its location close to the equator, the intense heat often brings unexpected results.
From GRM, Andre Couto and Loic Duval competed in the race, on that is very tough on the cars, tyres and the drivers, who showed plenty of exciting driving skills, mesmerizing the Malaysian motorsport fans in attendance.
Saturday June 21st, the first official qualifying session for the GT500 class began at 11:20, running for 20 minutes. With light clouds in the sky, the temperature was 31 degrees (track surface 42 C), very comfortable conditions for this location.
From the beginning of the session, the #39 DENSO DUNLOP SARD SC430 of Andre Couto attacked with two sets of new tyres, finishing 15th overall with a best time of 1'58.570, which he set on the final lap.
Andre Couto: "I wasn't able to push as hard as I would have liked, as the car was understeering in the high-speed corners and oversteering in slow corners. It would have been good to spend a bit more time perfecting the set-up. Looking at this result, this circuit may be a tough one for the TOYOTAs, but all we have to do is try our best tomorrow. Thank you for your support!"
(The team later made an engine switch after it had been malfunctioning in the qualifying session. Since engine changes mean a ten-position drop on the grid, the #39 would start the race from the rear of the GT500 pack.)
On the other hand, Loic Duval, in the #32 EPSON NAKAJIMA-run HONDA NSX, set the 7th quickest time in his fourth lap of the session, and went into the Super Lap as part of the top 10. SL, which started at 16:00, was, contrary to some people's worries, free of squalls and the ten machines from each class went into their time attacks under dry conditions. Loic, the fourth driver in the GT500 class to make his time attack, finished with no mistakes, marking a 1'56.338, moving up one position to 6th from the first qualifying session.
Loic Duval: "The car had a bit of oversteer, and I couldn't keep up with the other NSXs. As a team, we were aiming for 6th, so we should be happy, but...I could've done better. Well, our tyres are stable so we have a chance of finishing this race first. Thank you for your support!"
On the following day, Sunday, Sepang circuit was covered by light cloud and the temperature was 31 degrees, the same as the previous day (track surface 38 C). The SUPER GT International Series in MALAYSIA race was set to begin.
The race got underway with a rolling start for the 38 GT machines, ahead of their contest spanning 54 laps. Starting from sixth, the #32 EPSON-liveried NSX of Loic Duval sped to the first corner. However, a car behind collided with the rear of Duval's machine, sending him into a spin! He immediately fell to 16th, the very back of the GT500 pack -- an unexpected opening!
However, Loic kept at it like a maniac, moving up to 8th by the time he came back to the pits on lap 30, as had been planned from the beginning, and handed the car over to Hiranaka. He then drove the #32 car steadily, but at the final corner on lap 43, Hiranaka almost passed another machine but got caught out on the 'marbles' (tyre scraps), causing him to collide with the other car and go off track. The damage to the car was too severe, and the machine disappeared into the pit garage.
Loic Duval: "This was an unlucky race. The start was good -- we went into the 1st corner side-by-side with the #18, but then the #12 drove into us from behind. We tried to get our position back, but this is a race -- we can't change fate. Next time we are going to do better."
On the other hand, Andre Couto, the start driver of the DENSO-colored #39 machine, jumped up from 16th to 13th on the opening lap and drove steadily throughout his stint. He passed the baton to Takagi on lap 27 as planned, and the team closed the gap to the cars in front with their quick pitwork (refuelling, tyre change). With Takagi's steady driving, they finished 12th.
Andre Couto: "The under/oversteer problem persisted, and our car just wasn't as competitive as is standard. We wanted to push more from behind, but weren't able to get the necessary grip, and thus weren't able to accomplish our goal. But we finished, and we were able to collect lots of data. This will come in handy for the next race."
The next and fifth round of the SUPER GT series takes place at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi) on July 26th and 27th.