Andre Couto with a regrettable retirement…
With the season’s series now at the turnaround point towards its last stages, the 2013 AUTOBACS SUPER GT Round 6 “FUJI GT 300km RACE” unfolded at Fuji Speedway (in ShizuokaPrefecture) over September 7th and 8th.
And though unstable weather by the early-autumn rain front was a bit of a concern for everybody this weekend, the two-day event was held without so much difficulties, and thus the 52,300 GT fans in total were enthralled with the race full of thrill and powerful actions throughout Saturday and Sunday.
September 7th (SAT) Official Qualifying
Official practice session which was held between 9:00 and 11:00am on Saturday saw 15 cars of the GT500 class and 25 of the GT300 class running under pleasant autumn skies covering the Fuji mountain ranges, accompanied by a slight overcast as well.
On LEXUS TEAM WedsSport BANDOH (No. 19), Andre Couto was handed the machine from teammate Seiji Ara to finish off the session with the best time of 1’33.900 (positioning in 8th) marked by Couto himself, and the teams went on preparing for the official qualifying to take place on Saturday afternoon.
At 14:00 (Air temp. 26 degrees C / Track temp. 32 degrees C) now the session was set to begin. Rain did not fall like everyone had worried about, so in dry condition the qualifying heats took place just according to schedule.
No. 37 KeePer TOM’S SC430 had Daisuke Ito to take the steering in Q1 of the qualifying session, and clocked a 5th position time of 1’32.909 to advance to the Q2 where chances lie for the top 8 to capture the pole position.
Then Andrea Caldarelli who was to drive in the Q2 showed brilliant time-attacking pursuits as constantly reducing the sector times, and recorded a fantastic, 2nd position time of 1’32.820, confirming the front-row grid start on Sunday.
Andrea Caldarelli: “The team cleared all those issues and problems we found in the tests through August, to come up with this good package. Having confidence in the car, I could go pushing strong. We don’t know how the weather may turn out tomorrow, but let’s all look forward to having a good race.”
WedsSport ADVAN SC430, Andre Couto set out for the Q1 time-attack, finishing in 13th position (the best time of 1’33.478) from this part of the qualifying session, and with no advance to the Q2 stages.
Andre Couto: “Especially on the B Corner and Sector 3, we struggled with the over-steer. We also seem to have issues with the rear tyres too, and not much improvement in time could be made. But the time gap (with everybody) is small, and through the race tomorrow which is rather long, we may still have chances to fight upward through the field! Seiji and I will give our very best!”
September 8 (SUN) Race
Free Practice on Sunday morning (9:00 – 9:30) got underway under light showers but in spite of the weather, everyone made their last machine checks as eyeing the Race to come later in the day. In this session, Andrea Caldarelli drove four laps and Daisuke Ito made seven laps, and as marking the top time (1’44.560) out of all, KeePer TOM’S SC430 proved being a machine which will perform well in the Wet. High expectations were aroused towards the race in the afternoon.
As for WedsSport ADVAN SC430, Couto and Ara ran five laps to position in 14th (the best time, 1’46.307) from this session.
High above Fuji Speedway, eventually blue skies began to peep out from around 11:00am, and by 14:00 when the race was to Start (Temp.: 29 degrees C / Track: 35 degrees C) the 4.563km track of Fuji was completely dried. Even then, still thick dark clouds stagnated up in the skies, and nobody knew what to expect of the variable weather conditions.
Anyhow, the 300km (66 laps) of race rolled off from the formation lap, cars all roaring off big bursting sounds of their engines – at once!
Andrea Caldarelli took a good start from the front row, and pushed strong from early laps of the race just behind no. 38 (ZENT CERUMO SC430) that was going ahead. Eventually, on the 19th lap one of the machines crashed on the straight end, and the SC had to join from the next lap and for that time being, the race had to once neutralize with everyone reducing gaps having to trail in one line. And soon after as the SC drew away, suddenly the 14 cars of GT500 class, all pitted in!!
It was here that the speediness of pit-stop work made a difference and shuffled the race standings. Also, after the driver change from Andrea to Daisuke, the team rejoined the field positioning in 5th, and further on the 28th lap, overtook car no. 38 on the straight end to rise to P4. Only however, just as the 31st lap of the race was about to start (at 15:00), droplets of rain began to fall. Though this did not cause everyone to change to rain tyres, meanwhile the rain drops kept falling and the machines continued on with slick tyres.
In spite of these auspices, LEXUS KeePer TOM’S No. 37 running at constant pace got up to P3 by the 44th lap, and kept that position all the way to finishing in 3rd place (11 points gained), thus achieving two consecutive rounds of podium finish as well.
Andrea Caldarelli: “In the early laps, we held on tight to keep the position as looking out for the tyres, and from around the 15th lap started charging stronger. In fact, our strategy was to raise one more position up in the pit-stop, which turned out being very congested and cost us some time loss – so we lost a few positions down instead. But to stand on the podium again, and now that our standing has risen to 6th in the points ranking, let’s make sure we keep up this good note through the remaining two rounds.”
Andre Couto was first to take the steering and start the race from P13 on the grid, lost a few positions in the opening lap down to 15th. Since then, with the pace not improving as much, uneasy driving had to be continued in P14 for another while. On the 23rd lap with the SC run in practice, Andre went to pit in.
And here as the gap was instantly reduced for everyone, No. 19 was switched to Seiji Ara. Striving hard, Ara brought the team to raise positions up to 11th by the 29th lap. In the meantime, as the rain started to fall but even so continuous pushing was made.
WedsSport ADVAN SC430 was up to 9th place but shortly after on the 36th lap, a contact with a GT300 machine caused damage to the steering rod. Ara managed to bring the car back to the pit somehow, but the machine had to stay in and be stowed in the garage, thus a regretful retirement could not be helped.
Andre Couto: “All weekend long, including yesterday’s practice we had a large rear-tyre problem and could not run the race in the way that we wanted. In my stint today too, machine control was difficult so all along it was never an easy race, but for a moment as Seiji’s tyres worked well we achieved some positions up too, so until that unfortunate accident – it was not too bad. We could have finished the race as earning a few points.”