Duval CoutoAfter a break of some four months, the 2007 Super GT season got underway with the much-anticipated “Suzuka GT300km”, held over the March 17-18 weekend. The season-opener drew a total grid of 43 cars, 16 from the GT500 class and 27 GT300 machines, producing a thrilling spectacle for the fans at the circuit.

Official Qualifying took place on Saturday, March 17th. The first of the two sessions was run with an ambient temperature standing at 11°C, with the track measured at 16°C, and some wind. The top ten performers would go to fight in the afternoon’s Super Lap session based on their morning times. Piloting the No.39 DENSO SARD SC430, CRM driver Andre Couto scored 10th place with a time of 1:52.877 while in the new blue colour-schemed No.32 EPSON NSX, Loic Duval was fourth with his best time of 1:51.523. Both CRM drivers would advance to the afternoon’s Super Lap session.

And so to the second qualifying session… Super Lap began at 15:50 for the GT500 class, and Andre Couto charged to a 1:52.430 with his time attack. Others improved on their earlier times also and eventually Andre wound up in tenth. “I gave my absolute best, but the NSXs are just too quick here. Anyway, we have good data for the race tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll be pushing to get towards the front” commented Andre, though his facial expression was less relaxed.

One driver who made up good ground in Super Lap was Loic. He set a best time of 1:50.583 in the afternoon session, a full second quicker than his best time in the morning. It was good enough for 2nd on the grid for Sunday’s race. “I’m very happy to be starting from the front row, and I want to thank the entire team for giving me such a great car. The Dunlop tyres were perfect also. My aim tomorrow is to chase the No.8 car and end up on the podium.” Team Director Satoru Nakajima: “We didn’t think we’d be quite so fast, it’s a nice surprise.” his eyes narrowing.

Sunday, March 18th Raceday. In front of a crowd of 30,000 GT fans and in bright sunshine, the final check was undertaken in the morning’s warm-up session before the cars lined up on the grid for the 14:00 start of the 52-lap, 300-km event.

Loic made great headway on the rolling start, immediately matching the times of the leading No.8 car. However while trying to avoid contact with a GT300 machine at the S Curve on lap 10, Duval spun. The delay dropped him to 5th place, though a great pass at the chicane on lap 14 elevated him to fourth. Loic came in for the mandatory driver switch on lap 26, the car also taking on fuel and tyres. The wheel was handed over to new partner Fabio Carbone, who set about making up positions with a brilliant attack on cars ahead of him, despite the fact that this was his debut race in the category. Because two higher-placed cars ran into trouble in the closing stages of the race, the No.32 EPSON NSX finished a splendid third, enjoying a well-earned podium finish.

Loic Duval:
(Regarding making contact) “To avoid getting a penalty for making contact with another car, I went off track and spun. That was really regrettable as otherwise I believe we could seriously have had a look at winning. However, ending up on the podium after that happened is a very good outcome. I would like to thank Dunlop for all their excellent tyre development work. We’ll be fighting hard in the next race.”

Meanwhile, starting the No.39 DENSO SARD SC430, Katsuyuki Hiranaka was hit ferociously from behind immediately after the start in a major collision that saw the car pushed off track and into instant retirement. Damage to the rear of the car was excessive and Andre was left without an opportunity to drive.

Andre Couto:
“It is really disappointing because this morning in the warm-up the car felt great. I believe we were capable of fourth or fifth place finish today.”

Photo by T. Moriyama