Super GTRound 2 of SUPER GT was held at the circuit made famous for hosting a couple of Formula One races, the Pacific GP events in 1994 and 1995. Then called TI Circuit, it is now known as Okayama International Circuit. A technical track of 3.7 kilometres, it features two straights, one long the other short. With its range of variable radius corners it is overall, a compact circuit. Other elements include an elevation change of some 29 metres, and the fact that it is a track with few passing points.

Saturday, April 7th:
The two Official Qualifying sessions were held in cloudy weather, temperatures hovering around the 12-13 degree Celsius mark for the first session. After coming home 3rd in the opening round of the season, a 25-kg ‘weight-handi’ was added to Loic Duval’s #32 EPSON NSX. Pushing the machine to its best time, Duval was 6th quickest overall in the first session (1:23.528), guaranteeing him a berth in the afternoon’s Super Lap shoot-out.

On the other hand, the #39 DENSO SARD SC430, in the hands of qualifier Andre Couto, suffered from set-up problems and wound up 13th in the morning. “The understeer was so bad it just wasn’t possible to push. It’s disappointing that we aren’t able to fight in Super Lap. Tomorrow we’ll be aiming to take as many points as possible.” commented Couto after the session.

In the afternoon’s Super Lap session, the top 10 machines from the GT500 class battled each other for the final grid positions. Loic marked a time of 1:23.641, a little off his best from the morning. This, coupled with the fact that others may have improved on their morning times, seemed set to see the car lower in the rankings. It was however, the opposite, Loic gaining two positions to line up fourth.

“We’re lucky to be in this position, and I’m very happy with this qualifying result. If we make a good start tomorrow, we could be in with a shot at the win. To our fans, my teammate Fabio (Carbone) and all our supporters, we’ll be pushing hard tomorrow and appreciate your support.”

Sunday, April 8th:
The race got underway at 14:00 in cloudy conditions and temperatures of 18 degrees. With a track temperature measured at 25 Celsius, the 16 GT500 and 25 GT300 cars began their 82-lap assault on the checkered flag.

Starting from the 2nd row on the grid, the EPSON-liveried #32 NSX was caught up in the confusion at the front immediately following the start, and Loic was forced to drop one position. By lap 12, he had regained the spot and was back in fourth place. From there, he drove a patient stint, handing the car over to his driver partner Fabio Carbone on lap 35.

After the routine stop, Carbone returned to the track in 3rd position. He was then exposed to attack from behind and had to fend off the #22 car (Motul Autech Z), for over 10 thrilling laps. However, on lap 51 his rival got past and the #32 car crossed the line in 4th place.

Loic Duval:
“The start wasn’t all that great. In my attempt to avoid two cars in front, I let one other car slip by. Also, I couldn’t get heat into the front tyres, and the car suffered from understeer throughout the early part of the race. Other competitors were also fast, and though it’s unfortunate the #22 got by us during Fabio’s stint, I’m pleased to be taking home the points for 4th place.”

In addition, Andre Couto, starting driver for the #39 DENSO SARD SC430, jumped from his grid position of 13th up to 9th on the opening lap! On lap 11, a penalty for two cars in front elevated the car to 7th. Two laps later however, a pass dropped the car to 8th place. From that point, despite some gutsy moves Andre was unable to improve on this position, handing the car over to driver partner Katsuyuki Hiranaka on lap 35 during their routine stop. The #39 car would cross the line in 12th position after 82 laps of racing. Though no Driver points were accrued, two Team points were the reward to TOYOTA TEAM SARD for their drivers’ efforts.

Andre Couto:
“It is unfortunate we weren’t able to get any Driver’s points today. We had awful oversteer, and that made the car difficult to drive. The next event takes place at TOYOTA’s home track (Fuji), and after reflecting on what happened here today; we’ll be able to take the necessary steps for better results next time out.”

Photo by T. Moriyama