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Category: Super GT Japan

It is definitely not being the best time of the year in the SUPER GT championship for Andrea Caldarelli. After the issues experienced at Autopolis, the Pescara-based man suffered from bad luck again at Motegi, as a differential issues stopped his run on lap 25. In the recent collective test held at the venue, the 22-year-old Italian had proved in tin-top form by ending up in 2nd, but once back running for race weekend, the car did not respond like the LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft expected. After a tough practice session, Caldarelli could not do better than 12th in qualifying which, on the other hand was an improvement from the latest round at Autopolis.

In qualifying, the team found a good way to set-up the car with the dry but conditions changed on Sunday as the Honda-owned circuit was hit by the rain. Caldarelli drove the car at the start as usual and recovered from 12th to 7th in prohibitive conditions, highlighting his car control skills. TEAM KeePer Kraft decided for a late stop to enable him chase the sister car of Team Tom’s, but the aforementioned differential problem forced Andrea to the sidelines as well as team-mate Yuji Kunimoto, who couldn’t even get behind the wheel.

Andrea Caldarelli
“I’m a little bit sad for how the race ended up. We haven’t had reliability problems during the season but this time, in the final round, a differential issue stopped our race, which could have brought us some really positive results. I think that points would have been in our frame as we demonstrated in the middle part of this season. There have been a lot of great results in 2012 as both the team and I proved able to work in the right direction. Despite the fact that I was a rookie, I managed to deliver the engineers with some valuable feedback in order to solve the problems we had on the wet at Autopolis. That was also thanks to the support of Bridgestone. The season is over, but luckily I will be back driving my LEXUS SC430 in November’s Fuji Sprint Cup. We can’t wait to be getting the rewards we missed here at Motegi”.

Andrea Caldarelli continues to improve in the SUPER GT 2012. The twenty-two years-old Italian finished the two days of collective testing of the Japanese serie at Motegi with excellent results. On both days, he scored the second best time, with just few milliseconds of gap from the top, collecting three times on four sessions the second place. A great result in the last months for the Italian driver, who fight for second position in Sugo, scored the second at the 1000km of Suzuka and was close to the podium in Fuji, before a lapped car kicked him out. This tests that the LEXUS SC430 prepared by TEAM KEEPER Kraft has a chance to fight for top positions, with two young drivers like Yuji Kunimoto and the rookie Caldarelli.

Andrea Caldarelli
“I am very happy for the results that we scored. All the team has work very hard to find the right way to give me a fast car. We close most of the gap that we had at the beginning of the season. In just two races we fight for podium and find the good pace to be competitive in qualifying. I was very fast in all the two days of test, but I couldn’t register the record for 0”026. Now for the race of 30th September in Autopolis I hope to repeat this great result, but will not be easy because also my opponents have grown up”.

Andrea Caldarelli continues to show progress in the SUPER GT. The Pescara-based man cruised to his personal best position on the grid in qualifying as he qualified his LEXUS SC430 in third. After having clocked the fifth fastest lap in practice, Andrea logged a fast lap in Q1, enough for the 35 car to advance to Q2. Then team-mate Yuji Kunimoto took over and when Caldarelli made it back on-track for Q3, he put together a small masterpiece by setting the third fastest mark of the day in 1’33″297, just 0.3s off the pole position. Andrea successfully continued in his constant progression. From his debut race in April and despite being a rookie, he established himself as an household name in the series.

On Race Day, Andrea was once again slotted for the start. After passing several Nissan cars, Caldarelli also went for second place, but after just a couple of laps he was eliminated by a lapped car. During an outside move, he was hit from behind and ended up in the runoff area. He held on to avoid contacts with other cars but at that point the leaders were far away. After restarting in 10th, Andrea recovered with a sharp drive and made it back to 4th before handing over the car. In the closing stages, Kunimoto brought his car to the checkered flag in seventh place, a valuable result in terms of points in a tough championship like the 2012 SUPER GT.

Andrea Caldarelli
“After Suzuka and more than that after qualifying our goal was to fight for the podium. Unfortunately, a contact put us out of contention even before starting to battle for the top end of the charts. That’s racing though. I’m not disappointed because we proved we can be on par of the top teams in the championships despite the fact that we’re a young team and both my team-mate and I are rookies. I want to thank LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft because the gave me a car capable of our best qualifying effort of the season, an incredible third place being the best Lexus on the grid. During the race we held a great pace that could have enabled us to battle for the podium, and that provides us with additional motivation. We look forward to the closing stint of the season with a lot of optimism and determination”.

Andrea Caldarelli was appointed FIA Ambassador. The twenty-two years old Italian, protagonist this year in SUPER GT and Young Driver of TOYOTA Racing for the Le Mans project, completed his training in the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy, receiving the appointment of Ambassador by the Federation International de l’Automobile. Andrea is the first, and only, Italian to be chosen by FIA in his program, and now with the title of Ambassador Caldarelli will continue alongside Formula 1 drivers like Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton the FIA project for Action Road Safety.

Andrea Caldarelli
“Be part of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy was a great experience. Since last year, when ACI CSAI submitted my application to the FIA for joining the project in 2012, I knew what this would mean a lot for me. In one year I grew up in many ways thanks to them, who followed me athletically, but also gave me a training for which I am ready to disclose to other this wealth of knowledge. I’m so proud to have this title as FIA Ambassador, a privilege that just few drivers can claim”.

The 22-year-old racer from Pescara, joined by team-mate Yuji Kunimoto, captured a second-place finish at the end of one of the toughest rounds of the season so far, the 1000 Kilometers of Suzuka. A race that definitely worths a whole season in terms of commitment needed, due to the demanding nature of the racetrack and to the equally tough weather conditions: the air temperature reached 36° Celsius with relative humidity passing th! e 80% mark. After having scored a 6th place finish in the previous round held at Sugo, Caldarelli also cruised to the lead in the collective test of the series at Fuji, giving the KeePer Kraft team a good indication about their true potential. In qualifying, he was off to a conservative run, saving his tires for the race with a 9th-place, and then he drove the opening stints of the 41st 1000 Km of Suzuka. As usual, he avoided any possible contact while passing and approaching lapped opponents, and left the car to his team-mate in second place at the end of a triple stint. He also enjoyed a taste of the front spot during the second part of his run.

It’s been an important result for Andrea. The 22-year-old from Abruzzo confirmed to be the best rookie in the category, and was also the first driver aboard a LEXUS SC430 and using Bridgestone tires to get to the checkered flag. Two sister cars ended up right behind, slowed down by tire management issues. The confirmation of the podium result came with just a few laps to go, when Andrea saw his team-mate Kunimoto pass two Nissan cars that, due to tire wear, did not offer any resistance to the Italian-Japanese duo’s racer.

Andrea Caldarelli
“Suzuka hosted my debut in Japanese motor competition. Last year I entered my maiden Formula Nippon race here and many things changed since then. I left Europe and it hasn’t been easy although results like these are a great reward for my commitment to this new experience. I want to thank LEXUS TEAM KeePer Kraft for having provided us with a racecar capable of this results, as well as my sponsors for having helped me getting where I am. I don’t look at this as a point of arrival but as the start of an adventure which is each day more competitive and exciting”.

Andrea CaldarelliThe rumors over the future of Andrea Caldarelli are finally over. The 22-year-old Italian racer is proud to announce he will line-up in the 2012 SuperGT aboard a Lexus KeePer SC430 fielded by team KeePer Kraft. After having made his first steps in Japanese motorsports in the 2011 Formula Nippon, Toyota decided to promote him to what is renowned as the pinnacle of the country’s racing panorama.  Andrea is one of the three European drivers signed by Toyota for SuperGT, and that’s an even more valuable accomplishment for him especially considered his young age. His team-mate will be Yuji Kunimoto. The first test for Caldarelli will be on the next 6th of March at Fuji, while the first round for SuperGT will take-off on April the 1st at Okayama.

Andrea Caldarelli
“I’m extremely happy and proud of the agreement reached with Toyota. The SuperGT program will be my primary commitment this season, and will also be useful introduction to closed-wheel competition. For the first time I will share a ride with another driver and that will be a new and interesting aspect too. That said, the KeePer Kraft team has an huge potential and the Lexus is one of the most competitive cars in the show. A lot will depend on tires and on the ability of the drivers to adapt. I really want to thank Toyota as they gave me another great chance after having named me as their Junior Driver for Le Mans. Now they showed great trust in my again in SuperGT.”

Benoît TréluyerAfter a winter break that proved as discreet as it was serious, Benoît Tréluyer’s season began in earnest at Le Mans last weekend where the three new Audi R18 TDIs made their first public appearance. With the successful test complete, he now heads to Japan for 2011’s opening Super GT round.

On Sunday evening, after the official test for the forthcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, Benoît’s smile revealed his delight at returning to competitive action and the targets he has set for 2011. Following months of development work, the first public appearance of Audi’s brand new prototype was a great moment.

“We have completed a lot of mileage since the end of last season so it is a great reward to see the car at the top of the timesheets,” he said. “We have to remain cautious as we are not totally ready yet, but it is looking good. The Audi R18 TDI is totally different from the Audi R15 TDI of last year and there is a lot of expectation. New regulations, a closed car, the desire to prove that we can be more reliable than our rivals whilst at the same time being faster; with this car Audi wanted to come back with a bang!”

While Benoît remained guarded on the potential of Ingolstadt’s latest prototype, he was more open when discussing its ease of usability.

“What is certain is that we have a car which is easy to drive. It’s great in the Porsche Esses for instance which is a critical section of the circuit. You enter the corner without any apprehension, whilst normally it can be a bit hairy! As a driver, it’s a big deal to enjoy driving and that helps improve overall performance.”

Focusing on the basics was the German manufacturer’s main objective over the Easter weekend at La Sarthe. “Shakedown the three cars and test several different things, followed by a major debrief with all the team’s engineers in order to get the most out of the gathered data! We did not take it easy!”

Benoît’s preparations for the famous event continue on 6/7 May in the Ardennes region during the 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps.

Before then, another of his season’s commitments will have already begun. This weekend, in Japan, the Super GT championship kicks off at Fuji. Just as the entire country was badly affected by the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March, so Japanese motorsport is slowly finding its feet again. For all its fans and those associated with the sport, the first meeting of 2011 will have strong symbolic value and be marked by great solemnity.

“I was in Tokyo the day of the earthquake,” said Benoît in La Sarthe. “It was not what scared me, but the tsunami which I witnessed live on television and the difficulty realising it was only 100 kilometres away. Then Fukushima happened… I left shortly afterwards for Audi testing. I have not returned since, but have spoken to the team nearly every day on the phone or by email.

“I will be delighted to see everyone again even if I’m going back with some apprehension. Saying that, I have never questioned returning in light of the nuclear issues as Japan has offered me so much.”

Benoît left Le Mans on Sunday night, making a quick visit to his home, before flying off to Tokyo. On Friday he will be reunited with his Motul Autech squad, team mate Satoshi Motoyama and the Nissan GT-R with which he intends to recapture the title won in 2008. In life as on the track, it’s safe to say he’s flat out!

Over August 22-23, SUPER GT Round 6, “The 38th International Pokka GT Summer Special” took place at Suzuka Circuit, the second GT event to be held at this circuit this season. Up to last year, this race which used to be competed over 1000 kilometers has been shortened to 700km this time, which means ‘speediness’ becomes the other challenge that is added to toughness of the endurance-racing. From GRM, Andre Couto who has the experience winning this event before, and the 2nd place podium-winner in the previous GT round, and Loic Duval showing excellent performances and achievements this season in also the Formula NIPPON series, came to tackle this long-hours marathon battling in Suzuka.

On August 22nd (Saturday) under cloudy skies, the day proceeded according to the scheduled program, starting with the Official Practice session in the morning, followed by Official Qualifying heats done on the knock-out style. Then, to prepare for the last hours in the Race on Sunday which will be after-dark, “Miracle Night Session” (with lights-on) was also run, so all the teams and drivers stayed busy throughout the day indeed.

With the temperatures reading 32 degrees Celsius (Track temp.: 38 degrees C), the Qualifying sessions began, with first the GT500/GT300 running mixed, then from 15:30, Session 1 by just the GT500 class with 14 cars (for 10 minutes, to pick out the fastest 12) followed.

No. 32 EPSON NSX set out to the course with first Loic Duval on the steering, marked the 6th position time (1’56.792) and qualified to move onto Session 2 (where next, the top 8 gets chosen).

In the S2 held from 16:00 for 10 minutes, the GRM French driver continued to take the steer, improving the time to 1’56.508 and advanced to the last session placing 8th. Finally, from 16:30 began Session 3 where the driving was handed to Loic’s Japanese teammate Yuhki Nakayama due to this race’s regulations, and the pair finished the session at 8th with the time of 1’56.954.

After the qualifying heats commented Loic Duval, “It is nice to make the S3, but even better if we could have placed in a higher position because we were carrying less weight – but tomorrow’s race is going to be a long one. If we can do a sure race as looking out for the life of our tyres and the machine, then good results should follow! I’ll do my best!”

Meanwhile, No. 39 DUNLOP SARD SC430 was struck with a happening in the Official Practice session which began at 10:40. As the session began with Couto’s teammate Kohei Hirate driving, on Lap 14 a spin-off occurred at exit of the Degner Curve, and the front section of the machine got damaged. Therefore, as the team’s efforts now had to be directed more towards fixing the problem, the machine setting fell behind for other sessions to follow, and the team had to go onto the afternoon without the best solution. Hirate went to challenge again in the S1 time trial, but their time only stuck to 13th position (1’57.320) with no farther improvement. Given these circumstances, the Portuguese driver drove 2 laps in the first heat of the mixed session in order to fulfill the standard time (S1 – 107%), then in the lights-on “Miracle Night Session” from 18:30, another 10 laps were tried. “We couldn’t get so much done today, but in the long race tomorrow we’ll go persistently and catch up!” said Andre, with a highly motivated tone!

Then came the 23rd (Sunday), the Race Day, and though it was under somewhat cloudy skies again from early morning, near 58,000 SUPER GT fans turned up to enjoy the famous, hot-summer event staged each year at Suzuka Circuit.

30 minutes of the Free Practice session took place from 10:10AM Sunday, and the 14 machines of GT500 and 20 of GT300 classes started the day as giving final checks into the machines. With the approach of the Race, gradually the rain clouds started to spread over the circuit and 15 minutes before Start, some droplets of rain did come falling. No specific decision for the Wet was announced however, and therefore the 121 laps of the Pokka GT 700km race got underway on schedule, from 15:00 (Temperature: 30 degrees C / Track temp.: 38 degrees C) with everybody still on slick tyres.

Andre Couto was the first driver for No. 39 and from the beginning ran at 13th position for some while. In the 10th Lap, No. 39 gained one position up to 12th and continued to run consistently in this placing, going rather easy on the tyres. After 29 laps, upon the first pit stop the switch of drivers was made to Kohei Hirate. With Hirate taking over the steady and careful driving, the team kept the 13th position until the second pit stop which was made on the 64th Lap. The team’s Portuguese driver then took the steering again when the race was yet halfway through. The time was 17:13PM and with the weather all recovered by then, sun was still shining strong from the west.

Couto clocked better and better records over his own best-times, going at quite a high pace in the 1 minute and 59 seconds’ but a bit passed the 75th Lap, the time stopped improving.

On the 86th Lap, car no. 8 (ARTA NSX) running 2nd had troubles and went in flames by the 130R of the track so the Safety Car came in. Other cars started pitting in one after the other, using the time during the SC run, and the pit area became jammed! No. 39 also made its 3rd pit stop on the 90th Lap, which was when DUNLOP SARD SC430 was handed over to Andre’s teammate Hirate again. The race was soon resumed in the 91st Lap, and No. 39 found itself up in 8th position.

At 18:30, with 1 more hour to go, “lights-on” was mandated, and the battle now entered the Night Session segment. Machine No. 39 driven by Kohei Hirate positioned up to 7th place when another competitor was given a penalty on the 110th lap. Hirate stayed concentrated till the very end, and took the chequer safeguarding this position.

“We started from the 13th position. It was a tough and long race but to finish 7th and score some points is not bad. The next round will be held on a home-course for the TOYOTA teams, so we’ll aim at getting on the podium again. Please give us your warm support!!”

On the other hand, Loic Duval on No. 32, HONDA NSX starting from 8th position was passed by a car from behind in the opening lap around the Final Corner, and dropped one position to 9th. The challenge-full French GT driver held on for several laps more running in this position but in the 10th Lap on the S-Curve got contacted by a GT300 machine, and could not help but course off! This cost No. 32 ‘big’, to lose several positions down to 14th, but even then tried staying on. In the 13th Lap however, Loic had to pit for an emergency stop. With an engine trouble due to overheat, unfortunately early depart from the race was the only choice left for he and the team.

“Getting pushed out by a GT300 machine, there was not much I could do otherwise. To retire and leave the race so soon … how frustrating – that is all I can say …”

The next one to come, the SUPER GT Round 7 will be held at Fuji Speedway on September 12th – 13th.

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

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