Former Formula 1 racer Kovalainen and his teammate Yuichi Nakayama could only manage fifth place at Autopolis, despite Nakayama being on the podium for much of the second half of the race.
From eighth on the grid, Kovalainen moved up to sixth on the first lap, then finished fourth after Toyota Rookie Racing served a stop-and-go penalty and race-leading Mugen Honda has been removed by a loose wheel.
SARD was among the crews to surrender immediately after the second of two safety car periods, allowing Nakayama to finish third after taking over GR Supra # 39 at Kovalainen.
Nakayama passed a struggling Hiroki Otsu in the Honda Nakajima Racing for second place on lap 53, but only two laps later was passed by a Hiroaki Ishiura in charge aboard the Cerumo Toyota.
On lap 58, Nakayama succumbed to Tsugio Matsuda’s Nissan NISMO, dropping to fourth place, then was passed on the last lap by Kohei Hirate’s B-Max / NDDP GT-R on the last lap.
Kovalainen said he was surprised Nakayama could have finished so high in order given the loss of power the SARD machine was suffering from.
“In the first stint, during the first safety car, we developed some kind of engine problem,” Kovalainen told Motorsport.com. “I didn’t have a boost in the engine, I don’t know how much it cost us but probably a second or two per lap.
“We were lucky with the safety cars because at the end of my stint I had no speed. Also, we started with the softer tire and I had a lot of degradation. My tires warmed up quickly, but I think the grip was at its peak on the first lap and from there it went down.
“We stopped immediately after the safety car, which gave us a position on the track, but Nakayama had no chance to do anything. He did very well to hang on to fifth. instead, I thought he would lose more. “
SARD’s problems follow a series of Toyota engine problems in the previous race at Sugo, which resulted in three of its cars serving stop and start penalties for engine changes during the race at Autopolis .
However, Kovalainen was not sure whether the SARD issue was the same as the turbo issue that excluded both Rookie Racing and Cerumo GR Supras from the race at Sugo.
“We do not yet know the exact cause, Toyota will investigate, but it could be something similar [to what happened at Sugo]”he said.” We didn’t have any issues with Sugo so in that sense it was unexpected.
“Normally during the safety car we use safety car engine mapping to try to save fuel, but when I went back to normal mapping and was trying to warm up the tires and brakes, I realized something was wrong.
“I felt like I was always on the safety car map. I tried all available cards but nothing fixed the problem, so it was a hardware problem. “
Kovalainen’s confidence “not very high” after qualifying issues
Fifth place for SARD followed a disappointing day on Saturday for the team, as Kovalainen struggled in Q2 to climb to eighth and final place in penalties despite the relatively light handicap of success of the No.39 car from 40 kg.
The Finnish driver told Motorsport.com after qualifying that he was struggling to squeeze the same pace out of a lap of the car as his teammate Nakayama, who finished fifth in Q1.
“I felt better today than yesterday, we made some changes for the race and it was like better direction,” said Kovalainen. “But the tire we started with didn’t work, and then the problems with the engines took away all hopes of a podium.
“It’s been a tough year for me, especially in qualifying. I couldn’t make a lap of it which is frustrating. My confidence in the car and the tires is not very high for some reason this years compared to other years. I’ll try to work on this for the last two rounds of the season. “