World of Sport: Super Formula; Motogp
SUPER FORMULA FUJI (JPN) 4 APRIL ROUND 1/7
Mugen Honda ace Tomoki Nojiri staked an early claim to the Super Formula title with a textbook drive to victory in last weekend’s Fuji Speedway season opener.
The 31-year-old converted pole position into his fourth career win – his third in nine starts – ahead of junior Honda colleagues Toshiki Oyu and Nirei Fukuzumi, who delivered the manufacturer a podium lockout to kick off the new season.
From second on the grid, Oyu seized the initiative at the start and built an early two-second lead, but Nojiri soon reeled in the Nakajima Racing sophomore, and on lap 10 of 41 he took back the advantage with a round-the-outside pass at the downhill Turn 10 right-hander.
Nojiri’s main challenge thereafter was maintaining his composure when it started to spit with rain with around 10 laps to go, before he had served his mandatory pitstop. Luckily for Nojiri, the rain never intensified enough to warrant wet-weather tyres, and he emerged from his pitstop with two laps remaining with a small buffer over Oyu.
Pre-season-testing pacesetter Oyu had slipped to fourth before making his pitstop, behind the Dandelion Racing cars of Fukuzumi and Ukyo Sasahara, who was deputising for an unwell Tadasuke Makino. Oyu recovered to second, just 1.6s away from Nojiri at the chequered flag after setting the fastest lap of the race on the final tour.
A slow pitstop for Sasahara consigned him to fifth place behind the best of the Toyota runners, Team Impul driver Ryo Hirakawa, who said it was impossible to challenge the Honda-powered cars owing to their top-speed advantage in the relatively cool conditions.
Reigning champion Naoki Yamamoto endured a turbulent first weekend back with Nakajima Racing, but salvaged a respectable sixth place from a lowly 16th on the grid. Following a qualifying performance he labelled “hopeless” and “pathetic”, Yamamoto seemed to find some extra speed on race day as he topped final practice and warm-up. The three-time title winner got his pitstop out of the way early and showed impressive race pace, and could have finished higher up the order if not for some tardy Nakajima pitwork.
TOM’S Super Formula newcomer Ritomo Miyata won the battle of the rookies in seventh place, and ended up as the second best of the Toyota-powered drivers, ahead of KCMG man Yuji Kunimoto.
Tatiana Calderon had cause to celebrate on Saturday as she escaped Q1 for the first time, but come race day she wound up in 13th, not helped by her radio not working.
Last year’s Fuji winner Sho Tsuboi (Inging) threw away a probable top-six finish when he got on a kerb and spun in the final sector amid the late rain.