It doesn’t seem that a round of the Japanese Super Formula or Super GT Championships can happen without a major downpour in the ‘land of the rising sun’. This was again the case at the second round of the Super Formula Championship at Autopolis, where heavy rain forced qualifying to be postponed to Sunday morning.
The 40-minute session to determine the grid order was red-flagged no less than three times, leaving little time for the drivers to get in a clean lap. Yuji Kunimoto (Kondō Racing Toyota) took pole for the main race, with Sho Tsuboi (JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING) and Nirei Fukuzumi (Dandelion Racing Honda) taking second and third on the grid respectively.
Nick Cassidy (TOM’S Toyota), the New Zealander who won the season-opening race at Suzuka, didn’t have such a good time and qualified tenth and defending champion Naoki Yamamoto (Dandelion Racing Honda) was also having a hard time, qualifying in 15th.
The race started under windy conditions with rain being evident. On Lap 2, several of the cars pitted in order to get the mandatory tyre change out of the way and take advantage of an early Safety Car brought out by the retirement of Red Bull protégé Dan Ticktum who had crashed his Team Mugen Honda entry.
This spelled disaster for Team Mugen, as Ticktum’s teammate Tomoki Nojiri had stalled earlier in the race and couldn’t get off the grid; he spent the rest of the race at the back of the pack.
The fourth lap also marked the end for the #7 Sunoco Team LeMans of Artem Markelov, who had missed the start of the race while mechanics completed repairs on his car which had been wrecked in a qualifying smash. The Russian tried to re-enter the race, however an issue with the car’s steering led him to crash into the barriers at the exit of the pits.
The Safety Car left the track on Lap 6, allowing the race to finally get underway again. As soon as the race began, Tadasuke Makino (Nakajima Racing Honda) moved into third, while Nick Cassidy had slipped back to 16th, where he slowly crawled his way up to 10th over the next 30 laps.
At Lap 22, Yuhi Sekiguchi was leading the race, with Kunimoto in second and Makino still sitting in 3rd. Defending series champion Yamamoto had fought his way to fifth place, having started from a lowly 16th. Sekiguchi had gained a substantial lead of 19 seconds the rest of the field by this point in the race and looked to have the race in his pocket.
By Lap 35, Sekiguchi had increased his lead to 30 seconds, being ‘followed’ by Makino whilst Yamamoto continued his charge and now ran in third, 10 seconds behind Makino.
Pole-sitter Kunimoto had slipped to fourth, due to a bizarre pit strategy by which he hadn’t pitted yet for the mandatory tyre change, leaving his rubber absolutely stripped by his point. He was effectively holding up the pack, letting the top three drivers run off with the podium.
From laps 40-50 it was Nick Cassidy’s turn to hold up the pack, as he sat in tenth place, setting both his fastest lap of the race and a series of slower laps that held up the pack of drivers behind him.
On Lap 50, Sekiguchi sacrificed his lead to complete his mandatory pit stop. The circuit had dried up significantly, allowing him to switch to the less sticky medium Yokohama tyre. Whilst in the pits he was overtaken by Makino, who was still yet to pit. By Lap 52, Sekiguchi had regained the lead and lead by 7 seconds over Yamamoto, who moved up a place as Makino finally made his way into the pits.
A particularly slow pit stop cost Makino a spot on the podium, who finished the race in fourth.
Sekiguchi claimed an incredible race win, having started from sixteenth place. Yamamoto – who started from 17th – finished in second place, while Kazuya Oshima (Team LeMans Toyota) completed the podium having started from eleventh.
|2019 Super Formula Championship Autopolis – Final Classification|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Yuhi Sekiguchi||Itochu Enex Team Impul||53||1:30:29.891||10|
|2.||Naoki Yamamoto||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||53||+ 3.633||8|
|3.||Kazuya Oshima||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||53||+ 7.374||6|
|4.||Tadasuke Makino||TCS Nakajima Racing||53||+ 17.594||5|
|5.||Nirei Fukuzumi||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||53||+ 18.739||4|
|6.||Álex Palou||TCS Nakajima Racing||53||+ 29.782||3|
|7.||Kenta Yamashita||Kondō Racing||53||+ 30.774||2|
|8.||Nick Cassidy||Vantelin Team TOM’S||53||+ 32.443||1|
|9.||Hiroaki Ishiura||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||53||+ 34.058|
|10.||Kamui Kobayashi||Carrozzeria Team KCMG||53||+ 34.577|
|11.||Lucas Auer||B-MAX with Motopark||53||+ 35.479|
|12.||Sho Tsuboi||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||53||+ 38.130|
|13.||Kazuki Nakajima||Vantelin Team TOM’S||53||+ 38.287|
|14.||Ryo Hirakawa||Itochu Enex Team Impul||53||+ 48.610|
|15.||Koudai Tsukakoshi||Real Racing||53||+ 56.082|
|16.||Yuji Kunimoto||Kondō Racing||53||+ 1:07.508||1|
|17.||Harrison Newey||B-MAX with Motopark||52||1 lap behind|
|18.||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||52||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Dan Ticktum||Team Mugen||1||Accident|
|DNF.||Artem Markelov||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||0||Suspension|
Post Race Penalties:
- Championship points are awarded on the results of the race to the top-eight finishers on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- Yuji Kunimoto earned 1 bonus championship point for securing pole position.
Images via Motorsport.com