Defending Super Formula champion Noaki Yamamoto secured his first victory for the 2019 season in a strategy-based thriller at Sportsland Sugo on Sunday.

After qualifying on pole, the Dandelion Racing driver comfortably rode to first through a 68-lap race at the tight circuit in Japan’s north.

Due to the Sugo circuit’s short 3.7-kilometre layout that takes barely a minute to lap at full speed, qualifying was split into two groups, thus creating two distinct groups on the grid on race day. The top ten started opted to begin on the soft tyre compound whilst the bottom half of the grid began on the mediums.

Once the race was underway, the bottom half of the field all pitted immediately after the first lap to complete the mandatory refuelling and tyre change stop. By doing this, the slower pack of drivers would hope to force the hand of the faster drivers later in the race as they would pit late in the race. Likewise, the faster drivers who didn’t pit on the first lap would hope to create a big enough gap throughout the race in order to pit without losing positions.

Among the faster group of drivers was Lucas Auer, a Red Bull rookie racer, for whom 2019 is his first Super Formula season. Tomoki Nojiri, Koudai Tsukakoshi, and Kamui Kobayashi rounded out the top five, with Yamamoto leading.

In the second pack were the likes of Nick Cassidy, in 14th, Daniel Ticktum in 19th and recent WEC Le Mans 24 Hours winner Kazuki Nakajima in 17th.

In typical Nick Cassidy fashion, the New Zealander led the charge of the early pit-stoppers and pushed his way up the field on his fresh soft tyres.

Yamamoto had extended his lead to over 50 seconds by the time he pitted on Lap 50. Just one lap later, several of the other drivers in the top 10 followed his lead to change over to the medium tyres. Disaster struck for Harrison Newey, who was in a fine fourth place, whose car caught fire whilst refuelling; his car was rushed out of the pit lane to avoid a larger explosion given the proximity of other re-fuelling stations that were prepared for the other drivers.

After that dramatic pit stop the race really kicked into fifth gear, and on Lap 56 an over enthusiastic Tomoki Nojiri attempted an overtaking manoeuvre on third-placed Auer, however the move ended up sending him spinning into the gravel as he overshot the corner, taking him out of the race.

This brought out the Safety Car until Lap 60. As soon as the race resumed, Sho Tsuboi in his Toyota powered machine spun out whilst returning to race speed. This bought out the Safety Car again whilst the stranded car was moved out of the gravel.

The Safety Car was released at the end of Lap 65, leaving a three-lap sprint to the finish. Yamamoto was a shoe-in for a win at this point, with the lapped Daniel Ticktum and Artem Markelov between him and his chasing rivals.

In a dramatic battle for second place, Kamui Kobayashi overtook Lucas Auer around the outside of the third corner with selected use of his OTS overtaking system. This pushed Auer back into third, now wedged between Kobayashi and Cassidy, who had successfully gained positions when the top half of the grid pitted.

Yamamoto took home his first victory for the season, extending his lead in the championship points. Kobayashi and Auer completed the podium, with Auer securing his best ever Super Formula result. Cassidy and Nirei Fukuzumi completed the top five, with Cassidy holding down second position in the championship and getting one step closer to earning valuable points on his FIA Super License. Auer also added to his excellent race by scoring the fastest lap with a time of 1:08.048.

The current Drivers’ Championship standings has Yamamoto sitting in first on 26 points, Nick Cassidy in second with 16 points, and Kenta Yamashita, who finished sixth in Sugo, in third place with 11 points.

The next round of Super Formula takes us to the famed Fuji Speedway on the 14th of July for what is set to be another thriller.

2019 Super Formula Championship Sportsland Sugo – Final Classification
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Naoki Yamamoto DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 68 1:27:37.593 11
2. Kamui Kobayashi Carrozzeria Team KCMG 68 + 3.127 8
3. Lucas Auer B-MAX with Motopark 68 + 4.820 6
4. Nick Cassidy Vantelin Team TOM’S 68 + 5.621 5
5. Nirei Fukuzumi DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 68 + 8.060 4
6. Kenta Yamashita Kondō Racing 68 + 8.149 3
7. Hiroaki Ishiura JMS・INGING 68 + 10.061 2
8. Yuji Kunimoto Kondō Racing 68 + 11.351 1
9. Koudai Tsukakoshi Real Racing 68 + 12.330
10. Yuhi Sekiguchi Itochu Enex Team Impul 68 + 12.736
11. Ryo Hirakawa Itochu Enex Team Impul 68 + 14.207
12. Kazuki Nakajima Vantelin Team TOM’S 68 + 15.289
13. Álex Palou TCS Nakajima Racing 68 + 40.720
14. Tadasuke Makino TCS Nakajima Racing 68 + 50.740
15. Dan Ticktum Team Mugen 67 1 lap behind
16. Artem Markelov UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans 67 1 lap behind
17. Kazuya Oshima UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans 67 1 lap behind
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Reason
DNF. Sho Tsuboi JMS・INGING 58 Spin
DNF. Tomoki Nojiri Team Mugen 55 Spin
DNF. Harrison Newey B-MAX with Motopark 49 Fire

Post Race Penalties:

  • Álex Palou – who was provisionally classified P5 – was issued a 35-second post-race time penalty.
  • Tadasuke Makino – who was provisionally classified P13 – was issued a 35-second post-race time penalty.

Championship Points:

  • 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.
  • Naoki Yamamoto earned 1 bonus championship point for securing pole position.

Images via

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Keegan Bennett

Journalist - Japanese Motorsport at MotorsportM8

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