Summer rain provided the stage for one of the most exciting races of the year at Fuji Speedway this weekend in the fourth round of the 2019 Super Formula season.
With wet weather forecast for the entire weekend, drivers knew they had a tough challenge ahead of them. However, the rain continued to pour, the spots in-between showers barely offered any respite for racers, who battled not only the constant spray from cars in front, but the infamous mists from the nearby Mount Fuji.
With visibility a strong concern for the race, the raced opened under a safety car, thankfully the only one of the race.
In the first ten laps of the race, Kamui Kobayashi made mincemeat of the backmarkers. Having qualified in 19th, he was up 5 positions by the end of this stint. The former Grand Prix driver proved himself throughout the race, adopting a different racing line to his competitors to suit the wet conditions, a skill he has honed through his time racing for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Artem Markelov pitted on Lap 13 after his front wing broke off, resulting in him dropping two places. This marked the start of a horrible race for the 24-year-old Russian, who couldn’t seem to put pen to paper at the slippery Fuji.
The pole leader, Álex Palou had pushed to a seven-second lead by Lap 15.
Super Formula newcomer Patrica O’Ward impressed in his first race. Having failed to post a time in qualifying, he had worked his way forward to 16th by Lap 16.
Kobayashi continued his charge, reaching twelfth by Lap 16, as he approached an ongoing battle for ninth place headed by the championship leader Naoki Yamamoto, Kazuki Nakajima, and Nirei Fukuzumi.
Yamamoto threw away his chances of a points’ finish with a spin on Lap 18, taking the corner slightly too wide and clipping the exit curb. He dropped to twelfth position, only helping Kobayashi in his charge up the order.
In a spectacular series of corners, Nakajima danced around the rear of Makino in a battle for eighth place, and after pulling ahead, Makino then went off-track and fell back to the Fukuzumi-Kobayashi battle. The enterprising Kobayashi took a wide line on the following turn and sprinted back in front of Makino to take tenth place.
This marked the first of Makino’s traction issues, as he consistently struggled for grip coming out of several corners.
On Lap 35, Kobayashi made a jump for ninth place, diving in front of Fukuzumi, and utilising his remaining overtaking system boost to hold the place, before blocking his compatriot Fukuzumi into Turn 1. Kobayashi then made quick work of the gap eighth-placed Kazuya Oshima, passing him on the next lap to work his way into the points-paying positions. Oshima later dropped to 10th, battling quickly wearing tyres.
On Lap 43, Harrison Newey pitted for a fresh set of tyres. Running well down the order and the visit to the pits was only to finish the race more than anything. Incredibly for a second race in a row, his car caught on fire, however this time the pit crews managed to save it, and the Englishman later returned to the circuit.
A late pit stop from Nakajima on Lap 45 allowed Kobayashi pick up yet another place, moving into seventh place.
Further ahead, New Zealander Nick Cassidy had an excellent race. After qualifying fifth-fastest, he played the long game, and by Lap 47 had moved into third place and was actively catching up to the back of Sho Tsuboi.
On Lap 50 a battle for fourth place had begun, with Nakajima inching closer and closer to the back of Tomoki Nojiri with Hiroaki Ishiura hot on his heels. Closing in on all of them was the still-charging Kobayashi.
He tried a move at the final corner, where many of his previous passing attempts had been successful, but couldn’t make the move on Ishiura stick this time. A lap later, after chasing Ishiura all the way up Fuji’s 1.5-kilometre straight, Kobayashi took sixth place in a spectacular move by going around the outside of the first corner.
Almost unnoticed was Palou, who drove serenely from pole position to his first Super Formula victory. It was the first time the Spanish youngster has been seen as a real contender in this series and while it might be too late for him to mount a tilt at the championship this year, his rivals will be on the lookout in 2020 as he continues to prove himself.
Tsuboi held off Cassidy to claim second place.
Championship leader Yamamoto finished twelfth, failing to earn any points this round, and with his closest rival Cassidy placing third, the points gap between the pair has narrowed as the season approaches its final three races.
Undoubtedly one of the drives of the day – if not the entire season – came from Kobayashi, who made an incredible push from the last row of the grid to finish sixth.
O’Ward also did not disappoint in his first Super Formula race, finishing fourteenth. The Mexican managed this despite never having raced at Fuji before, let alone these cars. For O’Ward’s teammate Lucas Auer, however, Fuji wasn’t quite as successful. The Austrian was not classified after pitting four times during the race with car issues. He finished 13 laps behind the leader.
The 2019 Super Formula season heats up (and hopefully dries up) as it enters its fifth round at Twin Ring Motegi on August 18.
|2019 Super Formula Championship Fuji – Final Classification|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Álex Palou||TCS Nakajima Racing||53||1:36:27.150||11|
|2.||Sho Tsuboi||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||53||+ 13.359||8|
|3.||Nick Cassidy||Vantelin Team TOM’S||53||+ 14.680||6|
|4.||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||53||+ 50.575||5|
|5.||Kazuki Nakajima||Vantelin Team TOM’S||53||+ 51.333||4|
|6.||Kamui Kobayashi||Carrozzeria Team KCMG||53||+ 52.448||3|
|7.||Hiroaki Ishiura||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||53||+ 55.932||2|
|8.||Yuhi Sekiguchi||Itochu Enex Team Impul||53||+ 1:09.963||1|
|9.||Nirei Fukuzumi||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||53||+ 1:11.435|
|10.||Tadasuke Makino||TCS Nakajima Racing||53||+ 1:18.868|
|11.||Naoki Yamamoto||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||53||+ 1:22.710|
|12.||Ryo Hirakawa||Itochu Enex Team Impul||53||+ 1:27.721|
|13.||Kazuya Oshima||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||52||1 lap behind|
|14.||Patricio O’Ward||Team Mugen||52||1 lap behind|
|15.||Yuji Kunimoto||Kondō Racing||52||1 lap behind|
|16.||Harrison Newey||B-MAX with Motopark||52||1 lap behind|
|17.||Kenta Yamashita||Kondō Racing||51||2 laps behind|
|18.||Koudai Tsukakoshi||Real Racing||51||2 laps behind|
|19.||Artem Markelov||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||50||3 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|NC.||Lucas Auer||B-MAX with Motopark||40||13 laps behind|
Post Race Penalties:
- To be advised
- 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.
- Álex Palou earned 1 bonus championship point for securing pole position.
Images via Motorsport.com