This weekend we return to Okayama International Circuit in Mimasaka, Japan for the penultimate round of the 2019 Super Formula Championship.
Nick Cassidy leads the championship by a single point over defending champion Naoki Yamamoto. Can Cassidy extend his lead, or will Yamamoto make a comeback after slipping out of the points scoring range for the last two rounds?
|Okayama International Circuit – Mimasaka, Japan|
|Circuit Length||3.703 km / 2.300 mi||Opened||1990|
|First Super Formula Event||2007 (Fomula Nippon)||Direction||Clockwise|
Opened in 1990 as a private track under the name TI Circuit Aida, the Okayama Circuit has seen its fair share of action over the years, twice playing host to the Formula 1 Pacific Grand Prix in the mid 1990s with both events being won by Michael Schumacher. Too slow and twisty for F1 cars, the remote circuit was dropped from the calendar after just two events.
The remote circuit has had a similarly patchy presence on the calendar for Japan’s premier open-wheel racing championship.
With overtaking proving nearly as difficult as their Formula 1 counterparts, several slow-speed sections create a ‘follow the leader’ race which will be governed by qualifying and pit strategy. The downhill Turn 5 hairpin provides the only true overtaking point on the track, quickly feeding into the double left-handers at Turns 6 and 7, followed by a steep climb through Turns 8, 9 and 10.
|2019 Super Formula Championship Okayama – 27-29 September 2019|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 12:40||Free Practice Session 2
|Qualifying Session||Sat 14:25||Race (68 laps)||Sun 15:05|
All session times quoted in Japan Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 9:00)
Rewind to 2018
Heavy rain at last year’s visit to Okayama saw the race shortened to 54 of its scheduled 68 laps.
The Safety Car led the field for the first eleven laps of the race, and upon the green flags Kamui Kobayashi quickly overtook pole-sitter Yuhi Sekiguchi (Team Impul Toyota). The former F1 driver later suffered front wing damage, but pressed on and remained in contention through the race which was interrupted by several more Safety Car periods.
One notable victim of the weather was Tom Dillmann, current Formula E driver for NIO, whose front wing was lost after contact with Nirei Fukuzumi’s car. The clock timed out with the win going to Sekiguchi, with Kobayashi (Team KCMG Toyota) in second Tomoki Nojiri (Dandelion Racing Honda) completing the podium.
The Okayama Form Guide
We’re in for another wet race this weekend, as the forecast predicts a 60% chance of rain, with a shocking 80% Humidity.
The wet race might make things difficult for Nick Cassidy if he hopes to extend his championship lead in this race, keeping in mind last year in similar conditions he only placed fifth.
Likewise Yamamoto – who placed tenth in last year’s race – could also find it difficult in the wet. Given Yamamoto’s disappointing finish in last week’s Super GT race at a very wet Sugo, and a vastly inconsistent track record this season in Super Formula, Cassidy might have it easier than first assumed.
One driver to watch out for is Yuichi Nakayama, a 28-year old driver who usually races alongside Heikki Kovalainen in the Sard Lexus LC500 in Super GT. Nakayama has been signed by Team LeMans in the penultimate round to replace Artem Markelov, who has returned to the FIA Formula 2 Championship to replace the late Anthoine Hubert at BWT Arden.
Nakayama raced for KCMG between 2014-16 so has some experience with the previous Super Formula chassis. He be teammate to Kazuya Oshima for the final two rounds this season.
Teams looking to implement an unconventional pit strategy to suit the weather will find that a lot harder to do, with Super Formula implementing a new pit window rule from Okayama onwards.
The new rule closes the pit window for the first ten laps of the race, to clamp down on teams completing the mandatory pit stop in the first lap. The teams currently do this as the Yokohama tyres used this year have proven incredibly durable.
The soft compound Yokohama rubber can theoretically last an entire race; however, teams must run both the Medium and the Soft compounds throughout the duration of the race. The Soft rubber is also significantly faster, with an advantage of two seconds per lap on average. These two factors have seen several instances when most – if not all – teams have pitted on the first lap, such as in Sugo earlier this year.
Images via Toyota