Yusuke Mitsui, in his debut year to the FIA-F4 series from HFDP (Honda Formula Dream Project), achieved the maiden victory in the very first race of the season, and thereafter, accumulated eight-straight podium finishes in the following four events.
He fell back 4th in R-9 but made a rally to 2nd again in R-10, and became the point leader ahead of Shun Koide, his HFDP senior comrade. As the 2022 season drawing near to the final climax, could Mitsui had ever imagined himself standing at this level when he started the season?
“I looked into the past records and found there’re very few newcomers running at the top. So I presumed it would be a learning period for me this year, and I determined to bring myself up steadily in each race I run. I’d never thought that I’d be on the podium right from the start, and what’s more, in succession!”
Why could he did that outright, then?
“I think it’s thanks to the team. They made superb car for me. My advisor, Mr. Kaneishi, and many other people in the team gave me useful advices. In addition, I have Shun Koide as my team mate who is the fastest man in the series right now, and I could learn a lot of data from him. I’ve been benefitted all these things and as the results I came to where I’m now standing.”
Mitsui said that he could become this much faster because of Koide who’s been demonstrating incomparable speed this year. What did Mitsui learned from Koide actually?
“For example, we’d run Fuji and Suzuka twice each, and in the first round, I realized many differences in the way of driving. ‘This isn’t how I’ve known to drive a racing car!’ Somethin’ like that, you see? And in the second round, I tried to crib what I learnt in the first round. I’ve got it better where I was good and got rid of my foibles referring the tips I was given. I could, in that way, reduce the time gap generally, so the method worked well, I think.”
To find distinctions between you and me comparing the actual driving or the logged data is not very hard to do, however, to reflect any one of those distinctions on your driving is a completely different matter. You have to understand its cause first, and have the skill to materialize the car movement in accordance with your feeling.
“Until I run in FIA-F4 this year, I’ve never had chance to drive a car other than ones with LSD (limited slip differential) and got used to a typical style, say, initiating turn by changing car moves via acceleration or braking. Contrary to this, I noticed Koide drove pursuing how much he could stabilize the dynamic motion of the car. I myself don’t want to reduce the bottom-end speed, but Koide resolutely did it, and snapped back to acceleration in a crisp way. I was really surprised to find there’s been such a style ever. ‘It’s faster in that way in FIA-F4.’ I thought. About braking for example, I was shocked at one time, ‘He went deeper by far!’ and on another occasion, I reflected in the opposite, ‘Wonder if I plunge too much?’”
For any racing driver, distinctive style of driving can be the trade secret to win races. But at HFDP where the first priority is put on the training of young developing drivers, they usually urges to share the logged data and have trainees study it at each one of their disposal. For Mitsui himself, Koide effectively in his third year in HFDP is a rival, a model, an object of investigation and a mentor all at the same time.
Time is always limited during the race weekend and so is what Mitsui can do within the very tight frame of time. The season in which Mitsui has learnt a lot through the face-off with Koide is approaching to the grand finale, and yet Mitsui acknowledges, “There still be many things to learn for me.”
“My personal goal is to get ahead of Koide, not to be on a par with him. In that sense, if I’d absorbed lessons properly, I should’ve fought at the same level in either qualifying runs or the race. But I did well only at Suzuka (the 4th event won back-to-back,) and I thought I must work harder still. Especially, I realized it’s extremely hard to overcome the disadvantage in experience.”
Generally speaking, the “degree” of experience of each driver is not visible nor calculable.
“Whether or not to have the experience of actual driving on the race track makes a big difference. Especially when it comes to the one-shot speed, the process bringing up to the absolute top time, and so on. I usually do it step by step: ‘Can I push a bit harder here? Well, I could’ve done even harder.” Something like that. Koide, on the contrary, seems to do it all the way to the limit, in one gulp. On top of this, he has a very wide range of settings, full of ideas on how to improve the car. He easily comes up with a flash of wit, ‘If I do this, it’s got to be much better.’ for instance. I can’t do that yet, really.”
In the 6th event of the series held at Autopolis in the first week of October, Mitsui finished 2nd in both R-11 and 12 making the double podium, however, he had to surrender his point leader’s position to Koide who had won both races. Mitsui now recessed 2nd with 14-points behind Koide is aiming at the last-minute upset in the final event of the series in November.
“I’m not very much concerned about the championship title. As a matter of fact, I had never imagined I’d be racing at this rank at this time, just a couple of races to go. I’ve done best I could do, and it turned out to be this way. It should have been, and still is, a big chance for me. So, I try to keep on learning, training and practicing as much as possible for a month left to get better results. I’m not the type of driver who grows on praise. I’d rather be one who is strict to myself, and got even better if I was treated strictly by my people around. As a racing driver, I am still in short of many things. Never be satisfied with the status quo. I’ll just try harder.”
Let’s wait and see how Mitsui fulfill his desire in the final event near at hand.