If a pole-sitter made good start and entered first into Turn-1 only to have the car behind forcibly pack him off to premature retirement, one can hardly imagine his mental anguish, and all the more, if the car was driven by his own teammate.
In the opening event of the 2022 FIA-F4 series, Shun Koide (HFDP RACING TEAM) tasted the bitterness of life as mentioned above right after the start of R-1.
Koide who should have made a pole-to-win in the very first race of the season came back to the garage with his hands absolutely empty. He showed a sign of frustration at first, but soon swallowed his inner grudge, never blamed his younger colleague ever.
Koide took pole position both for R-1 and R-2 of the opening event at Fuji International Speedway and knew himself being in top form. This is his second year at HFDP and third in FIA-F4 which he personally regards as the “stake-all season.” The double pole positions in the season’s first weekend perfectly demonstrated his determination, as said in his own words, “I’ll push maximum from the start of the season and runaway towards the series champion. That’s a must for me in order to step up to the upper class next year.”
Things didn’t turn out that way, unfortunately. The unexpected happened in the opening lap of R-1, when Koide at the top put on brake into Turn-1, the car running 2nd driven by his teammate, younger colleague and the rookie at HFDP, namely Kazuma Nishimura, bumped into Koide from behind and pushed him off the track. Koide restarted in a short while, however, immediately found it’s impossible to carry on, and parked his car at the course side to call it a day.
Koide who lost his race due to somebody else’s error, said, “When I was shoved off by Nishimura, I felt in an instant, ‘You, bastard!’ Some drivers might well bite his head off later on. But, I didn’t do that, for I’m a rather optimistic person, or objective, I dare say. It had happened already, right? If I fume and things are made up, I’d do it. But, no, never! It only serves to hurt the relationship with teammates. Even if I could give vent to my anger, it’s not worth doing. I thought it’s best to bear what had happened to me and accept the outcome.”
Koide, not to accuse anybody, but to reflect his own inner self, went on to say, “You don’t race only alone. Especially for FIA-F4, there’re more than 40 cars compete in it, and most of them are amateur drivers. In order to survive in such circumstances, you have to take care of yourself, stay away from trouble and avoid unnecessary risk. In that sense, my risk management was not good enough.”
As R-1 was set to start with Koide at pole position, the rookie in question, Nishimura, next to him, and right behind the front row, two guys Koide was regarding as his direct rivals, Rin Arakawa (TGR-DC Racing School) and Reimei Ito (OTG MOTOR SPORTS) were obviously ready to pounce. Koide arriving first at Turn-1 made his turn-in move a bit earlier so that he could take the line better for accelerating out from the corner.
“Behind Nishimura, I could see Arakawa and Ito were charging. I wanted to pull away them as much as possible in the opening lap, because Fuji’s layout make overtake quite easy if the gap between two cars was not big enough. That’s why I turned-in early, put on gas early, and tried to rush off.”
When Koide started turn-in move aiming at the nearer apex, Nishimura, on the contrary, went for late braking and thus unable to control momentum, inevitably touched the rear of the car in front.
Koide says, “When I turned-in, I left some space for Nishimura of course, even more than a car-width, however, I should have noticed he’s new to this race and so, something irregular might happen. Even if I lost a place there, it would be better to reduce risks. Especially when you aim at the series champion.”
After the race, Nishimura came by himself to apologize for spoiling his senior colleague’s race, which Koide accepted in a dignified manner. Nishimura, in his first FIA-F4 race, made a big mistake which taught him lessons to learn, and Koide too certainly gained precious experience needed to grow stronger.
Koide’s original plan was to start FIA-F4 racing from 2020 season, however, HFDP had suspended its activity due to the COVID-19 situation, which forced him to change his affiliation to VAGA PLUS for the first year. He finally got the HFDP tuition in 2021, but in spite of his gung-ho spirit towards the full-time challenge, he ended up the season with just one win and 6th in the ranking. For any young drivers serious in his career, “one year” is an incredibly important period affecting immediate future. Putting aside the COVID-19 woe, Koide seems to have been treading water for these three years. Nevertheless, he maintains positive flame of mind and tackles strenuously with his third FIA-F4 season.
“Last year, it’s my second season, I was in a fret one way or another. I can’t say there’s no pressure to have to produce some results. But my mentality is quite optimistic. If I had done my best and still not good enough to continue racing, it’s okey with me. I can convince myself saying it’s my best shot and my upper limit as well. That’s the way I think even when I’m not racing. I see myself objectively, it helps me to be optimistic, and I can change my mindset. Take it easy or never mind, something like that. Such mentality of mine has served rather well to my career so far, I think.”
While calmly analyzing his inner self, Koide keeps all his wits about situations and circumstances around him and tries not to be swept up in them. Knowing the 3rd year is critical for him to step up the radder, he said he has made complete preparation for this season.
“I could find last year the versatility of driving was my problem. During the long season, there’re red-hot days and bitter cold days too. Ambient/track surface temperatures, wind directions and other climatic conditions differ each time around, and I have to adjust my driving to it. Honestly, I couldn’t do that well last year. It’s my lack of ability, I reckon. When I felt any difficulties in driving or run on particular conditions that I didn’t like, I habitually dealt with such cases by changing set-ups. I learnt from Abe-san (Masakazu, Team Director) and Kaneishi-san (Toshihiro, Advisor) that I had a habit of resorting to set-ups. I also noticed from Kimura’s driving (Iori, team mate) that he could somehow manage his driving, and I thought I had to do the same. This winter, I looked into my shortcomings all over again, and practiced very hard to cover them.”
Facing the third-year-importance as said before, Koide regrettably lost its first race by a silly accident in the form of rear-end collision. But he didn’t get empathic, calmly accepted the misfortune, and endeavored to confront the 2nd race with a fresh mindset. Sure enough, he started cleanly form the pole position, made a holeshot into Turn-1, and runaway like the devil. Koide never yielded top position all through to the finish, and saw checkered flag before anybody else. The epitome of “pole-to-finish” victory.
“I have confidence in my speed and I knew I could win today. I studied the incident happened yesterday, and corrected possible slip-ups. That led to the win today. I think it shall be the title-winning season for me, this year. So, I regret to have lost season’s first race, but the series is just started and I still have a lot of chance. As I could win in the 2nd race, my confidence comes back and I’m spirited up. For me, confidence is the source of success and it's telling me ‘You can do it!’ this year.”
Thus the first two races of the FIA-F4 series were over, Koide showed a cheerful smile as he savored the achievement of the day.