HFDP Drivers' Documentary 2023 SFL Vol.2 ~ Iori Kimura ~

Iori Kimura who had stepped up to the Super Formula Lights (SFL) series in 2022 immediately showed innate speed and joined in the running for the championship in his debut year, however, a series of mistakes he made later in the season compelled him to drop out of the contention.

HFDP Drivers' Documentary 2023 SFL Vol.2 ~ Iori Kimura ~

“I wasn’t able to give my best last year (2022), and thought myself that my time in SFL was over. If I was a Honda keyman, I would not use the driver like this anymore. Even though I had such a horrible season, I was given another chance in 2023, and that shook me up all the more. I mean, I was totally determined to dispel the frustration I had year before.”

Kimura was appointed by B-MAX Racing yet again in 2023, but his advisor in the previous season, namely Shinichi Takagi, was now serving as the team principal, whereas Hideki Muto newly joined the force was asigned as Kimura’s advisor.

Muto said, “I had an impression that Kimura whom I met this year seemed to have been tackling his job far more serenely than I’d heard from others last year. I told him; it’s OK if you enjoy doing whatever in your free time, but so long as you want to work together with me this season, you have to manage the schedule focusing on the race and apply some rules to your private life.”

With this advice given to him beforehand, Kimura set the target for the season as to win the championship title, and began reconsidering the attitude towards his own career life all over again. First, he left his parental home in Tokyo and moved to Yamato city, Kanagawa Pref. where the factory of B-MAX Racing team is located, and started lone but race-immersed living.

“I’m not saying that I wasn’t focused on racing last year. But I came to know it’s not enough at all. Even when I’m not at the circuit, I have to dedicate every single minute or second to my personal goal, the championship title to be precise. That’s the reason I moved to the place close to the factory. I had depended everything about daily living on my family, washing clothes, for instance, but now I have to do it all by myself, and ain’t got no idle time anymore. My mind set now is to organize day-to-day life of mine as a first step and expand it to my motivation towards the ultimate goal. At night, in the bed, I often wonder why I’m sleeping here, and I tell it to myself, ‘Just to win the race, and the title, got it?’ then I fell asleep with consent.

There’s another resolution he has made for the goal. To give up drinking, it is. “Right before the season opening, Muto-san told me, ‘Quit something you like, just one, for a start. Then, you’ll be the champion, I guarantee you.’ I was so stimulated that I responded, ‘I quit drinking, then.’ Every now and then, I realized that, ‘I’m in abstain, now,’ and thought, ‘How came?’ Whenever I’m invited for drink, as I was automatically declining the offer, I always renew my resolution, ‘I’m living this season just to win the championship title,’ that’s the way how I learn things right now.”

In the 2023 season that could have been a last-ditch effort for him, Kimura made the best possible start one could wish for the opening event, 3 straight wins with 3 straight fastest laps added up by 2 straight pole positions at Autopolis. The ideal performance for the title race, however, did not last long. Kimura was kept away from winning thereafter, and dropped down to 2nd after the 3rd event at Suzuka allowing Hibiki Taira surpassed in the point ranking.

“There’re so many races in which I felt the pace was good but the cogs didn’t mesh. I'd lost races because of my own mistake last year, but this year, I think I did the same because of the force majeure, at least in some part. It often happened in Race-1 and hurt big way. I think it’s unfortunate on my side.”

Each event of the SFL series holds three races in a race week, and the qualifying time attack decides the starting grid only for Race-1 and Race-2, whereas the same for Race-3 is allocated in accordance with the finishing order of Race-1. Therefore, any driver ended up in lower positions in Race-1 would inevitably suffer in Race-3.

As seen in many cases, for whatever reason, Kimura tended to stagnate in Race-1 which gave him hard time in Race-3, a typical pattern of vicious circle. As the series went into the midterm period, Kimura steadily accumulated points despite incurring jerky cogs in the racing tactics, and firmly maintained 2nd position.

“I could keep calmness in my head, much better than a year ago. When I finished low in Race-1, just like as the 3rd event (at Suzuka), I played a great catch-up game and got 5th place from the bottom end. I think I could show some clutches in me. To be honest, I got awkward just a little bit at around the 5th event (Okayama) saying to myself, ‘It’s gotta be hard to win the title.’ But, at the same time, I thought it’s OK with me if I could win 3 straight races in the final event whether or not the title fell on me in the end. It was when I could put all my fear behind me, and felt as if suddenly freed of the pressure that had possessed me.”

After the 5th event (Okayama), and in the face of the final event (at Mobility Resort Motegi), Kimura sat in the 2nd place, 10-points behind the point leader, Hibiki Taira. It could have been a desperate situation for Kimura, but actually he collected his usual self and performed in top form. As the result, he seized the pole position for both Race-1 and 2, achieved the fastest lap and his 4th win in Race-1, and closed up on Taira with just a point behind the series leader. On the following day, he made the double again, the fastest lap and win in Race-2, the situation reversed all at once, and jumped up to the top of the point table. For Kimura, Race-3 was so-called the finishing touch which he gathered in 2nd, and captured the eagerly awaited championship title at last.

Team principal, Takagi, while looking up at Kimura standing on the podium with jubilant smile on his face, praised his beloved disciple: “No doubt about Iori’s speed. On top of it, he tackled the race with discipline this year, and I’m glad to see such stoicism in him payed off well. The hat trick he’d made in the opening event was amazing, and I thought his way of growing would be worthy of close attention. But in reality, race is not as easy as all that. Tires were changed at one point in the season, and his rivals definitely raised their games, which made things difficult for him to do, of course. But he’d kept on delivering some cutoff points even in his hardest time. It’s why he could remain in contention till the final even and made the grand upset. Iori still has some adolescent part in his ever-growing personality, and I think he’s yet to graduate in that sense, however, he’s made a remarkable progress, internally in particular. So, I’m sure he would do good job as well in the upper category.”

Kimura who had just achieved his goal after 2-year challenge obviously shows a relieved look on his face: “It’s really fantastic. I could have been mentally bogged down if it was my old self. But this year, I’d done what I have to and can do till the point I have no regret even if I can’t win the title. I’ve got nervous just a little bit when the race week began, but once the action took place, I didn’t feel any unusual pressure. The moment I received the final checkered flag, the entire tension went off all at once, and tears spilled from my eyes while recollecting many faces I’m in debt. I began Karting when I was six or seven, and won many races since then, but never made the championship of any kind, ever. That has long been my complex deep inside of me.”

Asked about the self-imposed disciplinary restrictions, how he would deal with them in the future especially when the goal for which the restrictions were set up, was successfully achieved, Kimura answered as follows:

“I built up my confidence through the accumulation of day-to-day practice. As for the temperance, I plan to remove the ban temporarily till the end of the year, allowing myself to attend the celebration and enjoy drinking with my fellow people up until December 31. Abstention from alcoholic beverages itself is a good thing to do. So, I restart it for the next season again. I also plan to live alone just like as before. If I sat on my achievement today and slackened off no matter how little, I’m sure I quickly go back where I started. So, I’ll keep on trying my very best utilizing the experiences I had this year.”

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