Iori Kimura debuted from this season to the Super Formula Lights championship as a member of HFDP. He started his challenge with some worry about physical strength, but in the very first event held in April at Fuji, he achieved two podium finishes (two 2nd places) in 3 races in a weekend.
It looked as though a brilliant performance for a rookie to start with.
The 2nd event at Suzuka, Kimura had known the track like the palm of his own hand through training days in the racing school. But his result of the 3-race weekend, two 5th places and one 7th, was a typical pattern of lackluster performance, which made him look like a novice driver who had fell into the so-called newcomers trap.
“He’s had many problems.” said, Shinichi Takagi, Driving Advisor of HFDP. “Physically, he's getting better now, thanks to the intensive training assisted personally by the team owner, Ryuji Kumita. Suzuka is notorious for the physical toughness, but here, Autopolis, is the circuit some say much tougher depending upon conditions of the day. Kimura earnestly tackled with practice runs from Thursday, constantly marked quick times, and never made complaints about his physical situations.”
As a matter of fact, Kimura finished four practice sessions with two top times in the last two sessions, and in no time gave his name as the most promising candidate for the pole sitter.
Nevertheless, Kimura couldn’t demonstrate his speed when things mattered most, qualifying sessions in other words. Kimura’s best time in Friday afternoon was second to Kakunoshin Ohta, his colleague and direct rival in HFDP, and the second best time deciding starting grids of R-8 race set him to 3rd grid behind Ohta and Togo Suganami. The 2nd-grid start in the R-7 was his season’s best so far, however, faces in the Kimura camp were not relaxed at all.
“I’ve been doing top times during practice sessions. As I begun qualifying attacks, the track-surface temperature dropped in a big way, and I couldn’t deal with the condition change. I mean, I couldn’t get my tires warm enough and that’s why I didn’t drive in my best form. That’s my weak point definitely.” said Kimura recognizing his own shortcomings.
Advisor, Takagi points out that one of his impending problems came to light on this occasion. “He’s got natural speed, for sure. But he can’t materialize it in a single attack yet. During the practice, he’s now doing well, albeit just the simulation attack. But, as I’m always telling him, 'It’s useless if you can’t do that in the real attack.' That’s the problem he has to overcome, soon, I must say.”
Saturday morning, shortly before the start of R-7, there was a obvious tension in the air of the starting grid, where Kimura sat on the front raw next to Ohta, the pole sitter. Autopolis’s Turn-1 is widely known as a perilous spot where drivers have to make turn-in action with a very limited view towards the line ahead. There have been quite a number of incidents or accidents happened at that point in the past.
Kimura had already been told by the team, “Don’t mess with your team mate, never!” The imperative instruction was reconfirmed right before the start, which made him go through a sort of inner dialogue with himself. If you gave way to anyone, you would never win. Sitting in the cockpit, he has now put all his doubt behind him. “The result of R-7 will decide the starting order of R-9. So, I made up my mind, I’d take a lead no matter what.” said Kimura.
“Before the start, I was told I must not touch nor even press Ohta. But I really wanted to get ahead of him. If I had a chance, the only way is just ‘override' from outside, I thought. Should we ever hit or touched, so long as I override from outside, chances are the driver running inside is more to be blamed. I was thinking once I got a lead (from outside), I’d have an upper hand mentally too. So, I braked very late, locking rear wheels, and pushed aggressively. The result was as good as it gets.”
Kimura went side-by-side with Ohta at Turn-1, took lead at Turn-4, then slowly but steadily pulled away his rival, and finally captured his first win in the series.
Takagi rates Kimura’s maiden victory very high.
“Things didn’t come together for him so far in this season. Not only SFL but also in the GT300 class, he had hard time and was mentally daunted just a little bit. The tactical situation of the race for him today was not very much a go-go mood, but he made a clean start and pushed hard exactly when he had to push hard. Crush between two Honda cars should never happen, and with this principle in mind, Kimura made his maneuver right time right way, I think.”
Winning R-6, his first in SFL, Kimura secured the pole position of R-9 and it looked like everything would go his way all through the weekend. Such an upbeat mode plunged suddenly in R-8. Kimura made a jump start from the 3rd grid, and to make matter worse, he touched Hibiki Taira’s car at the exit of Turn-3 while fighting for the 2nd place. Kimura stayed on track and kept on racing in 2nd place, however, Taira unluckily lost control and went off.
Kimura finished second to Ohta but penalized later for both the jump start and the minor collision with Taira, which lowered his final result down to the 8th place. It was the first non-scoring race for him in this season and might well jeopardize his pursuit for the title if worst comes to worst. A big mistake!
After the race, Kimura was not totally convinced of the penalty incurred for the collision. “I felt I was on the victim side because I thought I was blocked my way.” said Kimura. He checked the onboard sequence of the scene again and again, and still couldn’t understand how he should have done otherwise at that moment. Next morning at 8 p.m., the starting procedure is due on schedule. If he carries over the pent-up feeling, it would affect his performance in the race. Kimura asked Takagi for an advise on the way back to the hotel.
“I was not at all persuaded by the judgment, I explained to Takagi-san in the car. He told me, ‘You’d better go to the jury and ask by yourself then.’ I replied, ‘Okey, I’ll do that. Thanks!’”
But, it was too late at night, and the race would start early in the next morning. Kimura reset the flame of mind on his own and confronted R-9. He started the must-win race from pole position, duly took a lead, pulled away from the pack, and seized his second win in the weekend.
“I thought Turn-1 and 3 would be the clutch moment. I did the jump start in R-8 that made me a little bit cautious and I delayed a fraction. I thought a lot about how cars in front would move around right after the start, and rehearsed my reactions to each one of those moves. The preparation worked well and I could keep my position to begin racing.”
After the podium ceremony for his second win, Kimura still had a thing to do. He went straight to the race control to meet Akira Iida, the race director, who was involved in the judgement in question. Kimura, still in the racing suits shedding sweet fragrance of champagne, made request for explanations about the penalty of R-8.
“I feel some guilt for touching the other car. Well, where else could I go then? And how? That’s what I didn’t understand. The timing, I should’ve backed off, when? There’s something that I’m not totally convinced. More over, I wanted to learn whatever I had to learn in order to continue racing. That’s the reason why I thought I had to meet Iida-san in person. He was kind enough to teach me some of the driver ethics, such as the race that only makes sense when you finish it, or you can race entirely depending upon many other people who prepare your car, the driver is just a last part of the story whose task is to bring the car to the goal. If you can’t do that, you don’t deserve to be a racing driver. His words went through my mind, and I felt I could go along with it. It was nice to have my doubts cleared off and get a real feeling that I’ve climbed the radder a step or two.”
Kimura, accepting the penalty that forced him out of point in R-8, reexamined R-7, the race he achieved his first ever win in the category.
“I thought I had no other chance but the start. So, I determined to go aggressive. If I was pushed during the fight, I would lose my position. It was a battle going with the big risk but Ohta (Kakunoshin) did it fair and square. I could take the lead there thanks to Otha’s clean fight.”
Seeing Kimura’s achievement and progress before his eyes, Advisor Takagi renewed his assessment towards the young driver.
“Iori has speed but mentally he’s not yet mature enough. I mean he goes overboard quite easily. On the other hand, he understands his own situations that he could step up to SFL this year with the help and support from other people. And, it made him think like this way: If you overdid something, it might cause a big trouble, you see? Such notion is too strong in him that I often think, ‘Why not? You’ve got to go there, don’t you? You back off, hmm?’ something like that. It seems to me he was unnerved occasionally. A sign of maturity? Well, maybe. But, he might as well losing a ‘cocky young gun’ character. I say it in the positive sense of the word, okey? Anyhow, his wins in this weekend would change him better way. He has outgrown himself, and may gets carried away again, right? Then, I have to warn him not to go too far (laughs.) I’d like to guide him to a point where he can control his driving while maintaining his cocky nature at an appropriate level. We, together with other team members, will continue to support Kimura carefully watching his condition.”
Kimura accumulated his series point up to 42, placing himself 3rd behind Ohta (65 points) and Kazuto Kotaka (46). The next event at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Pref.) will be held on June 17-19 in which three races (R-10, 11, 12) will represent the mid-term climax of the 2022 SFL season.