Kakunoshin Ohta of HFDP WITH TODA RACING arrived at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Pref.) as the point leader of the 2022 Super Formula Lights series, where three races (R-10, 11, 12) took place in a weekend, and for whatever reason, Ohta’s lap times remained sluggish during the free practice period set prior to the official qualifying session.
“SUGO’s track is narrow and the gravel layer of escape zone is not very thick. It means a slightest course-out might end up with a big damage, and you’d have hard time to put together the rest of the week. So, I hold back a little in practice sessions, be patient when needed, if I may say so. I thought I had to leave some margins when the risk seemed to be too high.” said Ohta.
Hiroki Kato, Team Director and Driving Advisor, points out, “On a varying conditions due to the rain or anything else, it’s gonna be very hard to clarify the limit of things. You must always ask yourself, “How far I can push with this car?” Ohta is a lookie driver in a one-car team, and so, he has to go step by step, taking time whatever he does. But it doesn’t mean he’s in a slump, not in any kind, never.”
As a matter of fact, the strategy of one-car team often differs from the team running two or more cars, because the later can share all the data. For example, they can try different set-ups simultaneously in a limited session time, compare the data, and find out the optimum solution, quickly.
But Ohta himself doesn’t think TODA RACING’s one-car entry has been disadvantageous so far. “I personally feel the situation coming from one-car entry works fine with me. I’m afraid two-car entry would cause too much competitiveness in me, and I’d be over-conscious (about my teammate.) If I drive alone in the team, I can only focus on my business, nothin’ else, right? I discuss with Kato-san or other engineers about my performance. In two-car situation, it’s something like this, I imagine. First, I compare me and my teammate, and then, ‘I was slower than him here or there. What should I do about it?' But, in my case, I’d rather do things the way I like it. ‘I did drive like this because I thought this and that. Was it right or wrong?’ This style suits me much better, I think. Two-car entry has got advantage in data-wise, but the current system is exactly what I’ve needed and wanted.”
Kato agrees that the data-wise approach towards the “right answer,” even if it’s the shortest route, is not always the best way.
“We teach how to drive the car at first, of course. But when they start producing good times, we’ll let them think by themselves. Kakunoshin talks with engineers to set up his car, and if its direction went wrong, I’d cut in, maybe saying, ‘Ah, just a moment.’ Kakunoshin is a prospective driver stepping up to upper categories in the future. Even if he could manage good results (relying on data) without knowing essential reasons, it’s very likely he would bump into a wall and get stuck in higher class.”
Such notion arises in Kato’s mind is telepathically reaching to Ohta.
“Kato-san is never a nanny-type mentor, but whenever I’m in trouble, he always comes to me in his typical nonchalant manner, and gives me the advise I needed most. It’s very precise, vital, inspiring and attentive. Otherwise, he usually put some distance between us. It’s kind of a “help yourself” style he wants me to do first. I feel his way of teaching have made me grow better and faster by far. You can’t fight unless you can think yourself in the upper category. In that sense, I’m living in an ideal circumstances for now, yes.”
Ohta being in a grim mood during practice sessions revived his normal self soon after, setting quick times in qualifying, the fastest in R-10 and the second in R-11.
“I knew it’s gonna be a close fight today in the qualifying round, so I thought I had to risk the possibility of an accident. I’d go with my guts, that what I meant. So, I deposited my apology to Kato-san and my engineers beforehand, saying, ’I’m sorry if I clash.’ (laughs.) That’s my mindset to face the qualifying session, and yes, I had some chancy moments in some corners, but kept on pushing. ‘Hung on, please!’ that’s kinda stuff, and it worked.”
In the race, a series of ill fortunes dragged down Ohta’s performance, and he achieved only one podium finish in the 3-round event, which made him dropped 2nd in the point ranking albeit just 4-point gap. Kakunoshin Ohta remains in high spirits, digging deeper into his driving skill with the good guide from Kato, and watches eagerly for a chance of comeback victory in the final rounds of the series.