On the 5th event of the Super Formula Lights (SFL) series held at Mobility Resort Motegi, Iori Kimura, a trainee of HFDP entered from B-MAX RACING TEAM, achieved his season’s first pole position in R-13 and proved his conditions being in top form since practice runs in this race week.
Shinichi Takagi, Driving Advisor who has been watching Kimura’s progress near at hand, says, “He used to be a driver who runs superbly in the practice but not on Saturday when it matters most. He had many problems, but he’d taken them into his experience points, grown on it, and finally found out his original speed after a year-long struggling. He could have got pole position as well in R-14, but a minor failure in the fuel system prevented him to do so, and that's all. I mean, he was far and away the quickest among all for this time.”
Kimura himself said, “I was full of confidence,” throwing out his chest. Actually, he had some good reasons to be confident as such. During the 2-month interval since the previous event, he’s gone through a drastic self-analysis and examined his personal requisites essential to go on his way forward.
“I buried myself into thinking whatever I can do to get pole, how to drive faster, and why I’m not at all the quickest the way I’d like to be. For all those two full-months, I was up to the elbows in it. The pole position I got today was a compilation of such efforts, I think.”
Kimura, a newcomer to SFL this season, has not so far been versed in driving SFL cars, at least well enough, and he knows that often provided him with some sort of bounds hardly be overcome.
“When it comes to the qualifying session or any other crucial moments, I sensed some sort of suppressive impulse coming up in me. For example, I put on brake early when I had to go deeper. I ain’t concentrate strong enough for the one-shot attack in qualifying, that sort of thing, I imagine. In the FIA-F4 series that I’d been running till last year, there’re 8-laps or so including warm-up before I set about time attack, and then I went for it. The car worked fine and I could get my best shot in that way. But in SFL, I get on the car, start out lap, then warm-up lap, and attack lap, that’s all. Everything is decided only in three laps. I have to adjust my body, machine balance, feel for track conditions and so on, in that short three laps. Failing that, you can’t produce good time, never. That’s why I tried so hard to find out how do I want to drive, or how should I drive the car like that.”
Kimura’s tendency of not shooting through to the end, especially when it’s needed most, is what Advisor Takagi has already noticed and concerned about.
“The car innately deserves 120% push in qualifying, but Iori often stop pushing just at 100% where he had done best the day before. He wants to keep the same rhythm. It’s his comfort zone, and he doesn’t want to get out of it. The result is obvious. His rivals doing 120% invariably mark better times and Iori ends up with the same time as in the previous day. The story seems to me more or less the same, I dare say. While his opponents push it to the dead limit, Iori drives very cleanly as he pleases. That’s what I saw in the past. I guess he might think he’d get the top by driving 100%. It’s his 100%, but there’s more ‘beyond’ it. He doesn’t know it yet, and therefore, he’s yet to reach there.”
Kimura throughly clarified his shortcomings during the 2-month interval, and came up with a potential cause. “Losing confidence in the car on extreme occasions might harm my driving,” he said. That is why he asked his engineer to try a completely different set-up for this event at Motegi.
“I think I came to know the way how to set up the car to my liking, so I pushed my ego a little bit further. As a matter of fact, I proposed a set up that was slightly different from the concept my engineer had recommended to me earlier, and had him incorporate my idea into the final configuration. It’s not that simple, like saying under or oversteer, but I requested, ‘I’d like to drive this way, so if the car behave that way, it should go quicker this much,’ something like that. As the result, I could make my all-out attack with a lot of confidence. I used to be worrying too much, easily tempted to think, 'What if I screw it up here?' and in the end, I place the ball not pitch. Just occasionally, it's unintentional, yet shameful. But for this time, I could trust my car and push it with confidence. Maybe, this is what I’ve been trying to learn. Pole position has long been the unfinished task for me but I think I cleared it now.
The R-13 race that Kimura started from pole position had met sudden and untimely rainfall, and Kimura who didn’t have wet race experience had to be content with 3rd place. In the R-14 race he started from 4th grid, Kimura showed speed threatening top runners but retired due to tire trouble. As far as these two races concerned, the course of events had just trailed Kimura’s status quo ante.
The pendulum of Kimura’s momentum swung other way in the last race of the 5th event, R-15, in which he finally embodied his ideal driving. Starting from the 3rd grid as per the R-13 placing, Kimura displayed amazing take-off, flashed past two cars in front, and begun running away. He easily controlled the race thereafter, and went on to win his third victory in the season since R-9.
Advisor Takagi rates Kimura’s progress very high.
“SFL is a hundred times harder than FIA-F4 because it has so many things to do, such as the suspension setup, balancing downforce and so on. But if you have hard time there and do a lot of learning, it will help you in the upper categories. You don’t simply get a ride in a fast car. You must drive it. Iori still has many to learn but keeps on growing steadily as a racing driver.”
Kimura going through the stressful 2-month interval has now clearly awaken to his own progress.
“I started the season in a situation where I couldn’t drive properly because I wasn’t physically strong enough. The rule change in the midseason made power steering a little bit heavier, but I don’t bother anything about my physical state. I’ve got physically stronger, for sure, but the growth rate of my understanding towards the SFL car is much bigger, I think. When I look back the season so far, I’m sure I did whatever I could do at each time around. But, on the other hand, I feel I could do something else for more. I think I came to know now where I should improve in my skills to outgrow for a better driver.”
The 2022 SFL season has only one event with 3-races left, in which Kimura stands 3rd overall 37-points behind the point leader. His chance to become series champion has substantially gone now, however, a crystal clear perspective searching for the future gets more and more vigorous in Kimura’s eyes.