“Do the best I can and let the heavens do the rest, that’s what I feel now,” said Kakunoshin Ohta in the face of the final event of the 2022 Super Formula Lights (SFL) series (R-16, 17, 18) held at Okayama International Circuit.
At the point when three races left in the 2022 SFL season, only two drivers are eligible to become series champion, namely Kazuto Kotaka, the point leader so far, and Kakunoshin Ohta himself. The gap between the two is just 13-points, however, Ohta will have to win, or almost win all these three races, as well as finishing each one of them better than Kotaka, in order to come back from behind to seize the championship title： Because only the best 14-races (equivalent to the 80% of the entire races) are to be effective in the 18-race season, meaning that the lowest 4-races are eliminated from the total point accountable.
Hiroki Kato, Driving Advisor of HFDP WITH TODA RACING, gave Ohta a tip how to control the mindset under such a severe situation. “The race is something that you do against your opponent. If you get over-conscious about him, you’d key yourself up. So, try to liberate yourself instead, just do your best, and enjoy the race.”
As the result, Ohta marked the best qualifying time, and got his 6th pole position in this season. On top of that, he achieved the pole-to-win in the 16th round on Saturday, his 3rd win since the 8th round at Autopolis, adding up 12-points in one swoop including 2-points given extra each for the pole position and the fastest lap, and thus pulled within a handful points of Kotaka.
Things looked even better for Ohta as he gained pole position of the 18th round, the very last race of the season, by marking the fastest lap as mentioned above. Ohta’s hope for the big comeback has increased even more.
But in the penultimate race (R-17) held Sunday morning, Ohta starting from 3rd grid couldn’t move up his position and finished same 3rd, letting Kotaka free to win the race. This made Kotaka edge himself out to secure the series title and Ohta let it through his fingers without waiting for the final round.
Reflecting Ohta’s year-long challenge, Advisor Kato commented right after the title-deciding R-17, “He definitely showed his guts. It was tangible from the trackside, I shall say. And if he had done his best and futilely lost, it’s OK. It’s fate, we just have to accept. He’s always been an honor student especially when I think about the fact that it’s his first year.”
Ohta could not hide his disappointment initially, however, he soon gathered himself and showed usual cheerfulness as though suddenly unbound from the internal stress.
“I’d got depressed really hard immediately after the finish. My odds were bad at first, but I won in R-16 and thought there still be some chance for me. I was ditched from that height, so the frustration gets harder and deeper ever,” said Ohta.
“But I started deliberating from there for many things about us. We’ve been fighting fair and square all through the season, and I have nothing to reserve about Kotaka. He’d won many races and got points steadily as ever. If I think those aspects, I’m totally convinced that he deserves the championship title.”
Sure enough for Ohta, a rookie driver who has driven the SFL car only for six months or so, Kotaka is a seasoned master whose career begun in the previous format, i.e., the All-Japan F3 championship. And further more, Ohta knows well that the racing is a hard place where the result only matters.
“I’ve told myself, ‘Stay cool.’ all the time. But, to be honest, I was fired up a bit too much. That’s why my season had settled this way.”
Kato who has been working together with Ohta during his FIA-F4 years then stepped up to SFL since this year reviewed his disciple’s performance of this season he has been watching and counseling near at hand as follows：
“He’s deft and smart, I presume. If I point out it’s not the right way to do, he takes no time to correct it. If he watched somebody doing better, he never hesitates to crib that. He maintains his calmness while he’s driving in the race. When it comes to racing tactics especially on a hand-to-hand battle with other drivers, you need to know a sort of tricks. In that sense, he occasionally looked like a first-year student as he really is, however, he proved he could fight strongly. I think he’s been one particular driver with very high average. He has learnt a lot of things during the season, shown progress in the racing tactics as well as the lap-time making. I was impressed that his feedback has gone more and more into details.”
At the beginning of the season, Ohta openly acknowledged his anxiety as to how he should set up and tame the SFL car that was new to him. But it seems that, as the season went on, he has grown to become a more versatile driver.
Ohta himself reflects his first year in the SFL series as follows：
“Thanks to the help from my team, I’ve been able to confront with my driving, car set-ups and so on without haste, and I think it made me grow faster and stronger. Looking back all those races, it really was a luxury season for me, a newcomer to the SFL category. I couldn’t ask for more, could I?”
As a matter of fact, Ohta could not grab the championship title that had once come so close at hand. But in R-18, the very last race of the 2022 season, he started from pole position, run alone all the way through to the end and captured his 4th win in the season. Having established himself as the most improved driver in the series, Kakunoshin Ohta concluded his “luxurious” debut year in the best possible way.