Kakunoshin Ohta debuted to the Super Formula Lights (SFL) series this season from TODA RACING. He had achieved pole-to-win in the 5th round of the season at the 2nd event in Suzuka.
In addition to this, Ohta finished 2nd twice in the 4th and 6th rounds same day, which brought his point ranking up to 2nd place.
As mentioned above, Ohta’s SFL debut year has been so far so good, however, the road up here was not necessarily an easy one. Ohta first joined SRS-F (former Suzuka Circuit Racing School renovated now to Honda Racing School Suzuka = HRS) in 2018, where he was granted a scholarship, and next year in 2019, made way to the FIA-F4 series via HFDP (Honda Formula Dream Project).
Ohta showing speed right at the start achieved his first win in the 5th round, and with that momentum seized next round back-to-back, which brought him into fame as an up-and-coming rookie.
“When I won two races straight at Suzuka, I honestly felt, ‘It seems like home free. Ain’t got no choice but to aim at the ultimate! It’s gonna be a duel between Ren (Sato, Ohta’s teammate) and me, and either one of us would become series champion.’ I was watching Yuki Tsunoda, on the HFDP program, fighting in the FIA-F4 series near at hand, and then stepped up to the European racing. That encouraged me to think there’d be a way opened to me as well, and I could imagine something bigger beyond the FIA-F4 series champion,” Ohta recalls. But in the later half of the season, Ohta, in spite of his high spirit, suddenly went into a slump. It’s soon become apparent that his surprising sink was caused by the exchange of chassis.
The FIA-F4 format is a strict one-make single-seater race in the true sense of the word, however, the individual difference of chassis in character and/or performance due to the complex nature of racing cars is inevitable. HFDP, in pursuit of driver training, periodically exchange driver-chassis pairings in order to maintain equality inside the team as well as to optimize instructions to each driver. The so-called “Shuffle” is carried out by lottery normally once in a midterm season.
Ohta says that the chassis assigned to him by lottery for the later half of the season was, “Not fit to my style somehow,” in his own words. It does not necessarily mean Ohta is blaming the car for the slump. All the forerunners who achieved remarkable results in FIA-F4 before him had overcome such upsets by their own skills and disciplines. Ohta knows that’s the “lessons to learn” as well as the essence of maturity he should emulate.
“The car assigned to me by the Shuffle was the one that’s been rumored a bit dull. So, I’d really hoped I’d never draw it. But ironically, my misgiving proved right, for I soon found the previous car had been felt better. Having said that, I told to myself, “Right, I’m gonna win with this car.” But, look, it was my rookie year, if I may remind you, and I couldn’t help but do things hastily. That made me error prone, and everything has started to go off since then.”
Ohta tried to cope with the problems consulting with the HFDP advisers and mechanics for drive feelings and other concerns, however, the frame of his mind seemed to be detoured more by frustrations than propelled by self-command.
“If I say the car was bad, it would harm relationship with the team. It could even break our teamwork, too. Of course, I discussed about the situation with the team, and they kindly understood it. But, deep in my mind, I wondered. Why I had to struggle in the midfield now? I was fighting for the top positions in the first half of the season, wasn’t I? I eventually showed my anger, “I don’t understand why I must be here!” and it led to mistakes or sloppy drive. For example, I finished 7th in a race that I could’ve finished 5th if I did it right.”
Ohta eventually finished his debut season in 6th place that was nowhere near series champion. And, to make matters worse, in the second season when he was determined to recoup the setback, the COVID-19 pandemic has broken out.
With such a grave social crisis at hand, HFDP had to suspended its activity in 2020, which was a serious blow to juvenile drivers in the height of their growth period. Ohta, looking for the way to continue racing anywhere anyhow, decided to join a private team, namely VEGAPLUS, to compete in FIA-F4 from the middle of the season.
“When I heard the news of HFDP’s suspension, I felt, ‘why a thing like this happens at this timing?’ It means I had nothing to do till the midseason. I then made kinda haste choice to join VEGAPLUS. That is to run FIA-F4 from the 2nd event of the season. I really needed to drive anytime anyway.”
Ohta finished the odd 9-race season in 7th place overall, two podiums but no win.
In 2021, HFDP restarted its usual programs, from which Ohta participated in the FIA-F4 series of its 3rd year. If things went well for him, Ohta should have been able to show his own elements, however, the sequence of bad luck has not finished yet.
“The 2021 season had been worst forthe me, after all. I could even run, in 2020, as many as a half of the normal season, and it’s still counted as a year. The 2021 season was my 3rd year, and I thought in the face of it, 'The series title is the absolute must for me!' But, the result was never what I had wished. I had some misfortunes in the season, such as the shattered dumper or the shunt in the final race that’s not at all my fault. Bad luck is not my fault of course, but in the race, anyone who draw a short straw will lose. Still, I wondered why I had hit the short straw all the time…
It seemed like I was bedeviled by ill-fortunes, and I felt both anger and regret to myself. If a thing went wrong at a wrong time, you can’t help but to sink deeper and deeper, and you end up blaming yourself even harsher. Although I got podium finish several times, each one of those results was far below my expectations. In the later half of the season, I came to the point that I thought, ‘This would be my last season,’ and in the wake of every race, I started count down my racing career as saying, ‘I have these odd races left to run, then it’s over for me,’ something like that.”
Ohta’s 3rd year in FIA-F4 was closed in such a dismal state, however, a piece of unexpected good luck fall upon him in the off-season. An opportunity to attend the SFL driver audition was given to him, which was exactly what Ohta has been eagered for the past three years.
“Mr. Abe (Masakazu), Director of HFDP , my adviser, Mr. Kaneishi (Toshihiro), and many other people around me were kind enough to endorse me to have the chance. I was so happy to know that they looked not only the bare results of mine but also the quality of my drive in the race. The audition was carried out at the joint test, and at the first session of Day-1, I could mark the fastest time among them all, which made me to step up to SFL.”
Thus, Ohta has got a regular seat at TODA RACING, a reputable team that has produced many talented drivers. Under the instruction of Adviser, Hironori Kato, Ohta had himself familiarized to the SFL drive, and came into the series in high spirits. After 6-rounds in 2-events now, Ohta has so far sit on the runner-up position, only 5-points behind the current point leader, Kazuto Kotaka, which is the indisputable top among the “SFL rookies” in this season. Ohta humbly admits, “SFL is very difficult,” and kept on to say, “and yet, I sensed my confidence was coming back little by little. I feel now I’m OK, for sure.”
We are yet to know whether or not Ohta would complete a convincing season. The 2022 SFL season consisting of 18 races at 6 events is a long way to go.