Nojiri off to a good start in the opening two rounds for back-to-back championships
Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN), the defending champion of the 2022 Super Formula series, had finished 2nd in the opening round of the season even from an unlooked-for qualifying performance as low as 6th grid. In R-2 held in the same weekend, Nojiri reconfirmed a good start for the successive titles by achieving pole-to-win as he was demonstrating his element as the reigning champion.
The first race of the season was also made worthy of attention by remarkable performances shown by up-and-coming young drivers. Ukyo Sasahara (#15 TEAM MUGEN) who had made the last minute full-entry captured pole position in R-1, and another rookie, Atsushi Miyake (#55 TEAM GOH) finished 5th in R-2 which is a meritorious result for a newcomer.
Nojiri (#1) then achieved four back-to-back pole positions from R-2 to R-5 (Fuji, Suzuka, Autopolis, Sportland SUGO) and made everyone aware that his speed was intact as ever. But in the race, he had hard time to get on the rhythm and had to endure a win drought for a while after R-3.
Matsushita and Sasahara's first SF win, rookie Miyake on the podium for the first time
In the meantime, Nobuharu Matsushita (#50 B-MAX Racing Team) made a spectacular drive in the full-wet race at Suzuka in R-3 and achieved his very first win in a top-formula category in Japan. Beside this, Toshiki Oyu (#65 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) finished 2nd in R-5, and Sasahara (#15) too got his first win in the national top-formula race in R-6, which highlighted the ongoing trend of rising youngsters.
In addition, Naoki Yamamoto (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), the 2020 champion who had been in a sort of slump since his transfer of team, finally got back in form in R-7 and seized the wet race from pole position, his first win since the 2020 R-5 at Suzuka.
Nojiri (#1) lacked win albeit pole position, but steadily made podium finishes in four races out of five from R-3 to R-7, and constantly accumulated series point. Right before the final round at Suzuka, his chance to defend the series title was so far so good as they say.
TEAM MUGEN's 1-2 finish determines the champion
The final event at Suzuka Circuit staging two races in one weekend that was favored by magnificent weather. Nojiri (#1) was not in his full-form for the initial run, however, he managed to get pole position thanks to the fine adjustment work assisted by the team. In R-9 held on Saturday, although Nojiri (#1) surrendered his top position to his team mate, Sasahara (#15), due to the timing of tire change, the TEAM MUGEN duo achieved a mastery 1-2 finish with Sasahara ahead followed by his senior team mate. Nojiri (#1) adding up extra points by this 2nd place firmly secured the title back-to-back regardless of the result of the final round.
Two successive titles was achieved for the last time by Tsugio Matsuda (2007-2008), and fourteen long years since then, Nojiri did the same in the equivalent category, the Super Formula series, in 2021 and now in 2022. As if finally freed from bonds of any kind, Nojiri flew in the final race of the year, aka JAF Suzuka Grand Prix. Commandingly captured pole position in the qualifying session held on Sunday morning, then in the afternoon, Nojiri literally possessed the race from start to finish: Started pulling away the entire field right from the opening lap, travelled clean and alone in the Safety Car jumble, and went on to run all the way to the checkered flag. The pole-to-win as it deservedly named, a dignified way of closing the series by the newly-crowned champion.
As for the teams title, TEAM MUGEN having Nojiri as its ace driver won the series championship for the first time in its history. Ren Sato (#53 TEAM GOH) who had finished 3rd in R-9 was granted the “Rookie of the Year” title.
|1||Tomoki NOJIRI||1||TEAM MUGEN||Honda||154|
|2||Sacha FENESTRAZ||4||KONDO RACING||Toyota||89|
|3||Ryo HIRAKAWA||20||carenex TEAM IMPUL||Toyota||87|
|4||Ritomo MIYATA||37||Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S||Toyota||64|
|5||Tadasuke MAKINO||5||DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING||Honda||61|
|6||Ukyo SASAHARA||15||TEAM MUGEN||Honda||57|
|8||Toshiki OYU||65||TCS NAKAJIMA RACING||Honda||43|
|9||Hiroki OTSU||6||DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING||Honda||33|
|10||Naoki YAMAMOTO||64||TCS NAKAJIMA RACING||Honda||32|
|12||Ren SATO||53||TEAM GOH||Honda||25|
|13||Nobuharu MATSUSHITA||50||B-Max Racing Team||Honda||21|
|14||Atsushi MIYAKE||55||TEAM GOH||Honda||21|
|19||Nirei FUKUZUMI||12||Threebond Drago CORSE||Honda||3|