Nojiri Dominates from Pole, Honda Dominates Podium with Oyu Second, Fukuzumi Third
The 2021 SUPER FORMULA season kicked off with Round 1 at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka on the April 3 - 4 weekend. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season schedule was compacted to racing each weekend.
This year, measures have been taken to return to a more organized weekend with a 90-minute free practice and qualifying sessions on the Saturday, and a 30-minute free practice and race on the Sunday.
Although think clouds shrouded the sky on Saturday, bright sunlight on occasion would find its way to light up the track. The Honda/M-TEC drivers who progressed through Q1 were Hiroki Otsu (#15 RedBull MUGEN Team Goh), Nirei Fukuzumi (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) and Tatiana Calderón (#12 ThreeBond DragoCORSE) in Group A, and Tomoki Nojiri (#16 TEAM MUGEN), Toshiki Oyu (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), and Ukyo Sasahara (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING, sitting in for Tadasuke Makino who is recovering from illness) in Group B. Six of the seven Honda/M-TEC drivers were through to Q2, but the lone driver who didn’t make it was none other than 2020 champion Naoki Yamamoto (#1 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) who had just moved teams.
Of the six Honda drivers into Q2, all drivers proceeded to Q3 except for Calderón, and once the dust had settled, Nojiri was on pole, Oyu second, Sasahara third, and Fukuzumi fourth, giving Honda the first two rows on the grid.
The race started at 2:10pm on Sunday under a cloudy sky. Pole-sitter Nojiri was slow with the clutch, allowing Oyu to take the lead, but he managed to hold on to second into Turn 1, Behind him was Fukuzumi and Sasahara. Yamamoto blasted from 16th on the grid to tenth by the end of the lap, and was up to ninth the following lap.
Nojiri was initially planning to pit on Lap 10 (all cars must change tires between the race leader entering Lap 10 and race end), but opted to stay out as he managed to reclaim the lead from Oyu who had pitted. At the same time, Fukuzumi closed in on Oyu, and was up to second place on Lap 24. On the following lap, Sasahara found his way around Oyu to move up to third. Oyu, who had moved down to fourth, pitted for tires at the end of Lap 25.
Fukuzumi pitted on Lap 28, and Sasahara on the following lap, but by this stage Oyu was setting a fast pace and light rain prevented Fukuzumi / Sasahara from gaining any heat in their fresh tires or improvements in their lap times. Sasahara also had trouble in the pits while changing tires.
Although the race was declared wet on Lap 29, rainfall held steady, and the drivers stayed out on dry tires. Nojiri pitted for tires on Lap 39, the penultimate lap, and returned to the track with in lead intact. Oyu had closed in to within 1.5 seconds of Nojiri, but Nojiri went on to his fourth checkered flag. Oyu was second, and Fukuzumi third, Honda/M-TEC dominating the podium. Sasahara was fifth, and Yamamoto sixth. Five of the top six were Honda/M-TEC drivers, a brilliant start to the season.