Round 2

Nojiri Wins Two-In-A-Row, Sasahara Claims His First Podium

jp Suzuka Circuit

Round 2 of the 2021 SUPER FORMULA season was held at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie on the April 24-25 weekend. From this race, Nobuharu Matsushita (#15 B-MAX Racing Team) joined the ranks of M-TEC/Honda drivers.

Nojiri Wins Two-In-A-Row, Sasahara Claims His First Podium

Under thin clouds on Saturday, the first qualifying session began with drivers being assigned to Group A or B. MTEC/Honda drivers performed well in the morning free practice session, resulting in all but Tatiana Calderón (#12 ThreeBond DragoCORSE) to Q2.

In the 7-minute Q2 session beginning at 3:50 pm, Nirei Fukuzumi (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), Tomoki Nojiri (#16 TEAM MUGEN) and Toshiki Oyu (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) took the top three spots, while Ukyo Sasahara (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), replacing bedridden Tadasuke Makino, secured his Q3 spot with seventh place.

In Q3, Fukuzumi (#5) set the fastest lap, securing pole position. Nojiri (#16) was second-fastest, while Oyu (#64) was third, giving M-TEC/Honda the top 3 grid spots. The same three drivers had dominated the opening round podium, and for Fukuzumi (#5), it was his first pole position in his SUPER FORMULA career which began in 2018. Sasahara (#6) qualified fifth.

Sunday at Suzuka was sunny, a mild 23-degrees Celcius (31-degrees on track). At this peak temperature for the weekend, the 30-lap race started at 2:30 pm.

Fukuzumi (#5) was devastatingly fast from the start, the only driver to lap in the 1 min 40 s range, pulling away from every other driver. Disaster struck on Lap 9 while accelerating out of the Spoon Curve, where Fukuzumi’s right rear tire developed problems, forcing him to retire. Nojiri (#16) inherited the lead, with Ryo Hirakawa (#20) second and Sasahara (#6) third.

With almost a three second lead, Nojiri (#16) pitted at the end of Lap 13 for the mandatory tire change. Hirakawa (#29) opted to stay out that lap to pit at the end of Lap 14. Nojiri had lost his lead for only a lap, regaining the top spot while Hirakawa was in the pits.

On Lap 16, the safety car was brought onto the track while the cleanup from an accident at the 130R went ahead. Once the race restarted on Lap 20, Nojiri (#16) managed to pull away from Hirakawa (#20) to maintain his lead. Sasahara (#6) took advantage of the overtake system to catch up to Hirakawa, but was unable to take the second-place spot.

Nojiri (#16) maintained his 2-second lead to cross the finish line first, his second win in as many rounds this season. Sasahara (#6) was third, his first podium finish since joining SUPER FORMULA. Otsu (#15) was fifth, Naoki Yamamoto (#1) eighth, and Oyu (#64) tenth. Five M-TEC/Honda driver finished within the points.

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 16
I didn’t start the weekend off too well, so I was expecting a tough race, but the team supported me well, allowing me to win. I was worried that I’d have the same problem as Fukuzumi, but I had to keep on pushing so I focused on the race. The temperature was high and the Suzuka Circuit is more demanding on tires than other tracks, so we decided to pit for tires to even out tire wear as much as possible. The next round is at Autopolis. We won there last year, and I have fond memories, but we’ll have to forget about that and concentrate on racing.

I finished third, the first time for me on the podium, so I think it is a step forward for me. There was a lot I could have improved on during the weekend, but the team put in a determined effort to support me, so I thank them for giving me this result. It was a troublesome race, as I developed a flat spot on one of my tires early in the race, and Fukuzumi had tire problems. But, as a replacement driver for Makino, I had to get the results for the team, and I wanted to make it a race I would not regret. I believe that maintaining my concentration made this result possible.

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