Matsushita Third in a Rain-Shortened 11-Lap Round 3
Round 3 of the 2021 SUPER FORMULA season was held at the Autopolis International Racing Course in Oita.
Tadasuke Makino (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), who had been absent from SUPER FORMULA racing due to illness, had recovered and was ready to race. Tatiana Calderon (#12 ThreeBond DragoCORSE), who had temporarily left Japan to race in the FIA World Endurance Championship, was still in isolation after returning, and was replaced by Koudai Tsukakoshi for the race.
Kyushu weather deteriorated during the weekend. In the Saturday free-practice sessions the rain had stopped for a while, but the track was wet throughout all the sessions. Many drivers found themselves off-course as their cars spun off the slippery track, prompting red flags to be flown. As the rain intensified, Toshiki Oyu (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) set the fastest lap as his team watched eagerly. Chanpionship leader Tomoki Nojiri (#16 TEAM MUGEN) was third fastest in practice, while Nirei Fukuzumi (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) was fifth.
Due to the poor weather, qualifying was changed from its customary Q1-Q2-Q3 knockout format to a 40-minute timed session. Although the rain had stopped at the beginning of the session, the drivers crowded the track to set their fastest lap times before the imminent rainfall. Pit positions left Honda/M-TEC teams at a disadvantage, delaying their pit entries and subsequent hot laps. Fukuzumi (#5), fast in practice, became the cause of a red flag in Qualifying, and his times up to that point were nullified. Oyu (#65), fastest in practice, was steadily improving his lap times, but slid off track as conditions worsened. He too had his lap times erased as he was the cause of stopping the session. Nojiri (#16) missed his chance for a. hot lap.
The best result for Honda/M-TEC drivers in Qualifying was Nojiri (#16) in seventh place, while Makino (#6) was eighth and Tsukakoshi (#12) ninth.
Sunday dawned to rain and fog, delaying the race until 3:00 pm. The rain had stopped by then, but the wind was strong. At the first turn once the race started, Nobuharu Matsushita (#51 B-MAX Racing Team) avoided the drivers in front as they spun off the track, to improve his 13th place grid position to third. As the safety car all but halted proceedings, Matsushita (#51) nonetheless was up to second place by Lap 4, with Hiroki Otsu (#15 Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh) third and Tsukakoshi (#12) fifth. Otsu #15 gradually lost pace and positions, while Tsukakoshi (#12) spun and lost positions.
At the end of Lap 10, the rain suddenly intensified, bringing in the safety car and a halt at the end of Lap 13. At this stage Matsushita (#51) was second, Nojiri (#16) fifth, Otsu (#15) sixth, Oyu (#64) seventh, and Naoki Yamamoto (#1 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) tenth. The cars parked on the home straight in the hope of a restart, but at 4:30 pm, race stewards stopped the race at the end of Lap 11, as they did not believe the weather would improve.
After time penalties were applied post-race, the final results were: Matsushita (#51) third, Nojiri (#16) fifth, Otsu (#15) sixth, Oyu (#64) seventh, and Yamamoto (#1) ninth. Each driver had gained championship points, albeit halved due to the shortened race.