Round 4

Fukuzumi Wins First GP in His Fourth Season

jp Sportsland SUGO

Round 4 of the 2021 SUPER FORMULA season was held at Sportsland SUGO in Miyagi. The facility was renovated during the break before the new season, resulting in a different width of the pit-road and main straight.

Fukuzumi Wins First GP in His Fourth Season

Koudai Tsukakoshi once again sat in for Tatiana Calderón (Threebond Drago CORSE), who was still unable to satisfy the quarantine period after reentering Japan.

As trucks rolled in carrying racing cars and equipment on Friday, the skies were clear. But come Saturday, light rain turned the free practice session starting at 9:10 am into a wet ordeal. The session was red-flagged three times to remove stationary cars from the slippery track. At the end of the 90-minute session, Nirei Fukuzumi (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) was fastest with a 1 min 18.363 s lap. Tadasuke Makino (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) was fourth-fastest, and current series-leader Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN) was eighth.

The qualifying format was changed due to the rain, extending Q1’s two-group 10-minute session to Q2. The top seven drivers from each group in Q1 proceeded to Groups A and B in Q2. The four fastest drivers from each group proceeded to Q3.

In Group A, Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), Makino (#6) and Hiroki Otsu (Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh) made it to Q2. Makino (#6) and Otsu (#15) managed to proceed to Q3, but Yamamoto (#1) did not.

In Group B, Toshiki Oyu (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), Fukuzumi (#5), Nojiri (#16) and Nobuharu Matsushita (B-MAX RACING TEAM) proceeded from Q1 to Q2, while Tsukakoshi (#12) did not. As the rain fell harder in Q2, Fukuzumi (#5) and Oyu (#64) managed to qualify for Q3, which was held in heavy rain. Makino (#6) qualified second, Fukuzumi (#5) was fifth, Oyu (#64) seventh and Otsu (#15) eighth.

On Sunday morning, the sky above Sportsland SUGO was overcast, but the free practice session starting at 9:00 am was held on a dry track. Light rain wet the track after the session, but the sky cleared before the race.

Makino (#6) was slow off the mark as the race started, allowing Fukuzumi (#5) and Oyu (#64) to gain spots, chasing race-leader Yuhi Sekiguchi (#19 Toyota) and Sena Sakaguchi (#39). On Lap 3, Fukuzumi (#5) managed to overtake Sakaguchi (#39) after some light contact at Turn 1, and Oyu (#64) followed suit, moving up to third on the same lap. Oyu (#64) pitted after ten laps to satisfy the tire-change rule, while Fukuzumi (#5) opted to stay out longer on the track, shadowing Sekiguchi (#19).

Race-leader Sekiguchi (#19) pitted on Lap 18. Fukuzumi then used the overtake system to full effect, and came into the pits on the following lap. With quick pit work, Fukuzumi (#5) was able to return to the track in front of Sekiguchi (#19), taking the lead. On Lap 19, Oyu (#64) took second place from Sekiguchi (#19) before his tires could warm up, giving M-TEC/Honda the top two spots.

Fukuzumi (#5) maintained a six-second gap to Oyu (#64), who was two-seconds ahead of Sekiguchi (#19), and the last laps of the race proceeded without drama. Fukuzumi (#5) won his first Grand Prix since joining the SUPER FORMULA series in 2018 as a wildcard entry.

Nojiri (#16), currently leading in the points, started tenth on the grid, stayed out on track until Lap 42, and his sixth-place result gave him five championship points, enough to maintain his lead.

Nirei Fukuzumi
Nirei Fukuzumi 5
This season hasn’t been bad, but I couldn’t get the results I wanted, which was worrying. I decided to come to SUGO with an open mind. Qualifying didn’t go so well, but the car felt a lot better in the race, on a dry track. It wasn’t an easy race, but I had a lot going for me this time. I decided when to pit according to what Sekiguchi did, and the team did a perfect job to get me back on track in the lead. I was praying for the rest of the race that nothing would go wrong. I hope my first victory will change the tide for the rest of the season. I’m loooking forward to Twin Ring Motegi, as I’m good at that track.

Toshiki Oyu
Toshiki Oyu 64
When I overtook Sekiguchi at Turn 1 on Lap 19, I was planning on charging ahead before his tires could warm up, but it didn’t go that way. I knew that once his tires were warm, I wouldn’t be able to pass him, so I dived in when I saw a gap on the inside of the turn. I finished second, but there was no way I could catch up to win the race. Sekiguchi was fast in the closing stages, so I had to be careful to keep him behind me.

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 16
Both the car and I weren’t quite up to scratch in Qualifying. I had good pace in the race, making it hard for the team to decide on the best pit strategy. I think we could have finished a few spots higher with a better pit stop. On the other hand, I’m being aggressive and securing championship points, so both the team and I are going in the right direction. The next round is at Honda’s home track, Twin Ring Motegi, so I’d like to secure a win. Fukuzumi and Oyu did well this round. I knew before the season started they would be formidable competition. The championship title is within reach, but I’ll have to redouble my efforts.

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