Round 6

Otsu Scores First Win at Motegi, Nojiri Wins Championship with 5th Place Finish

jp Twin Ring Motegi

The penultimate Round 6 of the 2021 SUPER FORMULA season was held over the October 16 - 17 weekend at Twin Ring Motegi in Tochigi.

Otsu Scores First Win at Motegi, Nojiri Wins Championship with 5th Place Finish

With the end of the coronavirus state of emergency, Tatiana Calderón (Threebond Drago CORSE #12) was able to secure her visa, and rejoined the championship for the first time since Round 2.

Cloudy skies on Saturday were in contrast to the hot and humid Round 5. Following free practice in the morning, Q1 and Q2 qualifying sessions were held in the afternoon divided into two groups. The eight fastest drivers proceeded to Q3. 

Qualifying was underway with occasional light rain. Calderón was knocked out in Q1-B, Nirei Fukuzumi (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING #5) in Q2-A, and Shinji Matsushita (B-MAX RACING TEAM #51) in Q2-B, while Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING #1), Hiroki Otsu (Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh #15), Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN #16) and Toshiki Oyu (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING #64) proceeded to Q3. 

Conditions deteriorated during the 10-minute Q3 session, causing headaches for teams deciding whether to race on slick or rain tires. Honda dominated the top three grid positions as Otsu (#15) took his first career pole position on slicks, while Yamamoto (#1) was second-fastest on rain tires, and Nojiri (#16) was third. 

Rain continued the following day. Free practice started at 10:50 am under heavy-wet conditions, but by the time the race started at 2:45 pm, the rain had stopped and conditions showed signs of improving. The track surface was nonetheless wet, and as the drivers charged towards Turn 1 on rain tires, Yamamoto (#1) had the strongest start, side-by-side with Otsu (#15). Otsu held his ground, defending his lead at the next turn. Nojiri (#16), who’s championship hopes were on the line, started third and avoided unnecessary battles on the wet surface. By the end of Lap 1 he was behind Makino (#6), down to seventh, and on the following lap was down to eighth. In this position, he would have to wait until the final round to claim the championship, depending on where Yuhi Sekiguchi (Toyota #19) finished. 

A number of drivers pitted for slick tires as the track rapidly dried, but one driver slipped on a wet patch, needing the safety car to enter the track and slow proceedings down. Otsu (#15), Makino (#6), Nojiri (#16) and Matsushita (#51) took the opportunity to change to slick tires, but Yamamoto (#1) and Fukuzumi (#5) opted to stay on rain tires. As the race restarted on Lap 14, track conditions improved further. Yamamoto and Fukuzumi, making the wrong tire choice, soon pitted for slick tires, losing several places in the process. 

On Lap 17 the safety car was once again on track, as Calderón (#12) veered off track at Turn 2. At this stage Otsu (#15) led the race, Makino (#6) was third, Nojiri (#16) fourth closely followed by championship contender Sekiguchi (#19), and Nojiri (#16) up to fifth. As long as positions did not change, Nojiri would win the championship. The race was once again restarted at the end of Lap 20, but a multi-car incident including Yamamoto (#1) soon followed, once again slowing down the race to a crawl. 

Once the race resumed at the end of Lap 24, Otsu (#15) had to fight to keep his lead, but once the pressure was off, he charged, setting several fastest laps on the way, to a comfortable victory, his first SUPER FORMULA win. Makino (#6) finished third. Nojiri (#16) was fifth, and the points he scored were sufficient to give him his first, and Honda’s second consecutive, championship, with one round remaining.

Hiroki Otsu
Hiroki Otsu 15
Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh
I was the only one on slicks in Qualifying, and was lucky to get pole position, but I put in a solid performance to win today’s race, so it was the perfect day. I was seriously concerned with my times in free practice and the warm-up, so I changed a lot of settings on the grid. I expected the track to dry as the race went on, so I tried to conserve my tires in the first half. I was lucky because the safety car entered while I had Yamamoto on my tail, and I pitted for tires. There were a lot of wet patches after the restart, so I drove very cautiously. I’m simply overjoyed now. 

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 16
My car was set up for dry conditions at the start, so the first half in the wet was difficult, but things improved as the track dried up. When Sekiguchi overtook Makino early in the race, I realized I was down to eighth. I was calculating which position I would have to finish in to win the championship, so I became a bit conservative as the feeling of having to do something took over. When we were behind the safety car I saw flags in the stadium cheering me on, and that helped. Matsushita, who was behind me, used his overtake system to catch up, so I knew I had to push harder, and that got me to the finish line. I won the championship, but I wasn’t enthusiastic enough in today’s race, so in the final round I’ll race like a true champion. 

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