Fukuzumi’s Second Victory at Second Suzuka Round
The season-closing Round 7 of the 2021 SUPER FORMULA season was held over the October 30 - 31 weekend at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie.
Skies were clear but temperatures were low on Saturday. In the morning, Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN #16), who had already wrapped up the championship in Round 6, set the fastest lap, which became the time to beat throughout the practice session. Tadasuke Makino (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING #6) was fourth fastest, and Nirei Fukuzumi (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING #5) was sixth.
Good weather and Honda’s performance continued into the afternoon, with Hiroki Otsu (Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh #15) and Makino (#6) proceeding from Q1A to Q2, although Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING #1) was unable to make it. In the other qualifying group, Q1B, Toshiki Oyu (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING #64), Fukuzumi (#5), Nobuharu Matsushita (B-MAX Racing Team #51) and Nojiri (#16) were fast enough to get into Q2, although Tatiana Calderón (Threebond Drago CORSE #12) was not.
In the Q2A and Q2B sessions, all Honda drivers dominated the top spots in both sessions, and proceeded to Q3, where Matsushita (#51) took pole, and Oyu (#64), Fukuzumi (#5), Makino (#6) and Nojiri (#16) filled the second through fifth grid spots. Otsu (#15), winner of the previous round, was seventh on the grid.
Cloudy skies and intermittent rain meant the free practice session on Sunday morning was held in wet conditions, but the skies cleared in the afternoon allowing the race to start on a dry track. Matsushita (#51) and Oyu (#64) defended their top two spots as the race began. Nojiri (#16) was also fast off the mark, closing in on Oyu (#64), who after slight contact between the drivers at the S-bends on Lap 2, was sent off-track.
Matsushita (#51), who had begun to build a comfortable lead, was penalized for a race start violation, and was well down the positions after serving the drive-through penalty on Lap 5. Nojiri (#16) took the lead, with Fukuzumi (#5), the #20 car, Otsu (#15) and Makino (#6) behind.
Ten laps into the race, the mandatory pit stops for tires began. Fukuzumi (#5), running second, came in on Lap 11, while race-leader Nojiri (#16) changed tires a lap later. The #20 car took the lead on track, but Fukuzumi (#5) and Nojiri (#16) fought for the lead. Fukuzumi (#5) had the advantage of warmer tires, and not only caught up to Nojiri (#16), but overtook on Lap 13 at the reverse bank corner.
The #20 car pitted on Lap 14 for tires, and was back on track in front of Fukuzumi (#5), but the Honda driver had no problems with reclaiming the lead on warmer tires, closing the gap and overtaking at the Turn 2. Discounting the race-leading #19 car, yet to pit for tires, Fukuzumi (#5) led the #20 car by over a second. Nojiri (#16) was just over three-seconds behind, with Otsu (#15) chasing him.
Race leaders held their positions into the final stages, until the #20 car used his overtake system to close in on race leader Fukuzumi (#5) on the penultimate lap. The Honda driver waited until the Spoon curve to use his, pulling decisively ahead for his second victory of the season. Nojiri (#16) finished third for his fourth podium of the season. Otsu (#15), finishing behind the #19 car that pitted for tires with only three laps to go, was fifth, earning him the Rookie of the Year award.