Tomoki Nojiri wins pole-to-win in the Round 2 of the season under the new format
Saturday, April 9, 2022 — The 2022 SUPER FORMULA season kicked off at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka where summer-like sunshine down poured all through the weekend.
A total of 10 drivers of 6 teams use Honda/M-TEC engines in this season and its breakdown is as follows; #5 Tadasuke Makino, #6 Hiroki Otsu (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), #12 Nirei Fukuzumi (ThreeBond Drago CORSE), #15 Ukyo Sasahara, #1 Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN), #50 Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max Racing Team), #53 Ren Sato, #55 Atsushi Miyake (TEAM GOH), #64 Naoki Yamamoto, #65 Toshiki Oyu (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING).
The season opener of this year was held as one and of three doubleheader events (Fuji R.1&2, Motegi R.7&8, Suzuka R.9&10) in which the first qualifying session/race is held on Saturday and so the second qualifying session/race on Sunday. Ukyo Sasahara in his very first year as a regular driver became the season’s first pole sitter on Saturday, and a debutant, Ren Sato marked the 2nd fastest time making Honda’s front row monopoly of the starting grid for the first race.
As said suitably in proverb, “clouds follow the sunshine,” Sasahara stalled his engine on the pole position and Sato too lagged at the start allowing Ryo Hirakawa (TOYOTA) to run away. Nojiri, the reigning champion who started from the 6th grid, went on to choose early stop making the mandatory tire change right after the minimum 10 lap stint.
Nojiri duly put on a spurt with a fresh set of tires and closed the gap between Hirakawa who, at the top, came in for new tires after 25 laps. Hirakawa, when returning to the track, found himself lobbed the leading position by Nojiri, however, the turnover was only ostensible because Hirakawa still got hold of the tire advantage. Hirakawa on the fresh rubber easily chased Nojiri and then, after a brief fight, over took the #1 car at turn-13 on the 30th lap to retake the leading position.
Nojiri now moving back to the runner-up slot kept on going another 11 laps to the checkered flag. The 2nd place achieved from the 6th grid was not too bad for the defending champion in the first round. As for other Honda drivers, Makino finished 6th, Oyu 7th, Sato 9th and Miyake 10th, a total of five drivers gained championship points.
On Sunday, the second race day saw another finest weather, and the qualifying session for the R-2 race started in even higher temperature. Nojiri, exerting all his efforts to the time attack, successfully seized the pole position, and Sasahara and Sato followed behind at 3rd and 4th grids respectively.
In the second race, Sasahara made yet another mistake at the start and set back, while Nojiri easily pulled away from the pack led by Ritomo Miyata (TOYOTA).
Nojiri for this time, contrary to the first race on the day before, choose to stay on the original tires as long as possible, and after 25 laps, finally made a stop for a new set of tires. When he returned to the race, Hirakawa was closing in 1.6 second behind, and the similar dead heat was unfolded for the rest of the stint. Nojiri, carefully controlling the gap, maintained the leading position through to the checkered flag that marked his 7th victory in the category. Rookie Miyake finishing 5th, Otsu 7th and Sasahara 10th were the other point scorers in this race. As a result, Nojiri has accumulated his point up to 38 standing so far at the top followed by Hirakawa’s 36.