Sasahara Takes His Second Win of the Season. Nojiri Finishes 2nd to Win the Championship
The 7th event of the 2022 Super Formula series (R-9 & R-10) got underway at Suzuka Circuit on October 29 (Sat) and 30 (Sun). The final event of the season is scheduled to have two races in one weekend, qualifying sessions and a race each on Saturday and Sunday.
Besides the due contest for the series title, Japan’s most traditional cup race prize for the formula car, named as the “JAF Grand Prix”, will be staked in the final race (R-10).
Saturday was celebrated by fine weather from early in the morning. In the first qualifying session for Group-A started at 9:15 a.m., Tadasuke Makino (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) marked the best time followed by Toshiki Oyu (#65 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), Ren Sato (TEAM GOH) and Ukyo Sasahara (#15 TEAM MUGEN); all these four runners made their way to Q2. In the Q1 for Group-B, Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN) in pursuit of back-to-back title who, however, faced with this qualifying in anxiety for he had sunken in the 16th time in the Friday practice. But Nojiri somehow picked up, much to his relief, the 4th fastest time among the group. Nirei Fukuzumi (#12 ThreeBond DragoCORSE) and Naoki Yamamoto (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) followed suit in 5th and 6th getting through to Q2.
Q2 started at 9:50 a.m. and Nojiri (#1) exerted all his might into one-shot attack and thus accomplished the top time in the 7-minute session, his 5th pole position in this season, adding up an extra point given to the pole sitter each time around. Behind Nojiri, Oyu (#65), Sasahara (#15) and Makino (#5) followed 3rd, 5th and 6th respectively.
Nojiri’s nearest rival in the championship, Ryo Hirakawa (#20 carenex TEAM IMPUL) trailing 32-points behind was fallen back in the 11th grid, and further 2-points behind, Sacha Fenestraz (#4 KONDO RACING) so far ranked 3rd on the point table also recessed in the 17th grid, giving Nojiri an overwhelming advantage in the face of the penultimate race of the season, which may well be deciding the title without waiting for the final round.
The wind from the last corner to the first got stronger in the afternoon, the race was started at 2:30 p.m., and as if riding on the tailwind, Oyu (#65) from 3rd grid and Sasahara (#15) from 5th made superb take off and immediately climbed up to 2nd and 3rd in that order. Nojiri too cleanly launched from pole position, and set to precede the pack led by two consort cars. Sasahara (#15) was slightly faster than Oyu (#65) and overtook him on 4th lap to become 2nd, making TEAM MUGEN’s 1-2 formation that would eventually last all through to the end albeit with a position swap.
Sasahara (#15) and Oyu (#65) running 2nd and 3rd made the mandatory tire change as soon as they cleared the minimum 10-lap stint. Nojiri, on the other hand, stopped a lap later and returned as the race leader, however, Sasahara (#15) following behind had the edge because his tires already got warm enough. At the hairpin, Sasahara thrusted into Nojiri’s inside and robbed him of the virtual top position.
Further back in the field, Hirakawa (#20), the first man who could stop Nojiri’s run for the series title, preferred the late stop strategy. He stayed at the apparent top for a while, but dropped back again as he came in for new tires at the end of 27th lap. The entire field was now re-sorted so as to make Sasahara (#15) running at the top both apparently and virtually with Nojiri (#1) then Oyu (#65) following behind. By this time, Sato (#53) climbed up to 4th all the way from the 9th, thus completing Honda users’ 1-2-3-4 formation. Sato (#53), later on lap-29, overtook Oyu (#65) to capture 3rd position.
Sasahara (#15) deservedly received the top checker achieving his second win in this season. Defending champion, Nojiri, finished 2nd and secured the series title in back-to-back years. TEAM MUGEN’s 1-2 finish in the penultimate race also confirmed the team’s title. Rookie Sato’s 3rd place, his first podium finish in the category, added a graceful touch to the celebratory mood in the Honda camp.