Round 6

Ukyo Sasahara takes his first win. Tomoki Nojiri widens the gap to his rivals in 3rd place.

jp Fuji Speedway
Ukyo Sasahara takes his first win. Tomoki Nojiri widens the gap to his rivals in 3rd place.

The 6th round of the 2022 Super Formula series was held at Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Pref.) on July 16 and 17, 2022. On Saturday, the rain started from early morning made the track heavy wet throughout the day, so the race officials considering the torrential condition decided to change the qualifying format from the eliminating method to the 30-minute time trial. The track condition during the qualifying session fluctuated rapidly depending upon the precipitation at each passing moment, and in such an annoying situation, Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN) marked the 3rd fastest time followed by Hiroki Otsu (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) in 5th and Tadasuke Makino (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) 6th.

The weather on Sunday was getting better and better. Although the morning practice session went on under a damp condition, the shining sun completely dried up the tarmac by 2:30 p.m. when the race was started. Nojiri left from the 3rd grid quickly overtook Sho Tsuboi (#38 P.MU/CERUMO-INGING) and run after Yuhi Sekiguchi (#19 carenex TEAM IMPUL) who started from pole position.

When an accident occured as early as 3rd lap bringing Safety Car (SC) into the track, Nojiri was running 2nd, Makino 4th, Otsu 6th, Naoki Yamamoto (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) jumping up from behind to 7th, and Ukyo Sasahara (#15 TEAM MUGEN) 8th.

As the race was restarted from 10th lap, Nojiri (2nd) and Otsu (6th) immediately came in for the mandatory tire change, and Makino followed suit a lap later. In the mean time, Yamamoto fighting hard against Sasahara was given a drive-through penalty, and Sasahara moving up to the apparent 3rd place instead looked set for a late-stop strategy.

Sekiguchi, the race leader, made his stop on 25th lap and returned well ahead of Nojiri, however, shortly after he resumed race pace, his left rear tire fell off and forced him a deplorable retirement. As a result, Nojiri was supposed to inherit the leading position with Tsuboi following 2nd, but things didn’t went that way. SC was introduced in the wake of Sekiguchi’s accident and Tsuboi shrewd enough to activate his late-stop strategy at this moment successfully returned to the track just in front of Nojiri.

The story of incredible upset is not finished yet.  When Sasahara running 3rd came in for tires next lap, Tsuboi in assumption of his leading position atop Nojiri begun cruising behind SC, thus enabling Sasahara return to the track between SC and Tsuboi. It means that Sasahara eventually divined the ideal timing of his stop and snatched the leading position. Nojiri, now dropped to 3rd, made an assault on Tsuboi immediately after the race was restarted on 30th lap, only to find his tires worn out too much to make it. He was rather forced to play defensive thereafter against fierce attack from Ritomo Miyata (Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S) running 4th.

Sasahara, on the other hand, played his own game pulling Tsuboi away inch by inch, and finally achieved his first win in the category. It was Sasahara’s 15th race since he made debut to the Super Formula series in 2020 as a substitute driver, and run only 2-races in the following year replacing Makino.

Behind the top-2 finishers, Nojiri shaking off the pursuit from Miyata captured 3rd place culminating his total point up to 93,  a 29-point margin to Hirakawa (#20 carenex TEAM IMPUL) standing in runner-up position. The next two rounds (R-7 & 8) will be held at Mobility Resort Motegi (Tochigi Pref.) on August 20-21, 2022.

To everybody in the team and all the fans giving me tremendous supports, I’d like to say, “Thank you, thank you very much, indeed.” That’s all and only thing I can say right now. I can do nothing but thank, really. Until this round, I haven’t done the best I thought I could, and felt big pressure. But, I’ve been telling to myself, “Never, ever give up!” and, “Keep on chasing the car ahead. Seize whatever the chance in front of you.” That what I did with my team, and I thank them for what they've done for me when I was struggling. Today, I was looking for the right time to stop, and I did it just when SC came out. The timing was perfect! I thought in my mind, “There'd be a chance coming my way. So, get ready for it. Stay focused!” I concentrated not to make mistakes and I could run all through to the end

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 1
I could overtake Tsuboi right after the start and felt the momentum was coming along with me. When SC came in, I thought, “You’ve got to go proactive, today.” So, I choose to stop as soon as the minimum (10-laps) stint was over. After that, when the progress was not exactly coming my way, I could maintain my position somehow. I think that’s the most positive part of my performance today, and I hope I’d lever it up for the following races. The situation around the next SC period was a bit wired moment, when Tsuboi and me were absorbed in our own fight. I mean I only thought about the car in front, and so did Tsuboi about the car behind. If I’d put some pressure on Tsuboi at that moment forcing him to pace up, he’d probably realize the crisis. So, I regret I was careless. Next two rounds at Motegi would be the crunch time for me. I’ll do my very best, I promise.

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