Naoki Yamamoto Wins Pole-To-Win
The 6th event of the 2022 Super Formula series (R-7 & R-8) was held at Mobility Resort Motegi (Tochigi Pref.) on August 20 (Sat) and 21 (Sun).
As same as the opening event of this season at Fuji, this event at Motegi presented on the 2-race in 1-event format, in which the qualifying session and the race took place each on Saturday (R-7) and Sunday (R-8).
A thick cloud hung low over the Motegi circuit in the morning on Saturday. The qualifying session started at 9:20 a.m., and Naoki Yamamoto (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) captured his first pole position since the 5th round of the 2020 Super Formula season. Toshiki Oyu (#65 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) marked the 3rd fastest time, and the current point leader, Tomoki Nojiri (#16 TEAM MUGEN) followed on 4th.
Although the qualifying session went under dry condition, the rain clouds have got even thicker in the afternoon, and as feared, raindrops begun falling down shortly before the start time. The entire runners switched dry tires to wet on the dummy grid, and the R-7 race begun with Safety Car (SC) leading the pack.
The race actually started from 4th lap. Yamamoto prudently kept his top position exiting from Turn-1, and Sacha Fenestraz (#4 KONDO RACING), Oyu, Nojiri and Tadasuke Makino (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) followed in that order.
Yamamoto running at the front with massive clouds of spray raising aft, thus solely benefitted by clear visibility, begun pulling away. While the rain was getting even harder as the race went on, Yamamoto maintained the gap from Fenestraz between 2 to 3-seconds, and behind the top two, Nojiri was closing up on Oyu for 3rd place. On lap 14, a mechanical failure in Oyu’s gear-shifting system forced him slow down, which gave Nojiri unlabored 3rd place.
Nojiri knowing the podium finish became more feasible pushed a little harder, and begun catching up Fenestraz. At the end of 18th lap, he neared up to the tail of Fenestraz but not practicably got ahead of him. Later in the closing laps, when the rain has let up little bit, Fenestraz raised his pace and begun shaving off Yamamoto’s margin. But the rain grew heavier again in the last 10 laps or so, the gap increased yet again as Yamamoto seemingly set about the last spurt.
At around this time, SC was introduce to remove a car stranded somewhere on the track, which made the gap between the cars shrunk all over the place, however, when the race was restarted at 7-laps to go, Yamamoto accelerated without delay leaving nil chance to Fenestraz or anybody behind. No position change thereafter, and Yamamoto achieved his season’s first victory in the 37-lap race.
It was Yamamoto’s 9th win in the category since the 5th round of the 2020 Super Formula series held at Suzuka, and for the team, TCS NAKAJIMA RACING, since the 6th round of the same 2020 season (also at Suzuka) won by Oyu. Nojiri finished 3rd, Makino 4th, Ukyo Sasahara 7th (#15 TEAM MUGEN) and Hiroki Otsu 10th (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), each of them coming by precious series points.