Round 10

Champion Nojiri runs alone to pole-to-win

jp Suzuka Circuit
Champion Nojiri runs alone to pole-to-win

The final round of the 2022 Super Formula series was held on October 30 (Sun) at Suzuka Circuit where the autumn sunbeam shined through thin and high clouds onto the track surface, which served the conditions both for participants and audience to become absolutely appropriate for the grand finale of a season.

The Group-A Q1 session started from 9:05 a.m., in which Tadasuke Makino (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) replayed the fastest time as did 24-hours before. The previous winner, Ukyo Sasahara (#15 TEAM MUGEN) marked the second fastest and Toshiki Oyu (#65 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) 6th; the three of Honda engine users all went into the Q2.

As for the Group-B Q1, Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN) who had secured the back-to-back series title only yesterday achieved the best time, immediately followed by Hiroki Otsu (#6 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) in 2nd. In addition to these top two, Atsushi Miyake (#55 TEAM GOH) coming in 5th made way to Q2.

Q2 session from 9:30 a.m. saw Nojiri (#1) crushing all his rivals with one phenomenal time attack and took pole position, his personal 6th in this season, following the 5th achieved day before on R-9. Otsu (#6) got 3rd grid, Sasahara (#15) 4th, Miyake (#55) 8th, Oyu (#65) 9th and Makino (#5) 10th on down.

High faint clouds were fading away as the start time approached, and the race was green-flagged under the crystal clear sky at 2:30 p.m. Otsu (#6) showed excellent start and snatched 2nd position from Ritomo Miyata (#37 Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S) into Turn-1 right behind Nojiri (#1) leading the pack after a rightful holeshot. Sasahara (#15), too, overtook Miyata’s #37 car with a superb dash and climbed up to 3rd, when an accident occurred in the middle field inducing Safety Car (SC) even before the opening lap was completed.

SC withdrew on lap-2, and the race was restarted from the 3rd lap. Sasahara (#15) running 3rd sagged a little on this restart due to mechanical failure and recessed 5th, in the mean time, Nojiri (#1) begun pulling away, by using overtake system, from Otsu (#6) who also increasing a lead over the 3rd and below runners, building a strong 1-2 formation of Honda/M-TEC users.

Otsu (#6) came in for new tires at the end of 11th lap, and Nojiri (#1) and Miyata (#37) supposedly chose late stop strategy (to stay out), however, an accident happened at chicane making SC come into play yet again on lap-13. Both Nojiri and Miyata promptly reacted this, jumped into the pit lane and returned to the track without losing position nor time.

When the race was restarted on lap-18, Nojiri (#1) put on yet another spurt pulling Otsu (#6) off every single lap he run for the rest of the race. Otsu, now knowing the car ahead was out of reach, concentrated to keep his 2nd position and controlled the gap between Miyata (#37) at around 1.5 sec. thereafter. Nojiri’s phenomenal pace was never suppressed till the end, finished the 31-lap race at the top with a huge 6.857 sec. gap from Otsu (#6). By this victory, Nojiri, in addition to the series title he seized the day before, crowned his glorious season with the victory in the JAF Grand Prix. As the result of the final round, Ren Sato (#53) was awarded the Rookie of the Year title.

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 1
I did run for this time with an understeer car that’s my favorite. I didn’t know how tires endure in that way, so I had to runaway from the very beginning. That’s why I made a spurt right after the start. I’ve been a “pole sitter that can’t win” too many times this year, and it made me self-restraint in a way to fight for the championship, I think. Such an accumulation of disciplinal efforts paid off, and I could finally won the title yesterday. So, today, I’d decided to give off all my might from start to end, full-throttle out-and-out, I mean. Sort of a challenge how far I could push through. I personally think it’s been my best race so far in my career

Hiroki Otsu
Hiroki Otsu 6
In the warm up session before the start, I was not comfortable with the touch of brake pedal, so I asked air bleeding on the starting grid. If I had a chance, the start it should be. So I focused on it, and did it fine that I could be up 2nd. I think I could control my race after that too. My pit-in timing was a bit earlier, but I expected at one point I could even get ahead of Nojiri to take a lead. To be honest, I’d been frustrated just a little bit for I couldn’t produce enough results in spite of the tremendous team efforts  in preparation for the race. But  now, I’m very happy I could make a podium finish at the very last. I’d like to thank my team 

Ren Sato
Ren Sato 53
The Rookie of the Year award eventually came to me after the hard work together with my team mate, Miyake (Atsushi). The rivalry between us was fantastic. I was a few points better than him, and that’s it. Just a coincidence, as simple as that. There have been both good and bad things happened to me, but I could feel my progress in driving. Super Formula cars were much more difficult to drive than I had ever assumed. The competition was so severe that a minor mistake put your position down five or ten all at once. In such a high level series, I experienced the races in which I could never relax my concentration even for a second. It was an invaluable experience all in all. It’s nice to make a podium finish, that’s my minimum target, but I regret I couldn’t win, because I expected to do so in the first place. I think it’s a good season for my future career 

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