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.