The opening round of the 2023 SUPER FORMULA series was held on Saturday, April 8, 2023, at Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Pref.).
Honda/M-TEC engine users in this season are a total of 11 drivers of 6 teams shown as follows; Tomoki Nojiri #1, Liam Lawson #15 (TEAM MUGEN), Tadasuke Makino #5, Kakunoshin Ohta #6 (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), Nirei Fukuzumi #12 (ThreeBond Racing), Nobuharu Matsushita #50, Raoul Hyman #51 (B-Max Racing Team), Toshiki Oyu #53, Cem Bolukbasi #55 (TGM Grand Prix), Naoki Yamamoto #64, Ren Sato #65 (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING).
SUPER FORMULA Rd. 1 Race Report
The first event of the 2023 season at Fuji was held on the so-called “two-rounds-in-one-event” format staging a qualifying/race set for Rd. 1 on Saturday (Apr. 8) and the same for Rd. 2 on Sunday (Apr. 9). A 90-minute exclusive session had initially been planned for the newly introduced SF23 chassis on Friday (Apr. 7), however, it was cancelled because of bad weather. Instead, the qualifying sessions for Rd. 1 normally done on the Q1/Q2 knock-out format was changed to the 45-minute time session.
As the result, Tomoki Nojiri (#1 TEAM MUGEN) seized the pole position; his rookie team mate, Liam Lawson (#15 TEAM MUGEN) followed in 3rd, and Toshiki Oyu (#53 TGM Grand Prix) then Ren Sato (#65 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING) in 4th and 5th, all set strongly for the race in the afternoon.
The very first round of the 2023 SUPER FORMULA series was green-flagged at 2：15 p.m. on Apr. 8 under a hazy sky in the cherry-blossom season. The moment when signal went on, four cars were left standstill on the starting grid, and some minor collisions occurred at Turn-1, however, the pole sitter, Nojiri and other front runners were all safely into the 41-lap race. Oyu showing superb takeoff robbed the runner-up slot from Lawson making 1-2-3 formation of the Honda brigade.
On the 2nd lap at Turn-1, Tadasuke Makino (#5 DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) hit the car in front from behind, and Safety Car (SC) was introduced to control the race while removing debris and the stranded car. At this stage, Nojiri lead the race followed by Oyu, Lawson, Ritomo Miyata (#37 VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S), Naoki Yamamoto (#64 TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), and Sato in that order.
SC withdrew at the end of Lap-7, and race was restarted from Lap-8. Lawson pressed Oyu extremely hard and forced him running wide at Coca-Cola corner to takeover 2nd place. Lawson kept on going with some 1.5-sec. gap behind Nojiri for a while, then he opting for a under-cut strategy pitted at the end of Lap-21. Noticing this, Nojiri did the same next lap, in this process, the TEAM MUGEN duo cleared the mandatory tire change.
Nojiri could maintain the top position when he returned to the race but with his tires yet to be warm enough, when Lawson having the edge on warmer tires closed in on quickly, and overtook #1 (Nojiri) car from outside at the 100R corner. Lawson took up the virtual top position, thus the under-cut plot was completed successfully.
In the very late stage of the race, Yamamoto could not resist Ryo Hirakawa (#20 ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL) to go ahead of him and receded in 4th. Right after this battle, Nirei Fukuzumi (#12 ThreeBond Racing) fighting for 9th place was forced into crash after being touched by Giuliano Alesi (#36 VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S). The accident brought out SC for the second time in the race, and the placings at this moment, i.e., Lawson, Nojiri, Hirakawa, Yamamoto, Miyata, Sato, Oyu, Cem Bolukbasi (#55 TGM Grand Prix), Kazuya Oshima (#14 docomo business ROOKIE), Kazuto Kotaka (#4 KONDO RACING), eventually became the final result when the pack, led by SC, completed 41 laps.
Lawson celebrated his debut win, which added up by the 2nd place from the reigning champion, Nojiri gives TEAM MUGEN remarkable 1-2 finish, the best start of the season a team could ask for.
SUPER FORMULA Rd. 2 Race Report
As the clear morning air promising fine weather all day through on Sunday, Apr. 9, the qualifying session started at 9 a.m. on the normal Q1/Q2 knock-out format. Eleven cars of each A and B group made 10-minute time attack in Q1, and top-6 runners of each group proceeded to Q2 session that has 7-minute attack time. Nojiri marked the quickest among them all, surprisingly 0.3-sec. faster than the 2nd best time done by Miyata, and achieved his 15th pole position in the category. After Miyata’s 2nd, Oyu came in 3rd, and Lawson, the winner of the previous race followed 4th.
The sky remains perfectly clear at 2：30 p.m., and the 2nd round of the SUPER FORMULA season was started. Nojiri secured his position through Turn-1 with his masterly acceleration, but Oyu made it even better, taking upper hand over Nojiri into the Coca-Cola corner, and passed him at the exit, meanwhile, Lawson slightly stumbled at the start and dropped to 6th.
Nojiri, now running 2nd, maintained the gap from Oyu just about a second or so and was accumulating his laps rather cautiously. On Lap-8, however, a car left standing at the exit of Turn-1 induced SC to lead the field for a few laps, which inevitably stirred the proceedings as the minimum 10-lap tire change timing would come across during the SC period. Surly enough, all cars except Hirakawa who had already been given a penalty headed for the pit to clear the mandatary tire change.
Nojiri finished the tire change fraction earlier that enabled him to get ahead of Oyu when he returned to the course immediately behind SC, the virtual top position in other words. Oyu began pushing hard as soon as the action was resumed at the end of Lap-12, and quickly treaded close on Nojiri’s heels. Oyu almost made it in the braking into Turn-1, but it was too much. He spectacularly locked the wheels, overshot the apex and dropped 3rd allowing Sho Tsuboi (#38 P.MU/CERUMO・INGING) to go ahead.
After defending his position, Nojiri maintained steady pace enough to fling off the pursuit by Tsuboi, and secured the virtual top position. When Hirakawa, the race leader albeit nominal, made his stop soon after, Nojiri took over the leading position both nominally and virtually, and kept it all through to the end summing up his winning record in the category up to nine.
Oyu with his tires badly damaged by the fight with Nojiri soon fell out of contention. Lawson having managed to climbed up his placing as high as 3rd, and crossed the finish line in that position, however, 5-sec. time penalty was incurred afterwards (due to a faulty practice during the SC period) and was recessed 5th. Fukuzumi, Makino and Sato finished within the point, 7, 8, 9th respectively.
The next race, the 3rd round of the series will be held on April 22 (Sat) - 23 (Sun) at Suzuka Circuit (Mie Pref.).