Round 5

Tomoki Nojiri Takes Second Place on his Return to the Podium

jp Sportsland SUGO

The 5th round of the 2023 Super Formula series was held at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi Pref.) on June 17 (Sat) and 18 (Sun), 2023.

Tomoki Nojiri Takes Second Place on his Return to the Podium

#1 Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN) who didn’t run in the previous race due to ill-health has come back to the series from this round.

A total of 11 drivers of 6 teams using Honda/M-TEC engine participated in the race as follows; #1 Nojiri, #15 Liam Lawson (TEAM MUGEN), #5 Tadasuke Makino, #6 Kakunoshin Ohta (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), #12 Nirei Fukuzumi (ThreeBond Racing), #50 Nobuharu Matsushita, #51 Raoul Hyman (B-Max Racing Team), #53 Toshiki Oyu, #55 Cem Bolukbasi (TGM Grand Prix), #64 Naoki Yamamoto, #65 Ren Sato, (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING).

The rain had stopped on Friday, and on 17 (Sat) when qualifying sessions took place at Sportsland SUGO, the sky was clear as glass since the morning. At 2:00 p.m., the ambient temperature hiked up to 29C., with the same of road surface to 43C., when the time attack of the first qualifying group was started.

As for the Q1, A-group, although Cem Bolukbasi (#55 TGM Grand Prix) crashed during the attack, Nojiri marked 2nd fastest time followed by #12 Nirei Fukuzumi (3rd), #6 Kakunoshin Ohta (5th) and #65 Ren Sato (6th), and for the Q1, B-group, #15 Liam Lawson (2nd), #53 Toshiki Oyu (3rd), #5 Tadasuke Makino (5th) followed suit, all went to Q2.

The results of Q2 saw Oyu achieved his second pole position of the season, Nojiri came in 3rd, on down, Lawson 6th, Makino 7th, Ohta 9th, Sato 10th and Fukuzumi 12th at each starting grid.

On 18 (Sun) at 2:34 p.m., the race was started under the sky covered with faint clouds. Oyu, taking off from pole, secured his position and began leading the race, however, Nojiri dropped from 3rd to 6th in a gasping moment of the acceleration. A system preventing engine stall upon emergency by automatically releasing the clutch, known as “anti-stall mode” in the racing business, mistakenly came into play. While Nojiri was limping in the acceleration, Lawson and Makino elevated a position each, 4th and 5th respectively.

When the minimum 10 laps to be done before the mandatory tire stop were over, Makino came in on Lap-11 and Nojiri a lap later among other front runners. Nojiri helped by quick pit work returned to the course ahead of Makino, then vigorously raised his pace to catch up the front runners.

Meanwhile, Oyu’s pace was getting sluggish even when leading the race, and had to give way to Ritomo Miyata (#37 VANTELIN TEAM TOM'S) at the straight end on Lap-13. Worse still, on the following lap, Oyu, being exposed to attack from Sho Tsuboi (#37 P.MU/CERUMO・INGING), over shot Turn-1 and further lost his position. Oyu returned rather safely onto the track, but could not revive his outset speed thereafter, and choose to stop for new tires on Lap-15. The balance of his car got worse still which forced him surrender yet another position, and more, till he reached Lap-30 when he was pitted again, and finally decided to call it a day.

Nojiri carrying on at a high pace as ever steadily shaved off the gap to Miyata who made his stop on Lap-17, eventually retained the top position albeit with cold tires. Nojiri closed in on the race leader and made his move several times, however, Miyata’s formidable defense left no chance of reversing positions, and even began pulling away from Nojiri.

Lawson who opted for the late-stop strategy has been busy with fending off the attack from Tsuboi, another late-stopper, and maintained nominal top position for some time. The race was fixed on the actual mode when Tsuboi stopped on Lap-35 and Lawson on Lap-41, which means the entire field had cleared the mandatory pit stop. At this point, Miyata was running at the top, Nojiri 2nd and Makino 3rd.

The gap between Miyata and Nojiri further widened lap after lap so that Nojiri had to settle in 2nd sharing the podium honor with Makino coming in 3rd. Lawson who had once dropped as low as 7th made fierce recovery in the closing laps and finished deserving 5th to his much delight.

The next race, the 6th round of the series, will be held on July 15 (Sat) - 16 (Sun) at Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka Pref.)

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 1
I had to skip the previous round, but happy to be back in the race here today. One thing I worried about beforehand is that it's the most (physically) demanding track in the calendar, and as a matter of fact, it was really tough for me. At the start, the anti-stall mode was accidentally activated, but I was fortunate to be able to reset the mode by myself without a serious delay. After the tire change, I could have robbed Miyata of his top position, but it wasn’t the case. I still have some regrets that I couldn’t make it, and yet, I’m willing to accept that Miyata’s speed today would not allow me to win the race even if I’d got ahead of him at that point. Having said that, I could perform in this comeback race as good as I wished thanks to the tremendous efforts made by the team. So, I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone in the team. On top of it, I’m blessed with a lot of supporters who give me passionate yells every lap I made, and each one of those yell spurred on me, pouring afresh energy in me. I’ll try my best to reward them by winning at Fuji next time around.

Tadasuke Makino
Tadasuke Makino 5
My start was OK. But, I locked up my wheels when I was overtaking Nojiri-san, and had some flat-spots on my tire. It was serious more than I initially thought would be, so I was thinking I’d have to stop early for a new set of tires, which I did on Lap-11. I had another minor problem later on, steering wheel got tilted right, which made me into thinking, “There’s no other way but to retire, sooner or later…” But, as the race went on and on, I gradually got used to the symptoms, driving almost normal, and in the end, I could bring the car to the finish. I think we’ve done all that we could do for this time. I’ve been struggling a little bit since we changed to the new car in this season, however, finishing 3rd today on the podium is an encouraging result.

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