Round 1

Nojiri wins the season opener, Yamamoto finishes third

jp Suzuka Circuit

The opening round of the 2024 SUPER FORMULA series was held on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Suzuka Circuit (Mie Pref.).

Nojiri wins the season opener, Yamamoto finishes third

Honda/M-TEC engine users in this season are a total of 10 drivers of 6 teams as follows; Tadasuke Makino #5, Kakunoshin Ohta #6 (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING), Atsushi Miyake #12 (ThreeBond Racing), Ayumu Iwasa #15, Tomoki Nojiri #16 (TEAM MUGEN), Iori Kimura #50 (San-Ei Gen with B-Max), Juju #53, Nobuharu Matsushita #55 (TGM Grand Prix), Naoki Yamamoto #64, Ren Sato #65 (PONOS NAKAJIMA RACING). Three drivers among the above, Iwasa #15, Kimura #50 and Juju #53, are the new comers to the SUPER FORMULA series.

Suzuka Circuit hosting the season’s opening race a month or so earlier than previous years saw a fairly cold day partially thanks to low atmospheric pressure passing by at the time. Track condition was dry, but both ambient and road surface temperatures were low, with a strong northwester accompanied by occasional sleet made the Saturday afternoon qualifying sessions much harder than ever to deal with.

Q1 session was held each for 11 cars of A-group and 10 of B, and 8 out of 10 Honda/M-TEC engine users cleared the cutoff order and proceeded up to Q2. A total of 12 cars made time attack in Q2 where #6 Ohta marked the second best time securing the front row start, and followed by #16 Nojiri and #65 Sato in 3rd and 4th on 2nd row to start the race on Sunday.

Suzuka on March 10 (Sun) was blessed with fine weather with the ambient and the track surface temperatures went up to 12°C and 20°C respectively albeit relatively low, and thus difficult as well, if compared with the usual condition. At a little past 2:49 p.m., the race was duly started. While #6 Ohta failed to pick up speed and lost several positions, #16 Nojiri left from 3rd grid, on the contrary, showed superb take off, got ahead of both #6 Ohta and the pole sitter, #38 Sena Sakaguchi (VERTEX PARTNERS CERUMO・INGING) in one move, and dived first into Turn-1. #65 Sato followed suit astutely to get the 2nd slot, and #64 Yamamoto also raised from 5th to 4th place right behind #38 Sakaguchi.

The 2-car accident occurred on Lap-2 induced a Safety Car period for a handful laps, and right after the minimum 10-lap stint was cleared, #64 Yamamoto immediately came in for a new set of tires, however, #16 Nojiri and #65 Sato leading the race in 1st and 2nd at this point opted for a little late stop, on Lap-13 and 14 respectively. #16 Nojiri helped by the quick pit work maintained the virtual top position, but #65 Sato slightly delayed at the pit exit lost a position. #3 Kenta Yamashita (KONDO RACING) who had earlier swapped position with #38 Sakaguchi now sat in the virtual 2nd, and #64 Yamamoto too came up to the virtual 3rd.

On Lap-27 when the entire field had done the mandatory stop, #16 Nojiri run at the top both nominally and virtually, and #64 Yamamoto was securing his 3rd position. #16 Nojiri kept on going with his majority of attention set on saving tires and some odd on #3 Yamashita who was still chasing hard in the hope for the last-minute upset. #16 Nojiri solidly completed the rest of the laps, and won the first win of the year and his first since R-8 in the previous season. #64 Yamamoto who had returned to the series for the first time since his racing injury incurred last year came in 3rd and got on the podium together with #16 Nojiri.

A total of seven Honda/M-TEC engine users, the two as mentioned above and other five (#6 Ohta in 4th, #65 Sato 5th, #55 Matsushita 8th, #15 Iwasa 9th, #5 Makino 10th,) occupied top ten slots eligible for the series points. Next race, R-2 of the series will be held after some two months interval at Autopolis International Race Course (Oita Pref.) on May 18 (Sat) - 19 (Sun).

Tomoki Nojiri
Tomoki Nojiri 16
In the qualifying session, I was a bit too late to come into the course so that I couldn’t fully extract the performance of the car. It’s really cold out there at the start and I thought wheels would spin quite easily upon kicking off from the grid. But I did fairly well, it’s hell of a good start actually, and when I got ahead of the pack at Turn-1, I was sure I’d be able to race on my own flow of the game. After that, I went on trying my best to save tires while I was informed by the team about the gap between me and the early stoppers. The team made a perfect decision on my pit timing. I’m really happy I could race extremely well with my team. It was a real big day for us all to catch the momentum towards races to come, and even the championship in the long run.

Naoki Yamamoto
Naoki Yamamoto 64
My car was good in all weekend, and I could race on my own way. We’ve done without any mistake as a team which led to this podium finish, 3rd place in the season opener. I’ve had hard time these days and it’s why I think this result is quite big for me personally. My start was not bad, however, I was caught between two cars from both sides. I found myself no way to go through and had to content myself with just two places up at the opening lap. My stop right after the minimum 10 laps was on a prearranged plan. I knew the out lap was the crucial moment that I run it rather frantically only to find Yamashita was going far ahead when I returned the track, and I realized the gap was too big to catch up. Even though I tried my best to prepare for the comeback to the series, I was a little anxious somewhere in my mind that I might not strong enough to run the whole distance of the race. So, I’m really grateful to the doctors for bringing my body usable in the race, and also to my team putting me back into the place where I can fight.

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