April 27, 2017
New season began with Yamamoto’s 2nd place
Series name: 2017 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 1
Event name: 2017 NGK SPARK PLUG Suzuka 2 and 4 Race
Course: 5.807km × 35 laps (203.25km)
Qualifying: April 22 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 21,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: April 23 (Sun) / Fine / Attendance 35,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
The 2017 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series was held on April 22 (Sat) and 23 (Sun) at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture. Along with #16 Naoki Yamamoto, TEAM MUGEN welcomed #15 Pierre Gasly and became a long-sought owing two cars team to take part in the race.
April 22 (Sat)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 5th place (00:01:37:283)
#15 Pierre Gasly, 17th place (00:01:38:842)
Fine weather on Saturday the 22nd free practice was carried out from 10:10 for an hour. Some clouds in the sky but the course conditions were dry and an air temperature rapidly increased and the road surface temperature reached 30℃.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly entered the course and tried some laps to check the setting of each car. Such settings as determined based on previous test results did not match the course condition at all due to high temperature in Suzuka.
18 minutes after the start of the session the red flag was raised to remove the stopped car. At this point #16 Naoki Yamamoto was at 5th position with the lap time 00:01:38:310 and #15 Pierre Gasly at 11th position 00:01:38:842.
At 10:34 the session resumed. Both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly made some laps to figure out their best settings. 14 minutes remaining just before the end of the session #16 Naoki Yamamoto newly recorded 00:01:38:086.Then all the cars came back to the pit and prepared for simulation of the time attack. Two cars of #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly also were installed with new tires at the pit and they got ready for entering the course.
Less than 7 minutes remaining before the end of the session, all the cars were ready and started simulation of the time attack. #16 Naoki Yamamoto recorded 00:01:37:283 in one minute remaining before the end of the session and got the 2nd position. But after that, new records came out and his position went down to 5th by 0:770 seconds behind the top record. #15 Pierre Gasly could not get better result and then ended up with 17th place by 2:329 seconds behind his best lap.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:5th place / 00:01:36:806R, Q2:4th place / 00:01:36.376R, Q3:3th place, / 00:01:36:004R)
#15 Pierre Gasly (Q1:3th place / 00:01:36:698R, Q2:7th place / 00:01:36.654R, Q3:8th place, / 00:01:36:930R)
The 3 knockout sessions started at 14:00. No clouds in the sky and the course was dry. The temperature was 22℃ and the course temperature was 33℃.Both temperature were expected to increase. When the course opened, both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly came into the mid area of the grid with used tires.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto came back to the pit after 4 laps and his time was 00:01:37:816. #15 Pierre Gasly tried a new set of aerodynamics differing from one in the morning session and finished 5 laps with the time 00:01:37:730.
Then all the cars came back to have new tires installed to get ready for the Q1 time attack. Both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly entered the course and proceeded for the time attack with 10 minutes remaining of the session. Two of them started warming up and adjusted in-lap and went for the time attack at the second lap. The results were 00:01:36:698 for #15 Pierre Gasly, 3rd place, and 00:01:36:806 for #16 Naoki Yamamoto,5th, (both laps were new records at Suzuka)and both were entitled to go on the Q2 session competed among 14 cars.
7 minutes'Q2 session started from 14:30 and 14 cars passing the Q1 session joined it. While all other cars came into the course, #16 Naoki Yamamoto stayed at the pit and adopted a strategy to appear the last on the course by almost one lap later.
#15 Pierre Gasly controlled his pace to make a distance from the cars ahead to try his time attack, but due to being in a mass of the cars, he could not make it and under such a condition he had to warm up the tires and began his time attack.
The resulting lap time was 00:01:36:654, which was also new course record. #16 Naoki Yamamoto who tried the time attack the last and his time was 00:01:37.376. As a result, #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly proceeded to the Q3 session among 8 other cars with 4th, and 7th place.
7 minutes'Q3 session started from at 14:47. #15 Pierre Gasly came up into the course just after the first car entered the course. #16 Naoki Yamamoto chose the same strategy as one at Q2 to stay at the pit for about a minute and half after the course open and came up to the course as the last driver. Both #15 Pierre Gasly and #16 Naoki Yamamoto tried their time attacks at the second lap. #15 Pierre Gasly soon recorded 00:01:36:930.
This result came out even in a poor aerodynamic condition which was caused by the car going ahead at the sector 2 and 3. Even that this result was the best at that moment but other cars made new records one after another and position of #15 Pierre Gasly was stepped down.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto at last recorded the lap time 00:01:36:004 and came up to the 3rd position despite he went too much at Gyaku bank and the second curve of the Degner curves. The starting grid position of #16 Naoki Yamamoto at the race resulted in 3rd and that of #15 Pierre Gasly, 8th.
April 23 (Sun)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 2nd place (35 laps / Best lap: 00:01:40:796)
#15 Pierre Gasly, 10th place (35 laps / Best lap: 00:01:41:873)
In a bright and clear day at 13:40 the very first race of 2017 season kicked off. The air temperature was 23℃. The course temperature was 37℃. The temperature seemed to rise up, which means weather condition will be totally different from the ones of preliminary test sessions.
The moment starting mark was recognized, #16 Naoki Yamamoto did the good starting and got 2nd position among other cars around at the first corner. On the other hand, #15 Pierre Gasly came up to be in better position, but his car could not speed up then he was chased by following cars all through his race.
At this race all the cars are required to change at least one tire during the session. The cars made their decision to change the tires in the beginning part of the race came back to the pit just after one lap. TEAM MUGEN pitted #15 Pierre Gasly at the second lap when he was surrounded among mass of the cars, and changed a right front tire and fueled his car before he went back to the course. This strategy gave a chance to #15 Pierre Gasly to race with no cars around. #15 Pierre Gasly restarted his race in 12th position then.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto kept his second position with 1 second distance from the leading car. The distance was getting longer and at the 6th lap the distance increased to 2 seconds and at 9th lap went up to more than 3 seconds in the end.
#15 Pierre Gasly had no choice but to race being bothered by other cars in both front and back. There still remained 3 to 4 seconds from the car going in front and #15 Pierre Gasly was being chased by the car behind. At 12th lap the car going in front came back to the pit and at the same time #15 Pierre Gasly was on a way back to the course. The chance came to him to pass over that car.
Though #15 Pierre Gasly was overtaken by the car at the first corner, he attacked vehemently and passed over the car and came up to 11th position. Furthermore, at the 15th lap one car had to come back to the pit and #15 Pierre Gasly went up to 10th position, however, at 19th lap he was overtaken by the car behind coming inside from the chicane and again his position went down to 11th.
At 22nd lap the safety car (SC) appeared to remove the stopped car at the spoon curve. When the formation lap started, the top car and #16 Naoki Yamamoto came back to the pit and again went back to the course after finishing exchange of a front left tire and fueling. At this point #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 2nd position and #15 Pierre Gasly moved up to 10th position.
SC period lasted till the end of 26th lap and the race restarted from the 27th lap. #16 Naoki Yamamoto tried to catch up the top again, however, distance between them increased gradually. After installation of the fresh tires, #15 Pierre Gasly was chased by the following cars but endured it.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto completed 35 laps and took the checkered flag in the 2nd place. #15 Pierre Gasly protected his position, 10th and completed his debut race in Japan. As a result, #16 Naoki Yamamoto earned 8 points as driver points and so did TEAM MUGEN as team points.
Comments from #16 Naoki Yamamoto
Setting of my car was dramatically changed this year. At the beginning of this weekend, several small issues occurred and my team took care of them well. I believe “starting is everything” then payed all my attentions to it. Owing to good staring and acceleration, I could overtake a car ahead but could not go up to the top.
I did not feel like catching up the car ahead and was forced to face a difficult race. But during such a race I felt like finding out what to do for the next race. Pierre Gasly who joined this season as my team mate worked very hard and when I see such his attitude toward the race, I feel that I need to work more than him to win the race. All through the test sessions, his results were better than mine, which I believe motivated me in a good way. I hope this relation would contribute to the level up of the team and could bring luck somehow.
Comments from #15 Pierre Gasly
I felt some issues with the aerodynamics of my car at the end of race week, but we wasted time figuring out the cause. At the Q1 the issue was solved, but I still have a difficulty with controlling Japanese tires, especially warming up them. I went quite well during the test sessions, however, I could not do well probably because the condition changed due to increase of the air temperature.
In the Q3 I used rear tires too much. Since I am confident of my potential to win the race, I feel so regrettable and cannot forgive myself ending up with 5th place. In the race at each corner I had troubles with gripping and shifting and could not drive as I imagined. Only one month is left till the next race. I have to analyze the troubles and would like to compete in the first group. So disappointing race this time. My driving style is different from that of Naoki, but he is so fast that I refer to his driving somehow.
Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka
The preliminary setting which we brought into the race was found out to be “not really.” So then we had no choice but to adjust it through free sessions. Since from this season TEAM MUGEN joins the race with two cars, we could exchange information of each car and utilize them quickly enough for the ongoing race. In case we only had one car the same case as previous year, we might have had more difficulties. Overall I would not say this race week was perfect but at least both two drivers could proceed to the Q3. Driver Yamamoto made a good start and ended up his race with 2nd place not the top but still happy result. I highly respect his race.