August 24, 2017
Gasly,The very first victory in Japan
Series name: 2017 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 4
Event name: 2017 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 4 Twin Ring Motegi
Course: 4.801km × 52 laps (249.652km)
Qualifying: August 19 (Sat) / Rainy / Attendance 14,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: August 20 (Sun) / Cloudy / Attendance 18,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
2017 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 4 was held at the Twin Ring Motegi in Tochigi Prefecture. TEAM MUGEN joined the race with two cars, #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly. Honda applied the upgraded second engines for this race.
●August 19 (Sat)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 14th place (00:01:33:393)
#15 Pierre Gasly, 11th place (00:01:33:333)
Free practice was carried out from 9:40 for an hour. It was cloudy and sometimes rained. But basically the course conditions were dry. For this race like the Motegi race in previous year all the participants are required to use two kinds of tires, usual medium tires, and stronger grip but easily worn soft tires.
It is only 3 sets of soft tires, 2 sets of medium tires, and 2 sets of carry-over tires from the previous race that can be used during the race week. At the race in case the course conditions are dry, the regulation requires both soft and medium tires to be adopted.
Both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Pierre Gasly started off smoothly when the free practice began. It was very first time for #15 Pierre Gasly to try Motegi course. Unfortunately at the free session in previous day he went out of the course and had a crash due to a brake problem and could only go for 4 laps.
For #15 Pierre Gasly this free practice was virtually the very first ride on the Motegi course. He went on the course and gradually speeded up with confirming each function of the machine.
During the last 10 minutes of the session each machine started simulation of the time attack. #15 Pierre Gasly finished his session with a time of 00:01:33:333, putting him in 11th position, 00:00:735 behind the top. #16 Naoki Yamamoto with a time of 00:01:33:393, 14th position, 00:00:795 behind the top.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:16th place / 00:01:44:858, Q2: - , Q3: - )
#15 Pierre Gasly (Q1:5th place / 00:01:41:489, Q2: 4th place / 00:01:32.345, Q3: 4th place / 00:01:32:129)
The 3 times official know-out style qualifying sessions started with Q1 session for 20 minutes from 15:00. At Q1 5 cars out of 19 are to be dropped out. Black clouds suddenly appeared in the sky of the Twin Ring Motegi and the air temperature dropped rapidly and symptom of lightning was recognized. The course conditions still remained dry, though.
When all the machines appeared on the pit road, it started to rain partially and the session was declared “wet.” But most of the road surface was dry and all the teams kept on using the soft tires.
The course opened and all the machines came into the course and started warming-up drive. #15 Pierre Gasly also selected the soft tires and prepared for a time attack. On the other hand #16 Naoki Yamamoto stayed at the pit till 1 minute passed after the course opened and entered the course with the soft tires.
But by then it started to rain heavily and by the time when the first half of the machines finished their first measure lap, the main straight course got wet and its course condition became worse suddenly. During such a condition, #15 Pierre Gasly who tried his time attack in the early stage recorded a time of 00:01:41:489, putting him in 5th position and #16 Naoki Yamamoto who conducted his time attack late could not do well and ended up with a time 00:01:44:858, then he tried another time attack, however, the course got wet so much that the dry tires could not lead to a better lap record.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto came back to the pit after finishing 3 laps and changed the dry tires to the rain ones and again went back to the course to try the time attack. But the road surface was so wet enough to splash that he could not go under 00:01:46. In the end #16 Naoki Yamamoto could not proceed to the Q2, and his starting grid was determined to be 16th. The weather was getting worse and worse that Q2 and Q3 sessions were cancelled, and prolonged to Sunday.
On 20, Sunday the 10-minuite free session was held and 7-minute each Q2 and Q3 sessions were carried out. Contrary to the weather condition in a previous day, summer Sun shined through clouds. The Q2 session was held under such a weather condition. #15 Pierre Gasly recorded a time 00:01:32:345 and advanced to the Q3. At the Q3 his lap time was 00:01:32:129 and was assigned to the 4th grid. This time record surpassed previous time record 00:01:32:321.
●August 20 (Sun)
#15 Pierre Gasly, 1st place (52 laps / 01:24:26:817 / Best lap: 00:01:35:147)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 13th place (52 laps / 01:25:38:139 / Best lap: 00:01:36:989)
On Sunday 10-minute free session was held from 9:00. The course conditions were dry. Since this time Q2 and Q3 were to be held on this day #16 Naoki Yamamoto devoted himself into only preparation for the race and #15 Pierre Gasly did for both Q2 amd Q3 qualifying and the race. In the end #15 Pierre Gasly recorded a time of 01:32:585, 2nd place and #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended the 10-minute session with a time of 01:35:104, 18th place.
After the Q3 session the weather dramatically changed and it started to rain and the course got wet, but soon the rain stopped and before the time when the race started at 14:10, the course was getting dried.
At the race a tire change during the race was mandatory, and the regulation required the use of both a set of soft tires and a set of medium tires. Each team selected the tires based on their strategies in starting.
The air temperature was 28℃ and the road surface temperature was 30℃, which is lower than expected. The issue is that none of the teams has experience in using the soft tiers at such a long drive race. No one knew how many laps such high grip tires could sustain the machines.
#15 Pierre Gasly at 4th starting grid made a decision to choose the medium tires as the staring tires contrary to the first 3 machines which chose the soft tires. #16 Naoki Yamamoto did the soft tires. At 14:13 the race started and #15 Pierre Gasly remained 4th position and #16 Naoki Yamamoto jumped up to 10th position after finishing one lap.
With soft tires #16 Naoki Yamamoto finished 11 laps with 9th position and came back to the pit for tire change and fueling. On the other hand while a machine going in front of #15 Pierre Gasly pitted, he continued the race with the medium tires and at 9th lap his position went up to 3rd place and at the 18th lap up to the 2nd place.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto having changed the soft tiers to medium ones came to overtake the other machines. Due to pit stop, his apparent position went down to 18th at the 13th lap, however, at 15th lap his positon went up to 15th, at 18th lap, to 14th, and at 19th lap, came up to 13th position.
#15 Pierre Gasly having started the race with medium tires followed the #18 Kamui Kobayashi with soft tires 15 seconds behind. At the halfway point, 28th lap #15 Pierre Gasly came back to the pit and changed into soft tires. The top driver, #18 Kamui Kobayashi had no choice but to attack the race with the medium tires for the last half of the race. The chance had come to #15 Pierre Gasly.
The expected dead heat between #15 Pierre Gasly and #18 Kamui Kobayashi did not happen. At the 34th lap #18 Kamui Kobayashi lost his position due to slow pit work. #15 Pierre Gasly with help of rapid pit work came back to the course with the soft tires were positioned in apparent 5th, due to delay of #18 Kamui Kobayashi, came up to apparent 2nd position. That meant he came up to be the top.
When the 12 laps were left before the end of the race the machine going in front of #15 Pierre Gasly came to the pit and #15 Pierre Gasly was positioned the apparent top as well. #18 Kamui Kobayashi was behind #15 Pierre Gasly by 13 seconds. And the distance between #15 Pierre Gasly going with the soft tires and #18 Kamui Kobayashi with the medium tires were gradually increasing to the end of the race.
And then #15 Pierre Gasly finished his race sedately and took the checkered flag. It was the first winning since he came to Japan and competed for 4 races. #16 Naoki Yamamoto could not show his potential and ended the race with 13th place
#15 Pierre Gasly gained 10 driver’s points totally 15 points. 10.5 points behind the top and he was ranked up to 4th place. The total points of #16 Naoki Yamamoto gaining no points was 10.5 and ranked 8th place. TEAM MUGEN also gained 10 team points and is ranked in 3rd position, 6.5 points behind the top team.
■Comments from #16 Naoki Yamamoto
I was expecting to win this race, however, could not make it due to poor performance at the qualifying. I could not control the race. I felt some unbalance with the machine, however, the starting was not bad and I could simulate the race in advance.
Anyway I had a confidence. But when in the tire change from the medium to the soft, since the pit road was crowded with so many machines, I and the team made a decision to wait to enter the course, and then delayed going back to the course partially due to a bad weather as well. But judging from a driver, Ishiura whose position went up to 4th place at the race, I simply could not go fast. I was expecting to go faster after the tire change to the medium ones but could not make it. So disappointing.
■Comments from #15 Pierre Gasly
I so much appreciate the up-graded Honda engine, which worked so well. I did not expect to win the race since my starting grid was 4th. In case a driver, Kamui had not been delayed at the pit, the race result could have been different. Who knows? But I also saved the speed to pay an attention to condition of the brakes and tires. If not, the race could be more attractive.
It was very first time for me to drive at the Twin Ring Motegi, and on Friday I barely drove due to the crash caused by the brake issue. Anyway, poor thinking is futile. I changed my mind and got ready for Saturday’s sessions. Since I started to race in Japan, I faced some difficulties, but now I would like to continue this (good) feelings and conditions for the rest of the races. AUTOPOLIS is my favorite circuit course. I am really looking forward to the race.
■Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka
I am so relieved at this winning. Performance of a driver, Gasly was so astonishing. I also feel gratitude for the team members who built up the machine perfectly. I do feel so gratitude for them. I also feel so thankful for all the sponsors who cheered us up, Red Bull, and Honda related people. I felt a big potential of the upgraded Honda engine. I hope it would continue to be improved.
I felt so bad about the car accident of #15 Pierre Gasly on Friday, however, at the same time, astonished at his strong mentality since he got 4th place at the qualifying and won the race. Regarding #16 Naoki Yamamoto, the timing at the Q1 to go back to the course was the principal cause. I believe he would win the race next time. I do believe this time all the team members did very good job. The chief engineer, Hoshi built up his machine based on information collected through all the races two cars experienced as of now.
Pit crews did quite good pit job compared to that of other team crews. In fact they showed an “under cut” in the race. I felt that I could grasp something good about two cars style. We will be united to let two drivers, Yamamoto and Gasly stand on the podium at the next race. We would like to ask for your continued support.