November 28, 2018
Yamamoto, Pole to win and come-from-behind championship
Series name: 2018 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 7
Event name: 17th JAF Suzuka Grand Prix
Course: 5.807km x 43 laps (249.701km)
Qualifying: October 27 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 13,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: October 28 (Sun) / Fine/ Attendance 23,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
2018 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 7 took place at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture. The race was also titled 17th JAF Suzuka Grand Prix and WTCR series was also held at the same time. At the final race winner would be granted 13 bonus points. TEAM MUGEN joined the race with two cars, #16 Naoki Yamamoto along with #15 Nirei Fukuzumi. #16 Naoki Yamamoto currently in the 3rd place and he could be the 2018 series champion at this final race.
October 27, 2018 (Sat)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, (7th place / Best time: 00:01:48.009)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, (9th place / Best time: 00:01:48.587)
The rain temporarily stopped in the morning, but just before 8:00AM it started again. Due to wet conditions the free session was shortened to 50 minutes from 8:55 to 9:45AM, however, the session was delayed and started from 9:00AM. Rain stopped, but the road surface condition remained wet. All the participants selected rain tires and took laps with making water splash.
Around the end of the session driving lines slightly dried and some cars entered the track with the dry soft tires. Both of TEAM MUGEN cars used rain tires till the end of the session.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto,
1st place (Q1:1st place 00:01:38.477 / Q2: 1st place 00:01:38:008 / Q3: 1st place 00:01:37.909)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi,
13th place (Q1: 9th place 00:01:39:082 / Q2: 13th place 00:01:38.888 / Q3: DNS)
The weather had become fine just before the qualifying starting from 12:35PM. All the participants were required to select the medium tires at the Q1 session according to the SF regulations. #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the track as soon as the session started. He warmed up the tires and tried time attacks. He then made the best times from the sector 1 to the sector 2, in the end recorded the fastest lap, 00:01:38.477 and became the top.
On the other hand #15 Nirei Fukuzumi took two laps to warm up the tires and recorded a time of 00:01:40.157 putting him in the 4th position. The fire broke out at the pit road and a red flag was waved to interrupt the session.
The session resumed at 12:55PM with 14:05 minutes remaining. #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi waited at the pit and observed other cars. With 6 minutes remaining both cars entered the track. None of other cars could make better lap times than that of #16 Naoki Yamamoto. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi tried another time attack and recorded a time of 00:01:39.082 and ended the session. #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended the session in the 1st place and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi did in the 9th place. Both of them could advance to Q2.
7-minute Q2 session delayed for 15 minutes and started from 1:20PM. After the Q2 session started, both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi waited with soft tires installed on the cars. By the time when 3:20 minutes left, both of drivers entered the track. #16 Naoki Yamamoto took just one lap to warm up the tires and tried a time attack. He recorded the fastest lap, 00:01:38.008 and became the top. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi recorded a time of 00:01:38.888 and was in the 8th position. #16 Naoki Yamamoto remained the top and advanced to the Q3 session and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi ended the Q2 session with the 13th place and could not advance to Q3.
7-minute Q3 session began at 1:37PM. #16 Naoki Yamamoto waited with soft tires installed on the car and while other cars started to enter the track one after another. He in the end entered the track 7th among 9 cars and started to warm up the tires. He then made the best times at all the sectors from the sector 1 to the sector 2, and in the end recorded a time of 00:01:37.909 and became the top.
The session ended as it was and #16 Naoki Yamamoto won the pole position. He gained pole position points and his position went up to the 2nd. This was his 10th pole position.
October 28, 2018 (Sat)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 4th place (Best lap: 00:01:41.203)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, 17th place (Best lap: 00:01:42.239)
The free session was held from 8:45 for 30 minutes under the clear sky. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi selected the soft tires and #16 Naoki Yamamoto chose the medium ones. Some of the participants changed their tires during the session, but both #15 Nirei Fukuzumi and #16 Naoki Yamamoto continued to use the same spec tires. There happened some red flag interruptions during the session but #16 Naoki Yamamoto took 12 laps and finished the free session in the 4th place. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi did 8 laps and in the 17th place.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 1st place (43 laps / 01:14:40.652 / Best lap: 00:01:42.042)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, 12th place (43 laps / 01:15:45.962 / Best lap: 00:01:42.988)
8-minute warming up session was held just before the race. #16 Naoki Yamamoto went out and came back to the pit repeatedly to confirm the installed soft tires and warm up the medium tires. The team adjusted the position of the soft tires to the direction of low down force to avoid tire wear and got ready for the race. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi took 4 laps to check the installed soft tires.
On Sunday it was fine and the ambient temperature went up to 21℃ and the road surface temperature did up to 23℃. At 2:15PM the race started. Both #16 Naoki Yamamoto having won the pole position and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi selected the soft tires. As soon as the race began, #16 Naoki Yamamoto overtook the car in 2nd position with high-speed and dove into the first corner.
Time gap between #16 Naoki Yamamoto and the following car went up to 1.379 seconds at the 1st lap and 1.863 at the 2nd lap, and 2.306 at the 3rd lap. To become the series champion, he had no choice but to overtake #3 Nick Cassidy to win this final race. #3 Nick Cassidy started off with medium tires in the 4th position and was planning to change the tires into the soft ones, totally opposite strategy to that of #16 Naoki Yamamoto. #16 Naoki Yamamoto had to increase the gap between him and Cassidy in the first half of the race. It was only #16 Naoki Yamamoto who in fact recorded a time of 1.42 minute range and the gap between them increased.
On the other hand #15 Nirei Fukuzumi went up to the 9th position and came back to the pit at the 12th lap. He went back to the track after installation of medium tires in the 14th position. At the 14th lap he tried to catch up the cars in front but went too much and spun half. He could remain the same position but wasted much time that the gap between #15 and cars in front increased.
Every lap the gap between #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #3 Nick Cassidy increased and at the 17th lap the gap went up to 15.394 seconds. But at the 18th lap the gap at the first time went down to 15.375. The team judged that this was caused by tire wear and they ordered #16 Naoki Yamamoto to come back to the pit for exchanging the soft tires for the medium ones at 19th lap. Pit work was quite quick in fact it took only 11.3 seconds.
#16 Naoki Yamamoto resumed the race in apparent position 7th. He remained the top among the participants which had already finished the pit work. But the car was not perfect and started to lose the balance between right and left brakes, which had occurred during the free session on previous days. Due to the issue inner pressure of the tires changed and the car could not show its real performance. While #16 Naoki Yamamoto was taking a pit stop, #3 Nick Cassidy continued to use the medium tires and kept high pace.
#3 Nick Cassidy took a pit stop at the 29th lap and went back to the track with the soft tires. Though #16 Naoki Yamamoto went in front of #3 Nick Cassidy, he picked up his pace and came close to #16 Naoki Yamamoto. Apparent position of #16 Naoki Yamamoto was the 4th and that of #3 Nick Cassidy the 5th. The real championship race began.
At the 31st gap between #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #3 Nick Cassidy was 6.426 seconds. At the 33rd lap a car going in front of #16 Naoki Yamamoto took a pit stop and #16 Naoki Yamamoto came up to the top but #3 Nick Cassidy was trying to catch up with Yamamoto in 0.5 second higher pace. 2 laps left before the end of the race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto locked the brakes due to the unbalance issue of the brakes and gap between both drivers decreased to less than one second.
But #16 Naoki Yamamoto did not use the OTs at all till then. At the final lap he used them successively and took the checkered flag just 0.654 seconds quicker than #3 Nick Cassidy. #16 Naoki Yamamoto won three races in this season and gained 13 bonus points at the final race. Now the total points #16 Naoki Yamamoto possesses are 38 and he has become the 2018 series champion followed by #3 Nick Cassidy by only 1 point. This was his honorable second championship since year 2013. Regrettably the team ranking of TEAM MUGEN ended up this season in 3rd place.
Comments from #16 Naoki Yamamoto
In the latter half of the race when I went with the medium tires, I felt that the car did not go fast enough at the sector 1. The car in fact lost the balance of the brakes. The car went slowly and fast depending on corners. Then I could not make better laps. I did not expect #3 Nick Cassidy to catch up me so fast. Though Nick was catching up me, there still OTs 5 times left and I assumed that he would not try to come just after me due to downforce disadvantage. But at the final lap I could not stop my heart beat. I simply feel so good to become the champion because it has been 5 years since I became the champion last time. All the development staffs, mechanics, engineers, and other staffs have come together and supported me. Though I faced difficult time during the season, I still could become the champion with help of team members and fans. I would like to thank all the fans. Thank you very much!
Comments from #15 Nirei Fukuzumi
I have been away from Super formula for about a month. I could go well at the opening race, Suzuka, but at Okayama and Motegi, I could not do well at all. Frankly speaking I was concerned at this race. During free sessions I was good at every corner, however, when it came to time attacks, I could not do well. This time again not good and I ended up with the qualifying in the 13th place.
I expected to get the championship. But in reality I could not stand even on the podium. Staring was good and pace was also good in the race, but I by mistake got on the edge stone and span half and lost my position. If this accident had not happened, I could have gained some points. So regrettable. Super formula car is quite hard to control. Since I could not take part in all the races in this season, I could not build up my car as I expected. I also feel so regrettable with several mistakes in this series.
Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka
I was quite nervous since this race could bring the championship to TEAM MUGEN and at the same time to Honda after a long interval. I believe we could keep good condition from the session on Friday. #16 Naoki Yamamoto ran perfectly at the qualifying as well. His concentration was amazing.
In the first half of the race #16 Naoki Yamamoto did quite good as expected, but I did not even imagine that the car would lose the balance of the brakes. Looking back the race, there were so many reasons why we could win the race. Yamamoto’s quite stable and non-emotional driving to avoid time loss, mechanics’ 11.3 seconds pit work being much quicker than that of other teams, and so odds. I am proud that we could come together and showed our full performance at this final race.
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi did his best to try to gain points, however, he span half and lost about 10 seconds. He was fast at every race, not stably though. I hope that he will experience more and become strong.
During the season we faced difficulties several times. But due to huge support from the sponsors, fans, and all the related people, we can become the champion. We highly appreciate your kind support all through the season!