September 16, 2016

Team MUGEN takes 6th place in Race 2, making up for lost ground after a disappointing qualifying result!


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 5
Event name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 5 - Okayama International Circuit
Course (Race 1): 3.703km × 30 laps (111.090km)
Course (Race 2): 3.703km × 51 laps (188.853km)
Qualifying & race (Race 1): September 10 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 4,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Qualifying & race (Race 2): September 11 (Sun) / Fine / Attendance 6,000 (Announcement from the organizer)


Round 5 of the Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series was held on September 10 (Saturday) - 11 (Sunday) at the Okayama International Circuit in Okayama Prefecture

Originally Round 5 was to be held at the Autopolis International Racing Course in Oita Prefecture, however the race on this course was canceled due to the effects of the Kumamoto earthquake that occurred in April, and it was decided to use the Okayama International Circuit as a replacement. As a result, Round 5 adopted a race format that was different from the ordinary Series races.


Under this special race format, Race 1 was held on Saturday and Race 2 was held on Sunday. There was no practice session on Friday, and following a 1-hour exclusive drive on Saturday morning, a 20-minute qualifying session was held to decide the starting grid for Race 1. The 30-lap Race 1 was then held in the afternoon. During Race 1, a tire change was not required.

On Sunday, no exclusive drive was held. Instead, the Q1 and Q2 knockout formula qualifying sessions were held to decide the starting grid for Race 2. The race distance for the afternoon Race 2 was 51 laps, and the teams were required to change tires during the race. In addition to the 2 sets of used tires carried over from the previous race, 4 sets of medium new tires for Okayama were provided.

The championship points for Race 1 and Race 2 were 50% of the usual amount, and 1 point was awarded for the pole position in each race.


September 10 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive (1st)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 10th place (00:01:14.828)

The weather on Saturday was clear and sunny beginning from the morning, and the exclusive drive was held on a dry course for one hour beginning from 09:00. #16 Naoki Yamamoto began driving with the settings the team had prepared in advance, however he was not satisfied with the feel and was unable to improve his time. During the first half of the session, he checked the conditions and considered ways of improving them as he repeatedly recorded times of 00:01:16 - 00:01:17, while the fastest drivers recorded times approximately one second faster.


With 2 minutes left in the session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto began a simulation of a qualifying time attack and recorded a time of 00:01:14.828, which put him in 5th position at that time. However, other drivers also began a time attack simulation, putting him in 10th position at the end of the exclusive drive, 0.408 seconds behind the fastest time.


■  Qualifying session (Race 1)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto 14th place (00:01:14.728)

The official qualifying session began at 11:00 and lasted for 20 minutes. The interval following the exclusive drive was just one hour, and large-scale settings changes were impossible. #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course with the first set of new tires installed, however the course on the Okayama International Circuit was crowded and it was difficult to find a position. Although he slowed his pace and sought a position for an attack, the session was interrupted by a red flag 7 minutes after the start in order to remove an obstacle from the course. All cars returned to the pit, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto's time was 00:01:25.144, putting him in 15th position.


The session was resumed at 11:15, with 13:49 minutes remaining. With the second set of new tires installed for the last part of the session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course but found his way blocked and was unable to make the attack he wanted. He abandoned one attack and allowed the tires to cool before starting a time attack again. With 5 minutes left in the course, he recorded a time of 00:01:14.728, which at that point put him in 4th position. He then began another attack, however because he was unable to improve the sector time, he canceled the attack and returned to the pit. #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended up in 14th position, 0.690 seconds behind the fastest time.


■   Final race (Race 1)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 10th place (28 laps / 00:36:53.599 / Best lap: 00:01:18:.152)

A warm-up drive was held at 14:45 in advance of the final Race 1, and the race was started at 15:30. Although the sun had begun to sink lower in the sky, it was still clear and sunny. The air temperature was 32°C, and the course temperature was 42°C. However at the start, because there was a driver who was in the wrong position in the starting grid, the start was delayed. 2 laps were subtracted from the race, and the formation lap for the 28-lap race was started at 15:55.


Starting from 14th position, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was moved up one position in the starting grid, and then passed 3 cars at the start of the race to finish the opening lap in 10th place. However even when he approached the car ahead, he lost aerodynamic balance and was unable to change positions.

On lap 8, he almost drew even with the car ahead after the back straight just before the hairpin curve and attempted to pass it, however he was not successful and in the end the car ahead increased its lead. Thereafter, although #16 Naoki Yamamoto was able to approach the car ahead, he had no opportunity to pass it and finished the race in 10th place.


September 11 (Sun)

■  Qualifying session (Race 2)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1: 14th place, 00:01:14.728, Q2: --)

Sunday was blessed with the same good weather as Saturday. With an air temperature of 25°C and a course temperature of 31°C, the qualifying sessions to determine the Race 2 starting grid began at 09:50. Under the rules, first the 20-minute Q1 session was held, with the top 10 cars advancing to Q2. The starting grid positions for the cars finishing in 11th and lower positions were decided after Q1. The starting grid for pole position through 10th position was determined in order of the best lap times at the 10-minute Q2 session starting 10 minutes after the end of Q1.


#16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course with used tires installed and began checking the settings. 10 minutes after the start of the session, all cars returned to the pits, and waited for the right time to begin a time attack. #16 Naoki Yamamoto installed the first set of new tires and waited until there were 7 minutes left in the session before entering the course at the rear of the pack.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto drove slowly and opened up distance from the car ahead as he carefully prepared his position for a time attack. The result of this time attack was a time of 00:01:15.547, which put him in 15th position and decided his 15th position in the starting grid.


■   Final race (2nd)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 6th place (51 laps / 01:11:43.331 / Best lap: 00:01:17.743)

Race 2 was held in bright sun under clear skies. At the time of the 8-minute warm-up drive before the start of the race, the air temperature was 33°C and the course temperature reached 44°C. The formation lap began at 15:00 and the race was started. #16 Naoki Yamamoto accelerated from his 15th position in the starting grid, avoided a car in front which suffered an engine stall, and went into the first corner in a group of cars.


Because it was not possible to jump up while in the middle of such a group, he decided to execute one of the plans that the team and driver had thought up. He decided on a first lap pit stop and went into the pit without completing the opening lap.

Of the 19 cars, 7 decided on a strategy of changing tires on the first and second laps. With quick pit work, team MUGEN sent #16 Naoki Yamamoto back to the course after changing to the scrubbed new tires that they had earlier planned on using in Q2. This succeeded in moving his true position up. His apparent position was 15 on the second lap and 14 on the third lap.

On lap 6, the leading driver who had started from 7th position in the qualifying session entered the pit to change tires, and then returned to the course just ahead of #16 Naoki Yamamoto as he began the seventh lap. #16 Naoki Yamamoto pulled up behind him and then overtook him at Moss S Corner to move up to 13th place. At this time, he was 3.5 seconds behind the 12th place driver.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto steadily shortened the distance from the car ahead with each lap, and he moved up to 12th place when one of the leading cars went into the pit on lap 10. On lap 12, he then moved up from 12th place to 11th place. Beginning from this time, he began a series of advances and retreats as he attempted to close the distance with the car ahead. The race entered its second half, and the leading cars began making their pit stops. As a result, even though the distance from the car ahead remained the same, #16 Naoki Yamamoto moved up in apparent position to 10th place on lap 17, 8th place on lap 19, and 7th place on lap 20.

On lap 30, the safety car entered the course to remove a car which had stopped, and the cars formed a line and began a safety car run. The race was resumed on lap 34, and at that time #16 Naoki Yamamoto was 1.4 seconds behind the car ahead. However when he got closer, he reached an interval where the aerodynamic effects became difficult, and he continued a series of advances and retreats.


On lap 41, because one of the leading vehicles received a drive-through penalty, #16 Naoki Yamamoto moved up to 6th place, however after that time the car ahead began slowly pulling away and in the end, #16 Naoki Yamamoto took the checkered flag in the same position, finishing in 6th place and earning 1.5 championship points.

As a result, #16 Naoki Yamamoto's total driver's points were 15.5, and he slipped to 6th place in the drivers ranking. Team MUGEN's total was 14.5 points, putting them in 5th place in the ranking. Round 6 of the series is scheduled to be held at Sports Land Sugo in Miyagi Prefecture on September 24 - 25.


■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

I was feeling pretty confident about the car that we brought to the course after reviewing the results from the previous race, however it did not perform to my expectations. When I started driving, it just didn't feel right.

On both Saturday and Sunday, it was true that there was traffic during the qualifying sessions. However if there had not been, overall we would not have had enough speed and it would not have made a large difference to our position. The problem is that at the present time, we have not yet clearly identified the reason for the lack of speed.


During Race 2, our strategy was effective and our pit work was extremely fast, and as a result I was able to move my position up. Moreover, the pace was good after the tire change and I came out ahead. However this strategy was only possible because we failed in Q1, so I have mixed feelings about it.

During the second half of the race, it felt like I could not close the interval because if I got too close, the car suffered bad aerodynamic effects. Because there is little time before the next race, I intend to work with the team to quickly identify the problems from this race and make improvements. There must be a reason why we are not getting enough speed, so we will work hard to find it and achieve good results in the remaining 2 races that will put us in a good position for next year.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

We had high expectations for the settings we brought to the course, but they were unsatisfactory and the corrections also did not achieve what we wanted.

Because we had improved them to some degree by the Race 1 qualifying session, I thought that if we had a clear lap we could end up in the second or third row. However there was a red flag, and we could not get the right timing for a time attack and were unable to improve our time.

During Race 1 on Saturday, Driver Yamamoto got a good start and passed three cars, but then was not able to make any more progress and ended the race in 10th place, earning no points.

We identified some improvement points before the Race 2 qualifying session on Sunday, and hoped to achieve a high position, but unfortunately finished in 15th. It is clear that we were missing something in comparison to the other fast teams.


We did not give up and everyone worked for further improvements in the run-up to the final Race 2. As a result, we had a good run. The team also did reliable pit work as they always do, and we were able to move our position up.

We will take a hard look at the results from this race, and review our approach. I am very sorry that as team director, I was not able to provide good advice throughout the weekend. I expect that the race results were disappointing to all the fans who support us, but we will never give up and we will work hard to hang on at the remaining two races and in the end achieve a comeback victory.

I ask for everyone's continued support and encouragement.