September 29, 2016

Team MUGEN pins its hopes on the final round!


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 6
Event name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 6 - Sports Land Sugo
Course: 3.704km × 68 laps (251.872km)
Qualifying:September 24 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 6,700 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: September 25 (Sun) / Fine / Attendance 14,000 (Announcement from the organizer)


Round 6 of the 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series was held on September 24 (Saturday) - 25 (Sunday) at Sports Land Sugo in Miyagi Prefecture.


September 24 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive (1st)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 17th place (00:01:06.885)

An exclusive drive was held for one hour beginning from 9:00 on Saturday the 24th. Although Sports Land Sugo was crowned with clear autumn skies, it had rained until the previous night and the course had still not completely dried. Wet conditions were declared before the drive started. As the session progressed, the course began to dry and driving under dry conditions became possible.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto drove a total of 29 laps, and ended the session with a recorded best time of 00:01:06:885, putting him 00:00:01.217 behind the top time.


■  Qualifying session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:19th place, 00:01:06.754, Q2: --, Q3: --)

The 3 knockout formula qualifying sessions were started at 13:00. The sky was covered by thin clouds, but the session was held under dry course conditions. When the 20 minute Q1 session started, #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course with the first set of new tires installed, and although there was some traffic, the new tires felt good and he recorded a time of 00:01:06.754 before returning to the pit. When all the cars returned to the pit at the end of the first session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 9th position.

After making fine adjustments to the settings and installing the second set of new tires, #16 Naoki Yamamoto waited for the right time to enter the course for the second half of the session. On the short course at Sports Land Sugo, finding a good position for a time attack is critical, and all cars were trying to enter the course at just the right time that would put them in the best position.


When there were seven minutes left in the session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto left the pit to enter the course. However the timing was wrong and he collided with the rear of another car that was driving in the fast lane and attempting to enter the course.

The machine was returned to the pit, and the damaged nose cone was replaced. Although #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course with a little more than 2 minutes remaining, he was unable to begin a time attack and returned to the pit without improving his time.

In the end, #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended Q1 in 19th position. This meant that he did not advance to Q2 and would begin the final race from the last position in the starting grid.


September 25 (Sun)

■   Exlusive drive (2nd)
#16 Naoki Yamamot, 18th place (00:01:08.950)

Rain had fallen during the night before and wet the course, however the final race of the Japanese Formula 3 Championship was held before the exclusive drive, and the course conditions at the start of the session were nearly dry.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto focused on the final race and selected used tires with more than 30 laps on them when he entered the course. He concentrated fully on starting practice and on fine tuning the machine settings.

With 5 minutes remaining in the session, a red flag was raised to recover a car that had left the course, and the session ended before the drive was restarted. #16 Naoki Yamamoto returned to the pit at the end of the session having driven 17 laps and recorded a time of 00:01:08.950. This time placed him in 18th position out of the 19 cars that started the session.

■   Final Race
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 14th place (68 laps / 01:23:16.208 / Best lap 00:01:08.790)

The final race that was started at 15:00 began under sunny autumn skies. During the 8-minute warm-up drive that was held before the final race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the pit once and made final adjustments to the settings. He drove 5 laps and recorded a time of 00:01:10.333, ending the drive in 16th position.


At 15:00, from the last position in the starting grid, #16 Naoki Yamamoto got off to a good start at the start signal and fended off several cars as he went into the first corner. However he lost his place when he braked, and with too much energy he slightly overran to the outside of the course. He returned to the course, and ended up beginning the race from last place.

On lap 3, the two cars ahead got tangled and withdrew, putting #16 Naoki Yamamoto in 17th place. On lap 5, a car stopped and he moved up to 16th place. On lap 7, some drivers began a strategy of early refueling pit stops and left the course for pit work, gradually moving #16 Naoki Yamamoto up.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto himself believed that he could finish this race without a change of tires and so the only required pit work was refueling. Because the pit work would require little time and refueling would result in a corresponding increase in the vehicle weight, he thought that the early refueling strategy which had been effective in Round 5 on the Okayama International Circuit would not be so effective here. For this reason, he had planned on entering the pit at the same time as the drivers around him. Although he expected to be able to complete the race without a change of tires, he also wanted to delay the pit stop because he was slightly concerned about the wear of the rear tires.


However on lap 18 when around half the machines had made their pit stops and #16 Naoki Yamamoto had moved up to 7th place, a machine left the course and the safety car entered. As a result, all machines which had not completed the pit work, including #16 Naoki Yamamoto, headed for the pits. #16 Naoki Yamamoto saw that he had extra time due to the safety car run, and decided to perform the change of rear tires that he had originally planned to skip.

When the pit work was finished and #16 Naoki Yamamoto returned to the lineup of the safety car run, he was in 14th place. The race was resumed from lap 23. #16 Naoki Yamamoto stepped on the accelerator, but the car did not accelerate as he expected. He was in a line with the car behind and used the overtake system as he went into the first corner. Although he was able to defend against the attack from the car behind, he locked the brakes and created a flat spot on the tires. This forced him to deal with uncomfortable vibration for the rest of the race.

Having fallen into a difficult situation, #16 Naoki Yamamoto pursued the car ahead, and gradually shortened the distance between them. On lap 31, he locked the brakes on the high-point corner and overran the course. He was passed by the car behind and fell to 15th place. He then pursued that car at an interval of around 1.5 seconds, but he was unable to overtake it, due in part to the vibration caused by the flat spots on the tires. Because one of the cars ahead entered the pit, he moved up to 14th place, however he was unable to advance any further during the last few laps before finally taking the checkered flag.


#16 Naoki Yamamoto was unable to add to his series points, and with a total of 15.5 points, he fell to 7th place in the series point rankings, 12.5 points behind the leader. He will enter the final race of the series with the possibility of a comeback to become series champion still alive. Team MUGEN is in 5th place in the team point rankings.



■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

During the qualifying session on Saturday, I left the pit on receiving the “go” sign from the mechanic. The mechanic then saw the car in the fast lane and tried to stop me, but because it was outside my field of vision and I did not see it, I went ahead anyway. The final responsibility is mine for failing to check.


Although I got a good start in the final race, braking caused a greater loss of down force than I expected, and I overran the course. On the engine side as well, it was showing signs of not producing enough speed. Although we changed the map when the safety car entered, there was no improvement and upon restarting I pushed too hard and locked the brakes, creating a flat spot on the tires. This made the rest of the race very tough.

As we prepare for the final round, because we were so fast in the opening round at Suzuka, naturally those specifications will be in our heads. However I am not certain that we can really use the same specifications for speed again during the final round at Suzuka. We will not give up as long as there is any chance at the title, however right now we do not have the speed needed to compete for it.

Because the final round will take place on a circuit that is good for me and for the team, I intend to fight for the top positions, as much for regaining my confidence as for taking home the title. I am praying for a second consecutive win on this circuit.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

There is no excuse for our results during the qualifying session. This is unfortunate because judging from the driving with the first set of new tires, the vehicle showed good response that should have taken us to the upper positions. It is also very frustrating. I am extremely sorry to all the people who we have inconvenienced and to everyone who has supported us.


In the final race, because the rules do not easily permit the execution of an original strategy, what we needed first and foremost was a strong, fast vehicle. However we were unable to pass the car in front, and ended the race in difficult conditions. There is no excuse for our failure to gain points at this race, and so the only thing we can do is repay everyone by producing results in the final round.

The final round will be a two-race system at our favorite circuit of Suzuka. We will trust in what we have accomplished so far, and search for our way forward. I hope that we can succeed in meeting everyone's expectations.