November 04, 2016

TEAM MUGEN reaches the end of a grueling season.


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 7
Event name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Final Round: JAF Suzuka Grand Prix
Course (Race 1): 5.807km × 19 laps (110.333km)
Course (Race 2): 5.807km × 35 laps (203.245km)
Qualifying: October 29 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 13,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: October 30 (Sun) / Fine / Attendance 21,000 (Announcement from the organizer)


The final round (Round 7) of the Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA was held at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture. #16 Naoki Yamamoto participated as the driver for TEAM MUGEN in this race.

A special format was adopted for the final round of the season, with the race consisting of 2 races: a 19-lap Race 1 and a 35-lap Race 2. As a result, the qualifying format and championship point distribution were also different from usual.


October 29 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 6th place (00:01:38.486)

A 1-hour exclusive drive was held beginning from 9:10 on the morning of Saturday, October 29. Due to rain that had continued up to the previous day, there were still some wet spots on the Suzuka Circuit, however the conditions were generally dry. TEAM MUGEN and #16 Naoki Yamamoto had achieved a perfect pole-to-finish victory on the same Suzuka Circuit in the opening race of the season. This time, they arrived and began driving with their machine tuned to the settings from that successful opening race.


Although they achieved approximately the same times as at the opening race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was not satisfied with the feeling and continued driving while working to improve the original settings. #16 Naoki Yamamoto drove 17 laps in total and recorded a time of 00:01:38.486, 0.404 seconds behind the top time, ending the exclusive drive in 6th position.


■  Qualifying session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1: 9th place (00:01:38.288), Q2: 11th place (00:01:38.212), Q3: DNS)

The 3 knockout formula qualifying sessions started at 14:15. The skies were clear and the course conditions were dry. At this qualifying race, an irregular set of rules was used due to the 2-race format. First, the results from the 20-minute Q1 session were used to determine the starting grid for Race 1, with the top 14 drivers advancing to the 7-minute Q2 session which determined the starting grid for Race 2. At this time, the Race 2 grid positions for the remaining 5 drivers were decided based on the Q1 results. The top 8 drivers from the Q2 session advanced to the Q3 session, while the Race 2 grid positions for the remaining 6 drivers were decided based on the Q2 session results. In the Q3 session, the drivers fought over the top 8 positions in the Race 2 starting grid.


At the start of the Q1 session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was not satisfied with the conditions of the machine. This was because the behavior was unstable, making it impossible to perform a time attack that pushed to the limits. However with new tires installed, he began a time attack with just over 7 minutes left in the session.

The result was a time of 00:01:38.288, putting him in 9th position. Even though he advanced to Q2 and recorded times that would have been at the top level in the opening race of the season, he was 0.835 seconds behind the driver with the best time. This determined his No. 9 position in the Race 1 starting grid.


During the short interval between sessions, the team made fine adjustments to the machine, aiming to improve controllability. #16 Naoki Yamamoto advanced to Q2, however the conditions of the machine remained largely unchanged, and he began his attack with an unstable machine. Although his time was 00:01:38.212 - better than the Q1 time, he ended the session in 11th position and did not advance to Q3. His No. 11 position in the Race 2 starting grid was therefore decided.


October 30 (Sun)

■  Race 1
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 19th place (18 laps - 1 lap behind / best lap 00:01:40.347)

Due to the irregular 2-race system, the exclusive drive session that is usually held in the morning with the ordinary race format was not held. Race 1 started at 9:00 in the morning. The weather was clear again after the previous day, and the air temperature was a brisk 19 degrees.

After the team completed the qualifying sessions on the previous day, they worked to further improve the machine settings, and during the 8-minute warm-up drive before Race 1, #16 Naoki Yamamoto got a good feeling from the machine. He drove 5 laps and recorded a time of 00:01:40.432, the second best time out of the 19 cars.



Race 1 started at 9:45. Beginning from the No. 9 position, #16 Naoki Yamamoto aimed to move up his position within the group, but just past the second corner, the driver on the inside collided with him, pushing him out and causing him to overrun the course.

At this time, the front end plate of the other machine contacted the right front tire of #16 Naoki Yamamoto's machine, damaging the tire. Although #16 Naoki Yamamoto returned to the course, he was forced to drive slow and immediately went into the pit. Just the front tire was hastily changed and he continued the race nearly a lap behind.


Thereafter #16 Naoki Yamamoto completed the short race almost on his own, and finished in 19th place 1 lap behind. After the tire change, #16 Naoki Yamamoto's condition was good, and he recorded a best time during the race of 00:01:40.347, the second best time of the race (0.126 seconds behind the fastest lap).


■   Race 2
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, drop-out (28 laps - 7 laps behind / best lap 00:01:42.422)

From the start of the race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was concerned about the heavy feel of the steering. Because they were not replaced at Race 1, the team replaced the suspension-related parts for additional security, making sure the machine was fully ready for Race 2. The Race 2 distance was 35 laps - right on the edge of how far the car can go on a full tank, and all teams were required to make a pit stop to change tires once during the race.


Under continuing clear skies, the 8-minute warm-up drive began at 14:00. In order to finish the race without refueling, #16 Naoki Yamamoto had a full fuel tank, and did not improve on his time from Race 1. Race 2 then started at 14:45.

The timing of the pit stop was one of the key points that would decide victory in this race. The team thought that a pit stop during the opening of the race was best, however the final decision was left to #16 Naoki Yamamoto after the start of the race. Stuck in the middle of the group, #16 Naoki Yamamoto decided on a pit stop in the first lap. He notified the team and headed for the pit on lap 1.


The team worked quickly and sent #16 Naoki Yamamoto back to the course with 4 changed tires and no additional fuel. On lap 3, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in apparent 12th position. However whenever he approached the machine ahead, the aerodynamic effects prevented him from passing.

On lap 15, one of the leading cars dropped out of the race. On lap 16, #16 Naoki Yamamoto passed the car ahead and moved into 10th position. On lap 18, one of the drivers who had continued to drive and had not yet made the pit stop went into the pit, moving #16 Naoki Yamamoto to 9th position going into lap 19.

However the effects of the tire change on the first lap began to gradually take their toll on #16 Naoki Yamamoto. As the tires became worn, the stability of the machine worsened and it began to wobble. When the safety car entered the course on lap 24 for a pace run while an accident was cleared away, it was a small blessing for #16 Naoki Yamamoto.


The race resumed from lap 28, and at this time #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 9th position, being attacked from behind by a driver who had just had his tires changed. However just after the race was restarted, on the final corner of lap 28, #16 Naoki Yamamoto's tire fell off the course, sending his car into a spin and off of the course. That was the end of the race for #16 Naoki Yamamoto.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto was unable to add to his series points, and with a total of 15.5 points he finished the season in 7th place in the series point rankings, 17.5 points behind the winner. TEAM MUGEN ended the season in 6th place in the team point rankings.


■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

We had high hopes for this race because it was on the Suzuka Circuit that we usually do well at. However at the same time, because except for the opening race, none of the other races this season had gone the way we wanted, we were all a bit nervous. I think that it probably had the biggest effect on us. Even though we used the same settings as the opening race, we did not get the same feeling at all.

I suppose it is obvious that when the conditions are different, the feeling will also be different, but the behavior was so completely different that I was worried and could not make a proper, full-hearted attack. I believe that the true value of a driver is being able to correct these problems and move up his position in a race even under the most difficult circumstances. I regret that I was unable to do that this time.


The team worked hard in many areas over the past year, and the engineers put particular effort into the settings. However I was unable to meet their expectations as the driver. The spin in Race 2 was entirely my mistake. The car had begun to wobble, and I was not concentrating fully on the race while I was driving. I can truly feel the limits of my abilities. It will not be easy, but I hope that I can change course and prepare myself for next year.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

We started with the specifications from the opening race, which went so well for us. However the conditions were different, and although with some corrections we were able to achieve the same level as the opening race, we knew that we had to change something in order to make any further progress. In the end, (the specification changes) were not finished in time for the qualifying session, and we failed to advance at Q2.

Although the car was in good conditions for Race 1, contact with another car at the start damaged the front tire and required an emergency pit stop to change it. Subsequently although we were a lap behind, overall we were able to achieve the second best time.

We changed the settings for Race 2 because of the heavier fuel load, but that did not go the way we had hoped. Thanks to the good pit work by the mechanics, we were able to come out ahead of several other cars, however unlike Race 1, we lost our balance and ended the season without being able to achieve our best pace.


Since this was the last race, the staff came together with particular dedication to aim for victory, but the results were disappointing. It is unfortunate that we ended the season with just the one victory in the opening race. We will need to take a look back at our shortcomings. I am extremely sorry to all the persons who supported us.

I think that we need to reconsider all of the things we did wrong and try new approaches as we work for the future. I am grateful to everyone who fought with us during the past year. I would also like to express my deep thanks to the team members, Honda representatives, all of our sponsors, and our fans. We will move forward with victory foremost in our minds, and I hope that we can receive your continued support.


♦ Race report for 2016 SUPER FORMULA Rd7 (Japanese page)