August 25, 2016

TEAM MUGEN overcomes a regrettable error to gain points!


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 4
Event name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 4 - MOTEGI 2&4 Race
Course: 4.801km × 52 laps (249.652km)
Qualifying:August 20 (Sat) / Fine, cloudy / Attendance 12,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: August 21 (Sun) / Fine / Attendance 16,500 (Announcement from the organizer)


Round 4 of the Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series was held at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi Prefecture. Beginning from this race, TEAM MUGEN began using the Honda HR-414E engine with new improved specifications in the SF14 as we move into the second half of the 2016 series.

In order to change the race strategy at this race, in addition to the usual medium tires for dry conditions, soft tires were added on a trial basis, and the rules permitted the use during race week of 2 sets of new medium tires, 2 sets of new soft tires, and 2 sets of carry-over tires from the previous race. However the team went into the race without having an opportunity to really check the characteristics and durability of the soft tires.


August 20 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive (1st)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 12th place (00:01:47.485)

An exclusive drive was conducted for 1 hour beginning from 09:30 on Saturday the 20th. The weather at Twin Ring Motegi was overcast mixed with light rain in the early morning, and although the sun had broken through by the time the session started, the course was completely wet and wet conditions were declared. Each car entered the course with rain tires installed, and driving with wet tires sent sprays of water into the air. Approximately 10 minutes after the start of the session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto recorded a time of 00:01:48.709, putting him in 3rd position as he returned to the pit to begin adjusting the settings.


As the settings were adjusted, #16 Naoki Yamamoto reduced his time to 00:01:47.485, however the weather deteriorated, with a driving rain falling during the last 10 minutes of the session, and the conditions did not permit any further time improvement before the end of the session.


■  Qualifying session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:7th place, 00:01:33.785, Q2: 4th place, 00:01:33.426, Q3: 8th plath, 00:01:33.988)

The 3 knockout formula qualifying sessions started at 14:10. In a complete reversal from the morning, the summer sun was shining and the course conditions were dry. Because the conditions had been wet during the morning exclusive drive, there were still 4 remaining sets of soft and medium tires for dry conditions. #16 Naoki Yamamoto first entered the course with a set of carry-over used medium tires, recording a time of 00:01:34.780 and returning to the pit after 4 laps. At this time, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 11th position.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto changed to new soft tires and entered the course for a time attack when there was 6:30 remaining in the session. He recorded a time of 00:01:33.785 and succeeded in advancing to Q2 in 7th position.


After an interval, the 7-minute Q2 session was started. The cars all began entering the course, but #16 Naoki Yamamoto waited for one lap before entering. He used the second set of new soft tires and drove for one warm-up lap and then started a time attack. He recorded a time of 00:01:33.426 just before the checkered flag, and returned to the pit in 3rd position. However a subsequent driver beat this time, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto advanced to Q3 in 4th position.

In preparation for the Q3 session, #16 Naoki Yamamoto installed the used soft tires that he had used in Q1, and waited before entering the course until there was 3:40 remaining. During the middle of Q2, there were signs of worsening weather as the skies suddenly clouded over, but the sun had returned by the start of Q3 and the road surface remained dry. However his time attack did not go as planned, due in part to a slow car blocking his path, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended Q3 in 8th position.


August 21 (Sun)

■   Exlusive drive (2nd)
#16 Naoki Yamamot, 12th place (00:01:37.047)

The second 30-minute exclusive drive was held at 09:00 before the final race. The skies above Twin Ring Motegi were clear and the course conditions were dry.

The team worked hard to bring together the settings with a long run, and conducted simulations of mid-session pit stop work. In preparation for the final race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto notified the team of points where the settings were not yet ready, and they worked to further improve them.

■   Final Race
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 8th place (52 laps / 01:26:01.781 / Best lap 00:01:37.047)

The final race was started under clear skies and mid-summer conditions with an air temperature of 33°C and road surface temperature of 40°C. A warm-up drive was held for 8 minutes before the start of the final race. #16 Naoki Yamamoto checked the final race settings that were further refined after the morning's exclusive drive. Here again he made some minor adjustments to get the feel that he wanted.


At this race, a tire change during the race was mandatory, and the rules required the use of both a set of soft tires and a set of medium tires. In accordance with the generally accepted theory, the team selected the soft tires to start with.


With the start signal at 15:00, #16 Naoki Yamamoto got a good start, and he gained a position on the inside of the course as he attempted to pull ahead of the cars that were in front of him in the grid. However the course ahead was blocked, and he turned the steering wheel back in order to try pulling ahead on the outside. However at this time the car momentarily lost speed, and he was unable to pull ahead as they entered the first corner. Making matters worse, he came too close to the car ahead and lost downforce due to braking, causing him to overrun the course and putting him behind the rest of the pack when he returned to the course.

From last place, #16 Naoki Yamamoto began making up lost ground. On lap 2, he pulled ahead of the vehicle ahead to take 18th position. He then moved up to 17th position on lap 4, and during lap 5 he passed one more car and one car also left the race, putting him in 15th position. He continued to move up, reaching 14th position on lap 8 and 13th position on lap 12. Because the teams started tire change work from lap 13, his apparent position rose to 10th, and then again to 9th on lap 14.

The team's strategy was to perform the pit work when needed according to the wear of the soft tires, however because there was no sign of his lap time dropping even after 10 laps, #16 Naoki Yamamoto delayed the pit stop and decided to continue driving on the empty course at a high pace for as long as possible.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto remained in apparent 9th position and was steadily shortening the distance from the No. 8 vehicle ahead, which had started with medium tires. However as the 30th lap approached and the timing of the tire change became critical, there was the possibility that competition with the car ahead would force him to drop his pace. The team therefore instructed #16 Naoki Yamamoto to enter the pit on the 27th lap.


In just 12 seconds, the team completed refueling and the change from soft tires to medium tires, and returned #16 Naoki Yamamoto to the course. Although his apparent position had fallen to 13th, his fight was with the No. 8 vehicle which had been ahead of him on lap 27. The No. 8 vehicle entered the pit on lap 31 and changed from medium tires to soft tires.

When the No. 8 vehicle returned to the course, #16 Naoki Yamamoto had reversed their positions and pulled ahead, and succeeded in advancing his actual position to 8th. Although the No. 8 vehicle attacked from behind with its soft tires, #16 Naoki Yamamoto continued to race at a fast pace on medium tires, and protected his 8th position until he took the checkered flag after 52 laps.



■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

Although the engine was more powerful than the earlier specifications, things did not go smoothly this weekend. Even so, we did reasonably well during Q1 and Q2. But then I failed in Q3, ending in miserable 8th position. However the team made sure the machine was in good shape for the final race. I got such a good start that I even surprised myself, and I was expecting to get results.

I moved first to the inside and then reversed to the outside as I tried to pass the car ahead. When I did that, I accidentally contacted the steering switch, causing me to lose speed. I quickly canceled the switch, but then the car ahead was too close and I braked, losing downforce. I lost control and went off the course. I am fully ashamed of myself for what I did.


That dropped me all the way to last place. However I managed to start passing cars. Our strategy also went very well, and the team did a great job during the pit stop, and I was able to keep moving up. When I consider that I was all the way at the bottom at one point, I think the fact that I was able to move up to 8th place and gain 1 point is something of a silver lining. It is a point that I owe to everyone's help.

I intend to win the next race at the Okayama International Circuit, which is a course that both I and the team do well. When I became champion in 2013, it was the 1 point that I gained at Motegi that put me over the top. I am hoping for the same to happen again. I will work hard for the rest of the season so that we can steadily gain points and finally take the championship at Suzuka.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

Because neither engine drivability nor chassis controllability was in the best conditions when we brought the car to the circuit, we made improvements little by little and had achieved a pretty good feel as we went into the qualifying races. However we were unable to deliver speed like we did at Suzuka, a circuit we frequently do well at. The result of 8th position after the qualifying races was disappointing; however all of us believed that it was a position from which we could still aim for the top.

Before the race, we drove a tight long run to identify the problem points, and were able to fix them and put the settings in order. At the start, we fell all the way to last place, but Driver Yamamoto was able to move up car by car on a circuit that is notoriously difficult to overtake on. The team performed flawless pit work, and in the end we gained 1 point.


Falling to last place was an unexpected setback, but there was definitely a feeling of earning a hard-fought result! I am pleased that our team strength was that effective. Naoki Yamamoto also worked hard to make it all the way through the race in the humidity and heat.

Although we have fallen from our position at the top of the rankings, the point difference is small. So we are not disappointed, and will work for the rest of the season to gain points at Okayama, Sugo, and Suzuka and eventually take the title.

I would like to ask for the continued cooperation and support of all our sponsors and fans.