July 21, 2016

Sadly, Team MUGEN withdrew from the race due to mechanical trouble. We are aiming to get back on track at the next race.


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 3
Event name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 3 - Fuji Speedway
Course: 4.563km × 55 laps (250.965km)
Qualifying:July 16 (Sat) / Rain followed by overcast / Attendance 12,300 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: July 17 (Sun) / Overcast / Attendance 22,800 (Announcement from the organizer)


Round 3 of the 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series was held at the Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture on July 16 (Sat) and 17 (Sun). #16 Naoki Yamamoto participated as the driver for TEAM MUGEN in this race.


The original plan was to change to the new-specification brake pads that are supplied to all teams beginning from the opening race of this season. However there were problems with the feeling, and the old parts were used while improvements were carried out. These improvements were finally completed and the new brake pads were used for the first time at this race. Because the feeling was slightly different from the previous pads, all of the teams and drivers were checking out the feel of the brakes as they drove.


July 15 (Fri)

■  Practice session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 6th place (00:01:37.571)

The strong rain that had been falling during the morning stopped by noon and the road surface dried out. However it began raining again before the practice session that was scheduled to start at 15:20, and the conditions were completely wet by the start of the session. #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course with rain tires installed. This year, since the supply of control tires was changed to Yokohama Tire, there had been little opportunity to drive with the rain tires, and Naoki Yamamoto tested them for feel while driving. He drove 22 laps, and recorded a best time of 00:01:37.571, placing him in 6th position out of the 19 cars at the end of the session.


July 16 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive (1st)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 12th place (00:01:47.680)

The following day on Saturday the 16th, an exclusive drive was held in the morning for one hour beginning from 9:15. The rain let up, and the fog which had covered the course at one point lifted. The session was started as scheduled. However just as everyone thought the road surface would improve, it was wet by the rain again. Adjusting the settings under these unstable conditions was also difficult. #16 Naoki Yamamoto was unable to improve his time, and after 23 laps ended with a time that put him in 12th position out of 19 cars.


■  Qualifying session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:12th place, 00:01:44.909, Q2: 14th place, 00:01:45.239, Q3: -)

The 3 knockout formula qualifying sessions started as scheduled at 14:45. Although the rain had stopped, there was still water on the course, and the conditions were declared to be wet. The temperature was rather low at 21°C, and the conditions were difficult. #16 Naoki Yamamoto installed rain tires and prepared for the session.

As usual, he spent the first half of the 20 minute Q1 session driving while trying to pin down the conditions. There was no real improvement in the road surface, and all drivers ended up doing their time attacks with the rain tires. With less than 8 minutes remaining, #16 Naoki Yamamoto recorded a time of 00:01:44.909, putting him in 6th position, however he was unable to improve his time on successive laps and his position fell to 12th as he ended Q1 and advanced to Q2.


After a 10 minute interval, Q2 was started at 15:15 and was scheduled to last 7 minutes. Although the road surface was almost dry in some places, overall the conditions were still wet. With the rain tires installed, #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course and began a time attack. However just as in Q1, he was unable to drive as he hoped to, and his time did not improve. #16 Naoki Yamamoto drove 4 timed laps and on the last lap recorded his best time. However he ended the session in 14th place out of the 14 cars and did not advance to Q3. This decided that position in the starting grid was to be No. 14.


July 17 (Sun)

■   Exlusive drive (2nd)
#16 Naoki Yamamot, 7th place (00:01:35.189)

Although it rained in the early morning, the rain had stopped before the 30 minute exclusive drive that started at 8:45. Because there was still water on the course, the race committee declared that the conditions were wet. Each car entered the course with slick tires installed, in consideration for preparing carry-over tires for the next race. The course gradually began to dry, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto tested the feel of the dry settings as he drove, recording a time of 00:01:35.601 that put him among the top positions.


At this point, a red flag was raised and the session was interrupted in order to recover a stopped vehicle, but was resumed after 2 minutes. #16 Naoki Yamamoto drove 13 laps and shortened his time to 00:01:35.189 by the end of the session, checking the car's response in preparation for the final race which would be in dry conditions.


■   Final Race
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, no place (40 laps / 01:25:21.875 / Best lap 00:01:26.417)

The course gradually dried after the exclusive drive, and was fully dry by the start of the final race. During the warm-up drive prior to the race, #16 Naoki Yamamoto recorded a time of 00:01:26.269, placing him 3rd out of the 18 cars, as he checked the car's performance under dry conditions.


The formation lap was started at 14:00. Minus one car that had abandoned the race, the 18 cars formed up in the starting grid and started the race. #16 Naoki Yamamoto started in 14th position (which was in fact 13th position due to the missing car), moved up to 12th position on the second lap, and began an attack on the car ahead. Despite the fast pace, he was unable to pull ahead, and it turned into a series of advances and retreats.


#16 Naoki Yamamoto gradually moved up, advancing to 11th position on lap 12 and 10th position on lap 15, as he approached the positions that would yield points. However the safety car entered the course on lap 17 in order to recover a stopped vehicle, and all cars sped into the pits one after another. In order to get out ahead, the teams did not change the tires and performed only refueling work.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the pit at this time and as planned returned to the course refueled and without a change of tires. However he lost some time, and had fallen to 13th position when he returned to the course. He launched a pursuit at the same pace as the leading cars, and recovered 12th position on lap 20 and 11th position on lap 21 as he continued to chase each of the cars ahead.


However when he was about to enter the 3rd sector on lap 24, there was trouble with the transmission system and he became unable to downshift. #16 Naoki Yamamoto slowed down in the 3rd sector and then went back to the pit. The team started on repairs but was forced to take a large time loss before the car could drive again, and although #16 Naoki Yamamoto was able to return to the course, he ended the race without completing the required number of laps and was deemed to have not finished the race.

Although #16 Naoki Yamamoto was unable to add any driver points, he still remained in the top driver position at the end of Round 3, and is planning to make up lost ground at the next race in Twin Ring Motegi Circuit, which can be described as his home course. Round 4 of the series will be held on August 20 and 21 at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit in Tochigi Prefecture.


■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

We started with wet qualification sessions, and the response was not so good. I tried to move my position up as far as I could, but ended up finishing at Q2. Upon reflecting, I think there may have been something that I could have done to prevent our Q2 exit, and I apologize to the rest of the team.

The conditions for the final race were dry, and the response was good. I aimed for a good start, but was unable to get the start that I wanted. Part of it was the bad starting position, and not only was I unable to move forward, I actually fell back. Still, I renewed my efforts and was able to overtake several cars during the opening laps. Just when I thought my chance had come, we had mechanical trouble and the transmission would not downshift. This forced me to leave the race. This was a very unfortunate weekend. Fortunately, I am still the point leader and the team will work together to achieve results on our home turf of Motegi. I think we can still be the champion.


However I feel that we have not yet reached the best level even under dry conditions, and we will work to investigate and improve a variety of settings before the next race. I hope for everyone's support at Motegi.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

After winning Round 1, we prepared for Round 3 knowing that winning the title would be difficult if we did not gain points during the middle races. However it was raining and we went into the qualifying sessions with the car still not in best condition.

I think the conditions for Driver Yamamoto were difficult. Because the feeling of the car had improved under the dry conditions on Sunday, I felt that we could reach the top positions or even win the race, and we went into it with the intention of winning one of the top spots. However we have to recognize that we lost too much time with the refueling work during the critical pit stop after the safety car entered the course, and this caused our position to drop. Just when Driver Yamamoto was ready to move up, this time we had mechanical trouble. The transmission was stuck in 6th gear and would not downshift. It was a series of unfortunate events.


The wear of the new prescribed brake pads was horrible, and it is doubtful that we could have driven 55 laps. We started here at Fuji with a car that was not properly tuned to the weather, and suffered mechanical trouble and other problems, so we have many issues that need to be resolved. We will remain positive and identify all of the problems from this race, determine the cause of the mechanical trouble, and enact corrections before the next race.

We also gained a good feel of our performance here at Fuji, which is a course we had trouble with before. Although there are no more races at Fuji this season, we gained good information for future seasons. We are determined to win on our home course of Motegi, and I ask for everyone's continued support.