April 28, 2016

A complete victory for TEAM MUGEN in the opening race! Highlighted by the second consecutive pole-to-win continuing from the last race of the previous season!


Series name: 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Round 1
Event name: 2016 NGK SPARK PLUG Suzuka 2&4 Race
Course: 5.807km × 43 laps (249.701km)
Qualifying: April 23 (Sat) / Overcast / Attendance 22,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: April 24 (Sun) / Overcast / Attendance 32,000 (Announcement from the organizer)


The Suzuka 2&4 Race - round 1 of the 2016 Japanese Championship SUPER FORMULA Series - was held on April 23 (Sat) and 24 (Sun) at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture. #16 Naoki Yamamoto participated as the driver for TEAM MUGEN in this race. #16 Naoki Yamamoto won the final race of the 2015 series, which was also held on the same Suzuka circuit, and approached race week on a strong wave of joint tests that were conducted during the off season.

This will be the third season for this machine with its Honda HR-414E engine mounted on a Dallara SF14 chassis. Beginning from this year, the series name has been changed, and there have been several operational changes in the series, including the change to Yokohama Tire for the control tires that are provided to all participants. At the same time, the series established a Friday exclusive practice session, increasing the opportunities for driving at each event.


April 22 (Fri)

■  Practice session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 19th place (00:01:41.947)

Beginning from this season, a Friday driving session has been added. The practice session began at 15:30 on a dry course and lasted for one hour. #16 Naoki Yamamoto began driving in order to check the preliminary settings made before the vehicle was brought to the track, but a problem in the electrical system occurred shortly after starting and he was forced to interrupt the drive and return to the pit to have a part replaced. This produced a large delay in checking the preliminary settings.

Beginning from this season, a Friday driving session has been added. The practice session began at 15:30 on a dry course and lasted for one hour. #16 Naoki Yamamoto began driving in order to check the preliminary settings made before the vehicle was brought to the track, but a problem in the electrical system occurred shortly after starting and he was forced to interrupt the drive and return to the pit to have a part replaced. This produced a large delay in checking the preliminary settings.


April 23 (Sat)

■  Exclusive drive (1st)
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 16th place (00:01:40.467)

The next day on Saturday the 23rd, an exclusive drive was conducted on the dry track for one hour beginning from 9:30. Beginning from this series, the number of new tires that can be used during a single race week was increased from 3 sets to 4 sets. The total number of tire sets brought to race week, including used tires carried over from earlier races, remains 8 sets. The team decided to use the used tires first, and proceeded with the delayed check of the settings.



Unable to fully check the settings on the previous day, #16 Naoki Yamamoto made little progress in terms of the lap times. He was unfortunate in that the session was broken up by two red flag interruptions. When there was slightly less than 10 minutes remaining, he changed to new tires for the first time and began simulating a time attach. However his time was 00:01:40.467, trailing the top time by 1.781 seconds, and advancing him only to 16th out of 19 cars. #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended the session having driven a total of 19 laps.

Although the lap time did not improve, the team made steady progress with the settings. At the same time, they prepared a set of carry-over tires from the 4 sets which they brought with them for the second session.


■  Qualifying session
#16 Naoki Yamamoto (Q1:1st place, 00:01:38.609, Q2: 1st place, 00:01:38.187, Q3: 1st position, 00:01:37.459)

The 3 knockout formula qualifying sessions were conducted under dry course conditions. The normal rules were applied. Q1 was a 20-minute session, with the top 14 vehicles advancing to Q2 and the starting grid decided for the vehicles in 15th and lower places. The top 14 vehicles from Q1 advanced to the 7-minute Q2 session and conducted a time attack. Based on the results, the top 8 vehicles advanced to Q3, while the starting grid for places 9 - 14 was decided. At Q3, the vehicles competed for the top 8 grid positions including the pole position.

The 20-minute Q1 session began at 14:00. The sky was overcast with a layer of thin clouds, and with used tires installed, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was the second driver to enter the course and begin his laps. He was timed for 4 laps, recording a time of 00:01:40.422 before returning to the pit in preparation for a time attack. At this time, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 14th place.


When there was slightly less than 7 minutes remaining in the session, the cars with new tires installed that had been waiting in the pits all began to enter the course at once. #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered at an early stage and carefully warmed up the tires before beginning the time attack. However because a machine went off the course at the Dunlop corner during the lap, a red flag was raised to stop the session.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto stopped his time attack and returned to the pit. The session resumed at 14:23 with 3 minutes remaining. #16 Naoki Yamamoto would have to enter the course and drive one lap to warm up the tires again before beginning his attack. Driven with full concentration, his was the first car to enter the course and when the tires were warm, he began the time attack. The result was a time of 00:01:38.609, catapulting him to the top position. None of the later drivers beat this time and #16 Naoki Yamamoto finished Q1 and advanced to Q2 in 1st place.


Q2 began at 14:40 and was planned to last 7 minutes. #16 Naoki Yamamoto was the second driver to enter the course, and warmed up the tires for 2 laps before beginning a time attack that recorded a time of 00:01:38.187, putting him on top again. The session was then interrupted by a red flag, and the vehicles all returned temporarily to the pits. Although the session resumed with 3 minutes remaining, #16 Naoki Yamamoto remained in the pit, and ended Q2 with his top time intact.

Q3 began at 15:08 and was planned to last 7 minutes. This time, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was the last driver to enter the course, driving 2 laps to warm up the tires before beginning his time attack. He completed the attack lap without incident, and recorded a best time of 00:01:37.459, putting him on top once again. When the session ended, #16 Naoki Yamamoto had gained the pole position.


April 24 (Sun)

■   Exlusive drive (2nd)
#16 Naoki Yamamot, 19th place (00:01:42.795)

Although it rained late Saturday night, the rain stopped before morning and despite a few wet spots here and there, the course condition was dry. #16 Naoki Yamamoto installed a well-used set of tires and entered the course, driving 14 laps as he searched for the best front-rear balance for the final race. He did not improve on his time, and ended 19th out of 19 cars with a time of 00:01:42.795. The team began making fine adjustments to the settings in preparation for the final race.

■   Final Race
#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 1st place (43 laps / 01:13:59.415 / Best lap 00:01:41.238)

The Suzuka Circuit was dry under a sky covered by light clouds. An 8 minute warm-up drive was conducted beginning from 14:30. During this time, #16 Naoki Yamamoto checked the final feel of the settings and built confidence for the final race.


The formation lap began at 15:15, and at 15:19 the signal turned off and the final race began. #16 Naoki Yamamoto began accelerating after a nicely timed clutch-meet, and entered the first corner with no threats to his position at the head of the pack. Having secured the leading position, #16 Naoki Yamamoto began a fierce dash aimed at pulling away from the No. 2 machine beginning from the first lap.


During the first lap, #16 Naoki Yamamoto had already opened up a lead of 1.514 seconds over the 2nd place driver, and on the second lap recorded his fastest lap time of 00:01:41.238 - a time which was not broken until the 20th lap. He also opened up his lead to 2.245 seconds, and continued expanding it to 2.735 seconds in the third lap and 3.033 seconds in the fourth lap. He continued on the same pace, expanding his lead with each lap so that he was 9.359 seconds ahead of the 2nd place car when the race reached the midway point after the 24th lap.

The next issue for #16 Naoki Yamamoto was deciding the timing of the pit stop and the pit work to be performed. Of the following teams which had adopted strategies requiring a pit stop, some chose a strategy of not changing the tires. This strategy moves the cars up by eliminating the tire change time, but this naturally puts a considerable load on the tires during the second half of the race.


The team observed the status of the other teams which had started on a strategy of no tire change, and because there was no significant drop-off in their lap times, they became confident in a strategy of no tire change. However if possible they wanted to see what strategy the 2nd place driver would choose before deciding on a course of action.

However at this time, the trailing machine a lap behind appeared in front of #16 Naoki Yamamoto and on lap 25, his course was blocked for nearly the entire lap by the lapped machine, and his lead over the 2nd place driver dropped to less than 7 seconds. On the lap 28 as well, he became stuck on the lapped machine and his pace dropped again. At this point, the team decided to make a move first, without waiting for the 2nd place driver to enter the pit.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto went into the pit after lap 31. He refueled and, without changing the tires, returned to the course. The 2nd place driver entered the pit on the next lap, and as expected, also returned to the course without a tire change. On lap 34, #16 Naoki Yamamoto finished the pit stop and returned to the race, still on top and with a lead of 7.575 seconds over the closest follower.


He maintained his pace and continued to open the distance between himself and the 2nd place driver with each lap. It was a complete victory in which he did not yield the top position even once, including during the 3 qualifying sessions. By the time he took the checkered flag at the end of lap 43, he had actually increased his lead to 11.710 seconds. In this way, #16 Naoki Yamamoto and TEAM MUGEN dominated the opening race of the 2016 season, and adding to their victory in the final race last year, they gained their second consecutive win.


The second race of the series will be held on May 28 - 29 at the Okayama International Circuit.


■ Comments from driver, Naoki Yamamoto

When we first started driving on Friday, I seriously did not think that we could take the pole position and win the race. However we achieved this result because the team, the Honda staff, and myself - none of us gave up. I finally became satisfied with the conditions of the car in the Q1 qualifying session when we installed new tires for the time attack. After that time, I just rode the wave as I always do. Although the car did not drive well on Sunday morning when we were using used tires, the team reviewed the settings one more time, and I felt confident going into the final race.


Once the race started and I had opened up a 4-second lead ahead of the No. 2 car, I knew that we would win as long as nothing went wrong. However we can never know when or what kind of trouble will happen, so that was my only worry. I just kept telling myself that what was most important was to concentrate. I remember thinking that the timing of our pit stop - acting before the 2nd place driver - was not according to theory. But by entering the pit when we did, I was able to return to a clear course so it turned out well. I am thankful that we are able to have this race while things are still so difficult in Kyushu due to the earthquake. I was very happy to receive messages of support from the people who are struggling there. I did my best for them as well, and if they see our pole-to-win as a kind of present to them, I will be pleased.


■ Comments from the team director, Nagataka Tezuka

Although we got good times during the joint test in Okayama, I did not have a good feeling about Suzuka. We decided the preliminary settings based on the data from Okayama, however trouble occurred just after the start of driving on Friday and we spent time fixing that. Consequently we were unable to check the settings. I felt that we had gotten off to a bad start.
On Saturday we were able to do some real driving, and at that stage we discovered that there were several problems with balance and grip, so we adjusted the settings based on data from past experience. Then it all finally came together in Q1. After that time we made repeated minor adjustments on our way to Q3, and were able to get back in our usual groove.
Although the fact that we got a later start than the other teams put us in an extremely difficult position, Naoki Yamamoto, the engineers, and the mechanics all concentrated and gave us 100% effort. On Sunday morning, I did not think we were in such bad shape. We put on a set of well-used tires and adjusted the front-rear balance, and before the race we asked Driver Yamamoto for his opinions, reviewed the data, and made fine adjustments in the usual way. Although we completed the final check 8 minutes before the start of the race, Driver Yamamoto said, “This will do it.” He made a good start and positioned himself perfectly to begin pulling away from the pack!


For the timing of the pit stop during the race, because we had opened up a margin ahead of the No. 2 car, and because we were thinking about fuel economy and had also encountered a lapped vehicle, we decided to make a move first. Regarding the tires, Driver Yamamoto reported that driving had become a bit more difficult but was still OK. So although we had prepared a variety of measures, we ended up going without the tire change. I am not in the habit of giving orders to the driver during a race, however when he was blocked by the lapped car ahead, I knew he was probably getting angry. So I did tell him to calm down, but that was all!

I am extremely happy that we were able to start this new season with a strong victory. I would like to thank Honda and the M-TEC staff for the many improvements they made. However of course we have to remain focused as we move forward from here. We will not be able to claim the title unless we can also deliver good results on courses other than Suzuka.
I believe that it is very important to analyze the conditions of the engine and the body, and to consider what was done to make them better in the past and enact further improvements. A win is a win, and I am happy for it, but I know that we will have to work hard or we will suffer disappointment in the future.
Finally, I would like to thank all of the fans who have supported us, and everyone who is involved in our team. We will join together and work hard in preparation for the next race, and I ask for everyone's continued support.