April 26, 2018

Series name: 2018 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 1
Round name: 2018 NGK SPARK PLUG Suzuka 2and4 Race
Course:5.807km x 51 laps (296.157km)
Qualifying: April 21 (Sat) / Fine / Attendance 22,000 (Announcement from the organizer)
Race: April 22 (Sun) / Partially cloudy / Attendance 34,000 (Announcement from the organizer)

    2018 Japanese SUPER FORMULA Championship Round 1 took place at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture. TEAM MUGEN joined the race with two cars, #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi. It was very first time for Fukuzumi who debuted at FIA-F3 last year to compete in domestic top formula race. He also enters FIA-F2 along with Super Formula.


●April 21 (Sat)
■Free Practice
  #16 Naoki Yamamoto, (Best time: 00:01:38:371 - 2nd place)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, (Best time: 00:01:38:873 – 7th place)

It was temporally quite cold in the morning. The one-hour free practice started when the clouds in the sky had gone and the Sun started to warm up the course at 10:15 AM. #16 Naoki Yamamoto took 15 laps with a time of 00:01:39:446, 10th place at the free practice session in a previous day and so did Fukuzumi with a time of 00:01:39:889, 14th place. Both of them put importance on working on strategies for the qualifying and race from next day.

When the course opened for the free practice, the two cars appeared on the course with medium tires installed, and took laps smoothly. #16 Naoki Yamamoto took 5 laps in the beginning of the free practice and recorded a time of 00:01:39:827 and which was the top time and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi did 00:01:40:651, 4th place.

During the session a red flag appeared to remove the car going out of the course, and all the cars had to go back to each pit area. After the race re-started, this time #16 Naoki Yamamoto went off the course at Degner curve at his 2nd lap, and the race was interrupted again. At this moment #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in the 1st position and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi was in 4th position. When in 26 minutes remaining in the session, the race restarted and many cars started to install the soft tires and the time attacks began.

There were less than 5 minutes remaining in the session, #15 Nirei Fukuzumi and #16 Naoki Yamamoto adopted soft tires and conducted time attack simulations. As the result, #16 Naoki Yamamoto lost his position down to 2nd with a time of 00:01:38:371. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi finished his free session with a time of 00:01:38:873 in 7th place.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto, (Q1: 2nd place 00:01:37:518 / Q2: 2nd place 00:01:37:227 / Q3: 1st place 00:01:36:911)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, (Q1: 3rd place 00:01:37:559 / Q2: 3rd place 00:01:37:274 / Q3: 2nd place 00:01:36:991)

The ambient temperature just before the qualifying starting at 3:45 PM was 23℃ and the course temperature was 33℃ some like summer temperatures. All the cars are required to install the medium tires in 20-minute Q1 session under new regulation. #16 Naoki Yamamoto entered the course and immediately started to warm up the tires in a good shape, at the 2nd lap he recorded the top time. When he conducted a time attack at the 3rd lap, he recorded the fastest lap 00:01:38:347 and came back to the pit. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi also made a better lap 00:01:39:159 following #16 Naoki Yamamoto and then made another new lap 00:01:39:075.

When the first half of the session ended and all the cars came back to each pit, #16 Naoki Yamamoto was in 2nd position and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi, was in 4th position. With less than 6 and half minutes remaining, all the cars entered the course for time attacks. #16 Naoki Yamamoto from the beginning recorded the top lap 00:01:37:518, and then one car broke this record, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto ended Q1 in his 2nd place, on the other hand #15 Nirei Fukuzumi finished Q1 with a time of 00:01:37:559 in 3rd place just after #16 Naoki Yamamoto.

After the 10-minute interval the 7-minute Q2 session began at 4:15 PM. Here all the cars were installed with soft tires, and entered the course and started to warm up the tires when the 5 minutes remained before the end of the Q2 session. #16 Naoki Yamamoto soon recorded a time of 00:01:37:227 in 2nd position and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi 00:01:37:274 3rd position. Then due to a car coming off the course, the session was interrupted with a red flag. 

After such an interruption, with less than 3 minutes remaining, the session resumed. Most cars were installed with another set of soft tires and tried time attacks. Neither #16 Naoki Yamamoto nor #15 Nirei Fukuzumi came back to the course. In the end none of cars could not make better laps than those of #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumis’, and naturally both of them advanced to Q3. 

When the 7-minutes Q3 session started at 4:40 PM, 8 cars not including one car having been off the course at Q2 got off to a start. #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi did not come out of the pit till the 3 and half minutes left before the end of the session, and tried their time attacks just before the end of the session. When two of them started to warm up and got ready for the time attacks, a flag indicating the end of session appeared, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto recorded a time of 00:01:36:911, and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi 00:01:36:991 and finished the session in the 1st place and 2nd. TEAM MUGEN would occupy the front row at the race.

●April 22 (Sun)
■Free Practice #16 Naoki Yamamoto, (Best time: 00:01:41:316 – 8th place)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, (Best time: 00:01:41:510 - 13th place)

Under the clear sky the 35-minute free practice started from 8:35 AM. Its distance was 300km which was longer compared to that of the normal races. All the participants made several laps to figure out the best strategy and see the tire condition to compete in this long distance race. #15 Nirei Fukuzumi made 17 laps and recorded a time of 00:01:41:510, 13th place, and #16 Naoki Yamamoto did 16 laps 00:01:41:316, 8th place.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto, 1st place (51 laps / 01:29:25:365 / Best lap: 00:01:42:678)
#15 Nirei Fukuzumi, DNF (32 laps / Best lap: 00:01:43:011)

Though it was partially cloudy, the Sun came out and the ambient temperature went up to 26℃ and road surface temperature went far up to 40℃. At 1:54 PM the race began. Both #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi got off to a good start and kept their positions and dove into the first corner. Both cars were installed with the medium tires and tried to go as far as possible till the tires would be changed to soft ones. Pace of #16 Naoki Yamamoto got faster and faster and in the end the time gap between #16 Naoki Yamamoto and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi came to more than 1.5 seconds during the opening lap. 

#17 car with two-stop strategy made use of its light weight condition to try to catch up with #15 Nirei Fukuzumi. At the 3rd lap #17 car passed by #15 Nirei Fukuzumi at the fist corner, and #15 Nirei Fukuzum, went down to the 3rd position. Successively #17 tied to overtake #16 Naoki Yamamoto and time between them came down to 0.340, but #16 Naoki Yamamoto tried his best to protect himself and after 8th lap its time gap stared to increase again.

#17 car made a pit stop at 19th lap and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi came back to 2nd position following #16 Naoki Yamamoto with a time gap 15.7 seconds. Again TEAM MUGEN 1-2. Such a situation was kept till 30th lap and #15 Nirei Fukuzumi took a pit stop at the 31st lap for refueling and change of tires.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto going ahead finished his 32 laps and came back to the pit. After refueling and change of tires he came back to the course, however, #15 Nirei Fukuzumi who took a pit stop first suddenly started to slow down at the hairpin corner of the 32nd lap. He maneuvered to come back to the pit area quite slowly but due to a gear change trouble, he had no choice but to retire the race.

#16 Naoki Yamamoto appeared on the course after the pit stop. There went #17 car installed with soft tires catching up #16 Naoki Yamamoto ahead. But #17 car had to take another pit stop at the 34th lap. Again #16 Naoki Yamamoto came up to the top position.

When #16 Naoki Yamamoto finished 36 laps, #19 was in 2nd position with 11.6 seconds behind. #19 car chose a strategy to change the soft tires to medium ones, and tried to catch up #16 Naoki Yamamoto. But #16 Naoki Yamamoto kept his stable pace and finished 51 laps with 1.720 seconds behind the 2nd car and finished the race with pole to win. His last winning was the opening race of 2016 season, and to TEAM MUGEN, winning of Pierre Gasly at the 5th race in previous season.


■Comments from #16 Naoki Yamamoto

Since I could not control the soft tires well at the preopening test, I did not expect the pole position of the qualifying at all. At the race I was almost caught up with the car going behind so then I could not be so happy with this result from the heart. Just after the race started, I knew that #17 Tsukakoshi would take some tactical actions and in fact he did. And I figured out that his car was quite light due to short fuel. Even I let him go ahead of me, he could not beat me. But once he goes in front of me, there is possibility that tires of my car could be damaged, then I tried to avoid his coming ahead of me at the first corner. That was it about this race. At the end of the race the tires were worn out and I had no capacity to enjoy the race.

■Comments from #15 Nirei Fukuzumi

Considering the result of the free practice, I did not expect to be in 2nd place at the qualifying. At the race I tried to catch up with #16 Naoki Yamamoto, however, the gap between us gradually increased. I wanted to dare to catch him but at the same time did not want to harm the tires, I tried to figure out limit of the tire capacity and go faster at half end of the race.But when I came out of the pit, at the hair pi corner something strange happened suddenly and I had no choice but to go slow with the alarm signal. I was so disappointed since my position was quite favorable as of then. I could have stood on the podium and gain the points for TEAM MUGEN and myself as well. So disappointing. But I was not able to beat Naoki-san anyway.

■Comments from team director Nagataka Tezuka

I am so happy that #16 won the race. Yamamoto did his very best. The trouble with #15 was so disappointing. I feel sorry for Fukuzumi. Total evaluation of the team at this race was 50 points, a bit bitter points though. We could set up the cars quite stably in spite of the bad conditions. In fact we did not have to adjust the settings hugely and entered the qualifying. I had a confidence that we could advance to Q3, and in fact we did with 1-2 finish. I was quite excited. 

The driving performance and insight of Fukuzumi were beyond those of rookies. Data exchanges between #16 and #15 worked quite well, I believe. In the race since we were in 1st and 2nd position, we could not take any risks. Yamamoto seems to suffer from pressure of being the top and long distance, 300km. I was so relieved that he won the race. And I am also relieved if all the sponsors, fans, and Honda related companies are happy with this winning. I thank you all very much. But the issue is next race. We continue to do our best to win the race. Please keep on cheering us up,.