Liam Lawson made a dream start to his Super Formula stint with a win in opening race of the Fuji weekend in a different route to F1.
Shizuoka Prefecture Fuji Speedway on April 8th (Sat) blessed with fine weather from the morning. Following qualifying in the morning, the opening round of the All Japan Super Formula Championship finally took place in the afternoon. Accidents occurred frequently from the beginning, and this race turned out to be rough. A crash also occurred at the end, and the race ended with the safety car. Liam Lawson (TEAM MUGEN), who made his debut race, won the eventful race. Teammate Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN), who started from PP, finished 2nd. Ryo Hirakawa (ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL), who has moved up from 7th place in qualifying, finished 3rd.
After an interval of more than four hours from 10:05 am when qualifying ended, the final formation lap started at 2:15 pm. Prior to this, during the start progress, an 8-minute warm-up run was conducted, and each driver confirmed the setup for the race. Since it was the first race in SF23, the machines on the dummy grid had different aerodynamic setups depending on the teams and drivers. In addition, there are some cars that have changed the setup of the suspension and adjusted the vehicle height until the last minute. And finally, it’s time to start.
After qualifying in the morning, sunny skies spread, and at the start of the formation lap, the air temperature rose to 18°C and the track surface temperature to 29°C. A tailwind blows on the main straight, and 22 machines enter the platoon for one lap. And when all the cars arrived at the regular grid, the signal all red to black out. The start was made all at once toward the checkered flag 41 laps ahead. PP’s Nojiri took the holeshot here. Following this was Toshiki Oyu (TGM Grand Prix) who showed outstanding acceleration from 4th on the grid. Furthermore, it continues with Lawson. Front row start Ritomo Miyata (VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S) slowed down and dropped to 4th.
On the other hand, at this start, four machines stalled their engines. Sena Sakaguchi (P.MU/CERUMO･INGING) in 8th place in the qualifying lead, Yuji Kunimoto (Kids com Team KCMG), Kakunoshin Ota (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) and Raul Heyman who will make their debut race. (B-Max Racing Team) stopped on the grid, but was restarted by the officials. Also, an accident occurred even in the group that started safely. Yuhi Sekiguchi (ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL) locked up and lost control while braking for the first corner, and the machine drifted from the inside to the outside.
And Sekiguchi contacted Kenta Yamashita (KONDO RACING). With that momentum, Yamashita made contact with Kamui Kobayashi (Kids com Team KCMG), and Yamashita and Kamui ended the race here. Sekiguchi, who caused this accident, was given a drive-through penalty after 20 laps. At the first corner of the second lap, an even bigger accident occurred. While activating the overtaking system, Tadasuke Makino (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) was closing in on Sho Tsuboi (P.MU/CERUMO･INGING), unable to stop and crashed into Tsuboi from behind.
A safety car was immediately deployed here as debris from the machine was scattered across the course. Makino and Tsuboi went straight to the pit. Tsuboi retired here, but Makino returned to the course after replacing the front nose. However, after 17 laps, Makino was given a 5-second stop penalty. The orders at this point were Nojiri, Oyu, Lawson, Miyata, Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), and Ren Sato (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING). Hirakawa, Sekiguchi, Giuliano Alesi (VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S), and Kazuya Oshima (docomo business ROOKIE) followed.
After the debris was collected, the race was restarted after 7 laps. Immediately after this, the battle for position intensified in various places. At the first corner, the battle for 2nd place was heated. Lawson jumped into Oyu’s inn and seemed to be in front for a while, but Lawson overran slightly and Oyu regained his position. At the start of the 2nd corner, Oyu took a line a little outside from the middle and tried to defend against Lawson who was on the outside, but Oyu overran at the Coca-Cola corner.
As a result, Lawson slowed down, and Miyata took the lead. This is followed by Lawson, Yamamoto, and Oyu. However, Lawson lined up with Miyata from the outside at the hairpin ahead, and succeeded in getting ahead again by diving into the Dunlop corner. He regained the 2nd position, and this time he held onto it. On the next lap, on the main straight, Sato closed in on Oyu and succeeded in getting ahead. Furthermore, at the ninth lap corner, when Yamamoto lined up on the inside of Miyata, he succeeded in getting in front of Miyata by Coca-Cola.
The battle for the top ranks continued after this, and at the 1st corner of the 10th lap, Oyu regained the position from Sato. In addition, Hirakawa and Sekiguchi also had a fierce battle for 7th place among their teammates, and Sekiguchi was in front for a while.
Then, when the tire change window opened, the pits began to move. First, Oyu and Sato, who were battling for 5th place, made their pit stops at the end of the 10th lap. Oshima also entered the pit. In addition, Nirei Fukuzumi (ThreeBond Racing) and Kazuto Kodaka (KONDO RACING) also entered the pits at the end of the 12th lap.
At about the same time, there was some movement on the track, and at the 1st corner of the 14th lap, Hirakawa overtook Sekiguchi again and moved up to apparent 5th place. Although there was no change in the order after the tire change, Oyu and Sato once again battled, and on the 16th lap straight, Sato used an overtaking system and succeeded in getting ahead of Oyu. Around this time, the battle for the top spot was deadlocked. Nojiri and Lawson kept the gap between 1.4 and 1.7 seconds as they went on laps.
Of these two cars, after 21 laps, Lawson, aiming for an undercut, slipped into the pit first and changed tires. The crew sent Lawson out on the course in a quick 6 seconds. At this point, Sato was in the lead after changing tires, but Lawson was easily back on track in front of Sato. On the next lap, Nojiri made a quick pit stop. At the same time, Yamamoto, who was running 3rd, also slipped into the pit road. After changing tires, Nojiri returned to the track in front of Lawson and Yamamoto behind Lawson.
However, Lawson, whose tires had already warmed up, “gave up the courage” to capture Nojiri from the outside with a 100R. He has managed to come forward. With this, Lawson, who was virtually on top, maintained a high pace and gradually pulled away from Nojiri. Also, like Lawson, Sato captured Yamamoto on the out lap and succeeded in improving his position. However, Yamamoto caught Sato on the 27th lap and succeeded in reversing the lead.
Miyata is the top order in terms of appearance. Hirakawa, Alesi, Kunimoto, and Jem Brückbaschet (TGM Grand Prix) followed, followed by Lawson and Nojiri, who had finished changing tires, and Sekiguchi, who had completed his penalty. In this situation, Kunimoto was given a drive-through penalty after 23 laps due to a violation of the safety car at the restart. On the same lap, Brückbaschet also made a pit stop for a tire change. After 24 laps, Alesi also made a pit stop for a tire change. Miyata and Hirakawa were the only two cars in the top ranks that had not yet entered the pits.
It was on the 28th lap that the top two cars moved. Hirakawa gradually increased his pace and passed Miyata at the first corner. Hirakawa, who was open in front, showed a fierce push. Hirakawa made a pit stop after 31 laps. After changing tires, he returned to the course in front of Yamamoto. However, the brakes were lightly locked on the approach to the 1st corner. Here Yamamoto is allowed to take the lead. At the end of the next 32 laps, Miyata finally made his pit stop. Miyata also returned to the track in front of Yamamoto, but again the brakes locked on the approach to the first corner. Not only did he allow Yamamoto to take the lead, but Hirakawa also overtook him on the approach to the Dunlop corner.
After that, it was Hirakawa who took advantage of the grip of the new tires to move up the position. Hirakawa gradually cornered Yamamoto in front of him, and at the 1st corner of the 36th lap, he tried to overtake from the outside and moved up to 3rd place. At this point, Hirakawa wanted to aim even further ahead, as he was only 6 seconds ahead of Nojiri. However, right after Hirakawa succeeded in capturing Yamamoto, another big crash occurred at the same first corner. Alesi tried to overtake Nirei Fukuzumi (ThreeBond Racing) from the inside, but as soon as they lined up side by side, the two cars collided. Both cars spun, and Fukuzumi hit the guardrail on the outside, causing parts to scatter. Alesi also stopped on the inside lawn. The two cars finished the race here, and the safety car was introduced again on the course.
Officials quickly recovered the machine, but there was a large amount of gravel on the course, making it difficult to clear the track. In the end, the race remained under the safety car run, and the checkered flag was waved after 41 laps. In terms of time, it was just 75 minutes. As a result, Lawson, who took the lead after changing tires and showed a safe run, suddenly won his first victory in his debut race. In the second half, Nojiri, who had to save his tires, finished in 2nd place. Hirakawa, who showed his strength in the race from the qualifying position, won the 3rd place podium. Yamamoto, Miyata, Sato, Oyu, Brückbacher, Oshima, and Kodaka finished in the top 10 and earned points.
“I am very happy to win like this and I would like to thank TEAM MUGEN,” said Lawson. “Even though it wasn’t enough, the team was able to take a one-two, and I think this result is thanks to a great team. At the time of qualifying, I was focused on getting used to the Fuji track first, and the final.
“The race pace was very good during the race. Since the pace was good, I thought I should make a pit stop when I saw the timing.I entered at that timing, and as a result, I was able to undercut Nojiri. Last night, I was so tense that I could hardly sleep. All I could think about was ‘tomorrow will be an unknown world”, and I had a lot of anxiety.
“That said, I have no choice but to do my best. In such a way, this result can only be said to be thanks to the team. It’s a long season and I’m not optimistic that tomorrow will be a better day. Even so, I still want to do my best and do my best,” summed up Lawson.
[Note: The story is as per press release]