Super Formula 2022

Cooling tyres and catching breaks: 5 takeaways from Super Formula Round 3 at Suzuka

A few hours before the start of the Formula 1 race at Imola, fast single seaters were already driving on a wet track. The Super Formula stars were shining in their third race of 2022, held at soaking wet Suzuka. F1 Feeder Series highlights the five main takeaways.

By René Oudman

Cooling tyres is a Europe thing

Who could have imagined that a race in Japan – a country where it rains fairly regularly – would be decided by a trick from Europe? It’s almost inconceivable, but only the European-oriented drivers realized early in the race that they needed to cool their tyres in order to have a chance at the end. Race winner Nobuharu Matsushita, fourth placed Sacha Fenestraz, number five Kamui Kobayashi and Ryo Hirakawa (P7) regularly deviated from the ideal line from the halfway point onwards, in order to keep the tyre temperatures acceptable.

You’d think that drivers with an all-Japanese racing background – such as reigning champion Tomoki Nojiri and experienced veterans like Kazuya Oshima and Kenta Yamashita – would also be familiar with the tyre cooling trick, but nothing proved to be further from the truth. Nojiri was outsmarted by a cooled Matsushita on the penultimate lap, while Hirakawa was able to overtake one driver after another after a poor start.

The most obvious difference between cooling and not cooling was at Kondo Racing, where Yamashita, who started second, had to come in for a tyre change after only 11 of the 31 laps, while pit stops aren’t mandatory in rain-affected races. Team-mate Fenestraz, however, easily covered the entire distance on a single set of tyres, finishing just behind the podium finishers.

Motoyama really has emotions

Believe it or not, ice-cold Satoshi Motoyama shed a tear on Sunday afternoon. The four-time champion – in his days under the Formula Nippon banner – saw Matsushita take the first win for B-Max. Whereas Motoyama could often remain so calm and collected after his own victories and championship triumphs, or rather colder than a witch’s tit, he showed a rare moment of pure happiness after the Suzuka race.

Jokes aside, Motoyama’s pride is, of course, completely justified. The team principal of the race stable founded by Ryuji Kumita (Dragon) knows that B-Max has only been competing in Super Formula since 2017. After the first points finish with Lucas Auer in Suzuka 2019, under a participation shared with Motopark, five podiums, a fastest lap and a pole position were scored. However, B-Max never came further than third place-finishes.

Add to that the difficulties surrounding B-Max’s second entry, which were there for years, and this victory is a huge relief for the team of Kumita and Motoyama. Except for the 2019 season (with Auer and Harrison Newey, and support from Motopark), B-Max has yet to run a full season with two cars. When deals for this season (again) fell through at the eleventh hour, the (rightful) decision was made to loan the second car to Team Mugen for the 2022 season to focus on Matsushita’s single entry.

Hirakawa’s on fire – but needs to step it up a notch in qualifying

Alongside championship leader Tomoki Nojiri, Ryo Hirakawa is the only driver to have scored in all races so far. Unlike Nojiri, who has an average finishing position of 1.67 after three races – something which should be impossible in a highly competitive class like Super Formula – Hirakawa has to do with an 3.33 average. Where Nojiri scored an average of 18,6 points per race, Hirakawa reached 13,3. 

Reason? His poor qualifying at Suzuka. During the all-important time practice on Saturday afternoon, the Carenex team Impul driver couldn’t get any better than twelfth. Besides the fact that it’s harder to get to the front from P12 than it is from pole position, only the first three starters are rewarded for their qualifying performance. In other words, polesitter Nojiri scored three bonus points for the second time in three races, while Hirakawa was left empty-handed again. Bonus points like these can make a world of difference at the end of the year.

After a bad start though, Hirakawa showed his class. Through the inside, through the outside – if it had been possible, the WEC star would even have slipped past his competitors driving over or under them. The overtake by Toshiki Oyu, outside at the Casio Triangle, was on another level. Hirakawa is possibly the best Super Formula racing driver at this very moment, but has to work on his qualifying performance in the coming rounds.

INGING’s lost it and Nakajima hasn’t yet found it

Before the start of the season, many Super Formula drivers were singing praises on Sho Tsuboi. The reigning Super GT champion seemed ready to bounce back from a miserable Super Formula year, with the INGING driver being one of the fastest if not the fastest in both the Fuji and Suzuka collective tests. Last year’s problem seemed to have been solved – a small crack in the monocoque that everyone had overlooked was apparently the reason for Tsuboi’s poor results.

However, after three of ten races, Tsuboi’s already lightyears behind the leaders. The 26-year-old driver has scored just three points so far, while leader Nojiri collected no less than 56. Tsuboi’s act at Suzuka was shameful. If he wants to catch up with Nojiri, Tsuboi will have to win the next three races, while Nojiri can’t get any further than some ninth place-finishes. Mission impossible.

Where INGING was secretly hoping for a good season, Nakajima Racing prayed for a not-too dramatic performance. Satoru Nakajima’s stable is not doing well. Alright, Toshiki Oyu is working his magic by overtaking at least five competitors at the start of almost every race, but the team has only scored six lousy points after three races. Three-time champion Naoki Yamamoto finally ditched the nil at Suzuka, finishing ninth, solely on experience. After a strong start Oyu lost contact with points-rewarding places in the closing stages of the race.

Alesi can’t catch a break

Giuliano Alesi’s first full-time season in Super Formula is not yet going according to plan. The young Frenchman deliberately isolated himself during the winter months – he went out without a phone in his pocket more often than not – and tried to prepare for the new racing season. In Super GT, he started reasonably well, finishing sixth in the opening race of the year, together with SGT team mate Tsuboi. In the Super Formula however, things aren’t going that smoothly yet.

At Suzuka, Alesi had great difficulty keeping his car on the right track, to finish last of the drivers who didn’t pit. Team-mate Ritomo Miyata scored his first Super Formula podium finish at Fuji, and although Alesi won a race last year, on a rain-soaked Autopolis, the Frenchman with Japanese roots is currently way too far back to pose a threat to say, the top five. 

Father Jean was allowed to hand out the medals after the Formula 1 sprint race at Imola, but honorary medals seem to be far away for son Giuliano this way.

Results Super Formula Round 3, Suzuka

1. Nobuharu Matsushita
2. Tomoki Nojiri
3. Tadasuke Makino
4. Sacha Fenestraz
5. Kamui Kobayashi
6. Yuji Kunimoto
7. Ryo Hirakawa
8. Hiroki Otsu
9. Naoki Yamamoto
10. Ren Sato

Standings after Suzuka

1. Tomoki Nojiri, 56 pts
2. Ryo Hirakawa, 40 pts
3. Nobuharu Matsushita, 20 pts
=  Sacha Fenestraz, 20 pts

Results Super Formula Lights, Suzuka

Round 4
1. Kazuto Kotaka  (TOM’S)
2. Kakunoshin Ohta (Toda)
3. Seita Nonaka (TOM’S)

Round 5
1. Kakunoshin Ohta (Toda)
2. Kazuto Kotaka (TOM’S)
3. Yuga Furutani (TOM’S)

Round 6
1. Kazuto Kotaka (TOM’S)
2. Kakunoshin Ohta (Toda)
3. Yuga Furutani (TOM’S)

Standings in SFL after Suzuka
1. Kazuto Kotaka, 43 pts
2. Kakunoshin Ohta, 38 pts
3. Hibiki Taira, 26 pts

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