Nojiri benefits and Sasahara stars: 5 takeaways from Super Formula Round 6 at Fuji

Fuji Speedway was visited for the third time this Super Formula season, it provided an entertaining spectacle. Ukyo Sasahara took his first Super Formula victory and Tomoki Nojiri did a well enough job to extend his lead in the drivers’ championship. But what else happened in Fuji? F1 Feeder Series picks five takeaways.

By René Oudman

Take it all, Tomoki

What to do when all your title rivals end up with battered cars? Just keep driving! Tomoki Nojiri was handed a title race lead on a silver platter. The 2021 Super Formula champion didn’t have to do anything more than to keep his Mugen car on the track and watch team-mate Ukyo Sasahara grab a surprise win. Sasahara celebrated a somewhat fortunate victory thanks to a safety car phase caused by Sekiguchi losing a wheel after pitting but overall Nojiri is the big winner of this weekend.

Ryo Hirakawa and Sacha Fenestraz, numbers two and three in the championship standings before the sixth Super Formula round of 2022, were both robbed of a good result in the early stages of the race. Fenestraz hit the wall hard after a touch with Naoki Yamamoto, as Hirakawa had to retire after being hit by Atsushi Miyake.

The championship is effectively all but over as just like last year, there’s no-one but Nojiri who consistently scores points. Nojiri has finished on the podium in every race with the exception of Autopolis where he came home fourth. Nojiri is well on his way to extend the subscription of number one stickers for another year.

Super Sasa

He didn’t expect it and neither did anyone, but Ukyo Sasahara was the first driver to pass the chequered flag at the end of the race. Nojiri’s teammate, who was unemployed in February, crowned an unexpected first full-time season in Super Formula in the best possible way. Sure, he was lucky, but when luck comes around, you have to be there to grab it by its hand and that’s exactly what Sasahara did.

Sixth in the standings and the 30 points that go with it are flattering as Sasahara – apart
from his pole position at the very first race of the year – isn’t a big-prize-competition regular. Nevertheless, nothing has been stolen. This victory can be attributed to Sasahara’s perseverance. Even when it all seemed to be going wrong, the young Japanese kept hope.

A perfectly timed Safety Car phase brought Sasahara the first Super Formula victory of his career and those who have seen him at work know that there is more to come. If Sasahara can learn the tricks from master Nojiri, in a few years’ time he could be the one running a similar household as the reigning champ.

Ukyo Sasahara’s first Super Formula win | Credit: Super Formula

Lady Luck hates Giuliano Alesi

How much bad luck can a man have? Giuliano Alesi, who is going through a terribly difficult first full-time season in Super Formula, finally seemed to have some luck at Fuji Speedway. The Frenchman, who took a shock win at Autopolis last year, was able to keep up with the sub-toppers in the #36 TOM’S car. A good points finish seemed in the offing.

A good points finish seemed in the offing until his pit stop. Of course went wrong for Alesi and not for teammate Ritomo Miyata, who somehow manages to end everything he seems to be doing this year with luck on his side. Alesi lost an awful lot of time in the pit lane and could forget a good final ranking through no fault of his own. In the end, Alesi did not reach the finish line.

To make matters worse, Miyata, despite his dramatic qualifying result came out on top once again. The 2020 Super Formula Lights champion raced to a fine fourth place, just behind Nojiri and ahead of the very consistent Tadasuke Makino.

Quite the Sho

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it finally happened again: Sho Tsuboi made his way to the Super Formula podium for the first time since autumn 2020. The Cerumo driver, who had a terrible 2021, managed to score no more than nine points in the last twelve races – something Nojiri does twice a race.

At Fuji Speedway, where Sho Tsuboi had some hopeful test laps at the start of the year, the talented twenty-something was finally on a roll again. For the first time since his triumph at the same track in December 2020 he proved able of collecting a trophy.

Sasahara’s good fortune prevented another victory, but the trophy for P2 will undoubtedly get a fine spot in Tsuboi’s home cabinet. The atmosphere at Cerumo is good – Tsuboi and his teammate Sena Sakaguchi did well in Saturday’s qualifying, finishing second and fourth. Sakaguchi’s bad last stint is a small point of concern for the team of Hiroaki Ishiura and co., but good vibes galore.

Ren runs again and Kamui always wins

In what position did Kamui Kobayashi finish? Fourteenth, so there is not much reason to cheer. However, the Japanese, who recently finished second for the umpteenth time at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, did make his presence felt at Fuji Speedway. Although Kobayashi and teammate Yuji Kunimoto are far from having the best equipment, the pair put on a show.

Wheelbanging, Kobayashi fought his way through the midfield only to lose those hard-won places again due to the late full course yellow. The young Red Bull talent, Ren Sato, who is expected to make a second attempt in Europe next year, kept his car on the straight and narrow finishing a respectable sixth.

Sato, one of the most successful drivers of the Super Formula season so far, scored only his third points and the best result of his short career at the highest Japanese level. With the beady eye of Dr. Helmut Marko at one of the next races, Sato will have to maintain the level he showed on Sunday as the baseline.

Results of Super Formula Round 6 at Fuji Speedway

  1. Ukyo Sasahara
  2. Sho Tsuboi
  3. Tomoki Nojiri
  4. Ritomo Miyata
  5. Tadasuke Makino
  6. Ren Sato
  7. Kenta Yamashita
  8. Yuji Kunimoto
  9. Naoki Yamamoto
  10. Toshiki Oyu

Standings after Round 6:

  1. Tomoki Nojiri, 93 pts
  2. Ryo Hirakawa, 64 pts
  3. Sacha Fenestraz, 57 pts
  4. Ritomo Myata, 40 pts
  5. Tadasuke Makino, 36 pts
  6. Ukyo Sasahara, 30 pts

Header photo credit: Super Formula

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