Honda driver Tomoki Nojiri scored his and Team Mugen’s first Super Formula victory of the season at Autopolis after overcoming Naoki Yamamoto in a tense conclusion to the race.
After making his mandatory tyre stop early, poleman Nojiri spent the bulk of the 41-lap race in fourth as Yamamoto, Nick Cassidy and Ukyo Sasahara went for long first stints.
Yamamoto led after the second of two safety car periods and set a metronomic pace at the head of the field, quickly gapping Cassidy and putting himself in a position to threaten Nojiri – who held a net lead but struggled for pace immediately after the restart.
Eight laps after the restart, Yamamoto had put 15 seconds between himself and Nojiri, and by lap 30 the gap was out to over 20 seconds.
Yamamoto was just over 25 seconds clear when he pitted with two laps to go at the end of lap 39, and although he emerged clearly behind Nojiri he set a blistering pace on his fresh tyres and closed down a four-second deficit to just 0.6s at the chequered flag.
After Cassidy and Sasahara made their stops, Nakajima Racing’s Tadasuke Makino, who was challenging Nojiri for the net lead before the second safety car, was promoted to third and maintained that position for his first Super Formula podium.
Next up were the best of the Toyota finishers, Yuji Kunimoto (KCMG) and Kenta Yamashita (Kondo Racing), followed by series returnee Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max).
Matsushita had fought his way up from sixth on the grid to fourth with a strong start, but lost out to Kunimoto and Yamashita during the pitstop phase.
TOM’S driver Cassidy slotted in seventh ahead of his substitute teammate Ritomo Miyata, who briefly got ahead when Cassidy was struggling on cold tyres only for the reigning champion to swiftly return the favour.
Nirei Fukuzumi (Dandelion) was the big loser of the second safety car period, as he had run second behind Nojiri early on but slid all the way to 11th, finally recovering to ninth.
Toshiki Oyu (Nakajima) completed the top 10 after serving a drive-through penalty for illegally retaking his start position after stalling on the grid before the formation laps.
From 19th on the grid after his qualifying crash, points leader Ryo Hirakawa could only manage 12th in the end, although he had been running 10th before dropping to the rear of the field during the pitstop phase.
Sasahara (Mugen) ended up 14th after his stop, having also stalled on the grid at the start.
Charles Milesi was 15th for B-Max on his Super Formula debut, a place ahead of Tatiana Calderon on the Colombian’s return to the series.
Sacha Fenestraz’s miserable run of luck continued as he lost his rear-left wheel on lap five, causing the first safety car, while a race-ending puncture for Sho Tsuboi (Inging) was the cause of the second caution period on lap 12.
Results to follow
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