It’s anyone’s game in Super Formula: 6 takeaways from Fuji testing

In preparation for the new Super Formula season, 21 drivers got their final chance to get used to their machines before competition starts. Fuji Speedway hosted the second and final pre-season test and it all came down to the second day, as snow and rain disrupted the Mt Fuji scene once again.

By René Oudman

Cooler (and no) runnings

Most people in the northern hemisphere are preparing for spring. With that in mind, it was frustrating for the Super Formula drivers to see the track drowned in water as the rain poured down on Tuesday morning. Only a handful of drivers opted to go round more than two times, with Toshiki Oyu, Tomoki Nojiri and Sho Tsuboi acting as the bravest rain-dancers, as the trio all drove more than ten laps.

When rain turned into snow and the Fuji Speedway asphalt went from grey to white, the stewards decided to cancel the afternoon session. It was decided that, if the track was drivable, the sessions of Wednesday morning and afternoon would be extended. The weather gods left the track on Tuesday night, so that all running on Wednesday was done on a dry track.

On the Goh

They looked good in Suzuka, they looked even better in Fuji. Rookie Ren Sato took the lap charts by storm and ended up a promising second on Wednesday morning. His teammate Atsushi Miyake, who’s also about to make his Super Formula debut, racked up an impressive 103 laps. Twenty-three-year-old Miyake even outperformed his three-year younger colleague Sato in the afternoon session, ending up fourteenth. 

Team Goh’s performance looks solid, as they finally act as a full-fledged, independent team in Super Formula for the first time in the teams’ existence. However, not everything is coming up roses for Kazuhiro Ikeda’s squad, as both Sato and Miyake struggled to get their tyres up to temperature when clouds covered the track on Wednesday afternoon. According to their social media pages, Team Goh is absolutely clueless about what to expect from the opening weekend.

Fenestraz flying

Kondo Racing driver Sacha Fenestraz took the honours of being fastest overall, posting a 1.20.953 in the last hour of testing on Wednesday afternoon. The French driver was the only one to crack the 1.21-barrier, ending up with a 0.194 second gap over second-placed Sho Tsuboi. However, Fenestraz is arguably lucky to end up in first position. Multiple drivers had to abort their last efforts when the red flag was shown after Yuji Kunimoto went off the track in the dying minutes of the last session.

Although top spot may be somewhat flattering, Fenestraz and Kondo can be satisfied after testing outings in both Suzuka and Fuji. The now blue-colored squad seems to be right at the sharp edge, looking eager to bounce back from a dreadful 2021 season. 

WEC to IMSA to Super Formula in four days

Not all heroes wear capes. Kamui Kobayashi concluded the two-day test at Fuji in a distant thirteenth position, some eight tenths off Fenestraz’s pace. Nothing special, one could say – but bear in mind that Kobayashi flew all the way from Sebring to arrive at the Fuji Speedway on Monday afternoon, after having participated in both WEC and IMSA races over in the United States. 

The 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours winner only slept four hours after the WEC race, waking up for a 12-hour race in which IMSA employer Action Express forgot to fill his drink bottle. Afterwards, the former Formula One driver immediately took off for Tokyo, skipping the night from Saturday to Sunday. With bags still under his eyes, Kobayashi stepped into the number 7 KCMG machine to put in a respectable amount of 81 laps. 

Toyota colleague Ryo Hirakawa also participated in the 1000 Miles of Sebring, as the new WEC factory driver came home second. As he isn’t competing in IMSA, Hirakawa took the chance to leave the US earlier, to get enough rest before joining the Super Formula action.

Nakajima’s nightmare

For a legendary squad such as Satoru Nakajima’s, eighteenth and nineteenth is below par. To be fair, Oyu topped the table after Tuesday, but that was due to his guts to drive on a soaked track. Both the Red Bull-supported athlete and his three-time champion teammate Naoki Yamamoto notoriously struggled to get up to speed on Wednesday, ending up over a second adrift from top runner Fenestraz.

What to do when the speed just isn’t there? Drive and adapt. Oyu and Yamamoto gathered a massive amount of data, driving around the Fuji track respectively 117 and 111 times. Nakajima Racing covered over 1,000 kilometres in two days, which is over five times the race distance. There’s a lot of information and not much time left for Nakajima to at least be noticed in the opening round.

There’s one ray of light – Yamamoto was about to deliver a quicker lap, when Kunimoto’s spin brought out the red flag. 

Come closer

Nakajima ended up in P18 and P19, but was only a second adrift from the top spot. The entire 21-car roster managed to stay within 1.3 seconds of each other and especially the gaps in midfield were extremely tight. If Ryo Hirakawa had managed to shave 0.07 seconds off his fastest lap time, he’d be sixth instead of ninth. Team Goh colleagues Miyake and Sato drove nearly identical times, after Sato did the exact same time as Yuhi Sekiguchi in the Wednesday morning session.

Goh concluded by saying it did not have the slightest idea who’ll come out on top in just under three weeks’ time, when the first round of the 2022 Super Formula season is held at the very same Fuji track. Kondo and INGING are looking very strong, whereas Nojiri and Team Mugen can’t be underestimated anymore. TOM’S made some very promising steps in Fuji, with Ritomo Miyata and Giuliano Alesi holding third and sixth, respectively. 

Combined results of the second 2022 Super Formula Pre-season test at Fuji

1S FENESTRAZ1.20.953103
2S TSUBOI1.21.147109
3R MIYATA1.21.25096
4Y SEKIGUCHI1.21.31693
5T NOJIRI1.21.365110
6G ALESI1.21.418113
7H OTSU1.21.43989
8K YAMASHITA1.21.441100
9R HIRAKAWA1.21.487105
10N MATSUSHITA1.21.576101
11T MAKINO1.21.63187
12U SASAHARA1.21.65190
13K KOBAYASHI1.21.76781
14A MIYAKE1.21.799103
15R SATO1.21.80388
16K OSHIMA1.21.844106
17S SAKAGUCHI1.21.90691
18T OYU1.21.980117
19N YAMAMOTO1.22.147111
20N FUKUZUMI1.22.16795
21Y KUNIMOTO1.22.21196

Header photo credit: Super Formula

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