Round 7 - Suzuka Circuit
The distance for Race 1 in Round 7 of Super Formula at Suzuka was shortened to be a sprint this season. It was #2 Yuji Kunimoto (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING) who got off to a fantastic start from the front row. Pole starter #1 Hiroaki Ishiura (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING) started slowly, and was overtaken from the outside by #36 Andre Lotterer (VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S).
Driver ranking top runner #20 Yuki Sekiguchi (ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL) was in the 13th grid at the beginning of the race, but was able to jump up 4 positions. At about halfway through the race, the top positions remained the same.
Kunimoto kept a steady pace, with a 1.5 sec. lead over 2nd running Lotterer, and a full 7 sec. lead over Ishiura, who was in 3rd. Kunimoto held the upper hand at that point. Sekiguchi tried to pass #41 Stoffel Vandoorne (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) by using his overtake system on lap 15 in the chicane, but bumped into Vandoorne. That was enough to cause Vandoorne’s car to spin, which led to him dropping back several positions. Sekiguchi was penalized 30 seconds for that mishap, and wound up finishing the race in 18th place.
The sprint race lasted less than 32 min., and the top positions remained the same after the first lap until the checkered flag. With his victory in this race, Kunimoto picked up 3 bonus points, so he gained a total of 8 points. He is now in the position to possibly win this year’s Driver’s Championship.
The distance for Championship Race 2 was slightly longer than last season at 203 km (35 laps). There was also a mandatory tire change for this race.
#41 Stoffel Vandoorne (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) got off to a tremendous start and was able to jump into 1st place from 2nd grid ahead of pole position starter #1 Hiroaki Ishiura (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING). VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S two driver’s #36 Andre Lotterer and #37 Kazuki Nakajima showed their speed as well at the start of the race by jumping up from the 5th and 6th grid to 3rd and 4th. #2 Yuji Kunimoto (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING) with the series Driver’s Championship on the line end up dropping down to 6th place.
As the teams in the pits began to prepare for the mandatory tire change, Kazuki Nakajima headed to the pit after the first lap. By the middle of the race, 10 drivers had already completed their mandatory tire change, too.
Front running Vandoorne, and Ishiura headed to the pit on lap 16. And both were able to make it out and back on to the track ahead of Lotterer. But Lotterer used his overtake system to try to make it past Ishiura, but Ishiura was successful in holding him off. So at that point in the race, it was Vandoorne in front, followed by Ishiura, then Lotterer.
Andre Lotterer needed a win in this race to take capture the series Driver’s Championship, but trying to overtake Vandoorne and Ishiura was a tall order. On lap 29 however, #16 Naoki Yamamoto (TEAM MUGEN) and #7 Narain Karthikeyan (SUNOCO TEAM LEMANS) cars’ came into contact—bringing out the safety car yet again. Lotterer took full advantage of the situation, and was able to overtake Ishiura after the safety car left the track. He pushed hard to gain on Vandoorne, but in the end, with less than 1 second between them, Vandoorne captured the checkered flag for his 2nd Super Formula win of the year—leaving his fans with warm memories of his 2016 season, and wishing him only the best in F1 next year.
Yuji Kunimoto was able to win the Driver’s Championship by picking up much needed points with his 6th place finish. This also helped his team to win the Team Championship for the 2nd year in a row.