Formula NIPPON Rd.3 Motegi

L. Duval finishes 3rd on the podium! Expectations towards his comeback rise!

Round 3 of Formula Nippon was held at Honda’s home track, Twin Ring Motegi. The track is known for its lack of passing points and its repetitious stop-and-go nature. The track is also very heavy on brakes, and a sophisticated set-up capabilities are required of the drivers. GRM driver Loic Duval has won only 2 points so far this season, but last year, he and his teammate finished first and second here —a favored course for Duval. He swore of a comeback before arriving at Motegi.

Saturday May 24th: The half-hour free practice session starting at 10:40 began in cloudy, dry conditions (26C ambient, 35C track surface). Loic Duval, in the Honda-powered #31 car set the fourth best time with a 1’34.331. “The car overall is pretty good!” He had begun a successful day.

Official qualifying, using the newly adopted knockout rules, began at 14:05. The weather forecast had predicted rain. The skies were still cloudy but none was falling. Sessions Q1 through Q3 were thus held under dry conditions.
In the previous race at Suzuka, Loic went off track in first qualifying due to the rain, losing his opportunity to participate in the following qualifying session. Here at Motegi however, he had his steadiness back and went on to the Q2 round in 4th (1’33.810).

In the next 10 minutes in the one-by-one attack Q2 session, he finished 3rd with a best time of 1’33.544. Loic improved yet again in the 10-minute Q1 session while aiming for pole position, though didn’t quite reach the top 3, finishing 4th in official qualifying.

Loic Duval:“I was getting oversteer and understeer in the car in the morning’s free practice session, and we went into qualifying without making any major adjustments. The car was still the same as it had been in the morning, but the track conditions were getting better every session so I was able to push. I wasn’t able to get PP but starting from the 2nd row of the grid still leaves me with hopes for the win. Whether tomorrow’s wet or dry, I’ll do my best.”

Sunday, May 25th: Rain started falling late in the evening of the previous day, continuing until the free practice session on race morning. The session was held in wet conditions with the rain now stopped, and by the time the race got underway the sun had started coming out, drying the track surface. At race start time 14:30, it was 23C (31C track surface), in dry conditions.

The black and white PIAA-colored #31 machine driven by Loic Duval started from the 4th on the grid. The #7 car passed him after jumping the start and he finished the opening lap in 5th. The #7 car was given a drive-through penalty, enabling Loic to take back 4th. Loic continued to drive steadily in the early parts of the race. The order at the top remained #1 (Matsuda), #32 (Kogure), #36 (Lotterer) then #31 with Loic until the mid-point of the race.

After 22 laps, Loic made a routine return to the pits, getting fresh tyres and fuel before heading back out on track.
All cars in the top group had finished making their stops by lap 33. Loic was at 3rd at that point.
Throughout the later stages Loic continued his steady drive, keeping the position to the flag, marking his first podium finish of the season. Loic was seen smiling happily on the podium.

Loic Duval:“I’m truly happy to be back on the podium. I really wasn’t happy with the results of rounds 1 and 2.
My pace early on wasn’t bad but I wasn’t up to speed on the straights and so struggled to pass Andre. That’s why I changed tactics and went back to the pits early. But then after exiting the pits, I was caught by slow machines for a few laps and felt I lost some time, unfortunately. However, both the team and I did our best, this is the result we got, and we’re happy with it.”

After this race, Loic Duval returns to his home country, France to attend the “Test Day” on June 1st for the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours.

Photos by T.Moriyama