Formula NIPPON Rd.5 Suzuka

First-ever two-race event sees L. Duval take 6th and 2nd on the podium!

Formula Nippon consists of 8 races this season. Marking the halfway point of the year, the 5th round was held at Suzuka Circuit on July 12th (Sat) and 13th (Sun). This was the second event at Suzuka this season. However, two new regulations were introduced this time out; first, a two-race final for the first time in Formula Nippon history, and second, that the starting grid of the second race was a reverse grid of the top 8 finishers in the first race.

GRM driver Loic Duval, who won the previous event in Okayama, took 10 days off and came back to Suzuka refreshed, both mentally and physically.

On Saturday July 12th, the official knockout qualifying session began, and would determine the starting grid for the following day’s first race. The sky was blue, signifying the end of the rainy season, the temperature reaching 33 degrees (ambient) with the track surface at 44 degrees in the morning, climbing to 37 (ambient) and 55 (track surface) in the afternoon.
Piloting the #31 PIAA NAKAJIMA machine, Loic Duval started off well, finishing the morning free practice session with the third best time, a 1’44.005. In the first twenty minute-long Q1, Duval marked the 6th best time, a 1’44.117, enabling him to move on to Q2. However, in Q2 (10 minutes) where the top 8 grid positions are determined, Loic was unable to improve on his time, finishing 9th (1’44.203) – and thus did not move on to Q1.

Loic Duval:“The machine balance was fine in the morning, but in the afternoon’s qualifying sessions, the car suffered from both under- and oversteer. The set-up on the car was not able to adjust to the changes in surface conditions. I was disappointed that I could not move on to Q1, but the race is tomorrow. I’ll forget about this and do my best tomorrow.”

The following day, Sunday the 13th was another hot day, with strong rays bearing down on the circuit from the morning warm-up sessions.
By 13:00, the temperature was up to 34 degrees (ambient), with the track measured at 47 Celsius when the first race, called “Race 1” and consisting of 30 laps (180km), began. In the PIAA-liveried #31 machine, Loic Duval started 9th and quickly passed a struggling car around him to move up one position. Soon after, on lap 5, another car went out due to mechanical problems, bringing Loic up to 7th. Duval moved on to battle for 6th place with the #20 car (Kohei Hirate) in front of him. He did not dominate this fight however, and the race reached its mid-point with no change in position for the French charger.

On lap 14, one of the leading cars went back to the pits after trouble occurred, moving Loic and the #31 challenger up to sixth. But since this was a sprint race without any pit stops, each driver had to consider tyre wear, resulting in a lack of position changes until each car reached the checkered flag. As a result Loic Duval ended the race in 6th, gaining 3 championship points.

Loic Duval:“This was the first race for me in such intense heat. I was battling with Hirate for a few laps, but I thought about the 2nd race and opted to avoid the risk of accident and preserve my stamina. As a result, I was able to safely finish in 6th and move on to the next race.”

At 16:00, the temperature had dropped to 32 Celsius, though the track surface was still hot at 47 degrees. Reflections coming off the track’s asphalt were extreme when the 20-lap (120km) super sprint “Race 2” got underway. The #31 PIAA NAKAJIMA car of Loic Duval started 3rd due to the reversed grid, meaning a good start. However, immediately after the lights went out, four cars behind him crashed! The Safety Car (SC) was called out, and Loic circulated the laps behind the SC in third place.

On lap 4, a rolling start got the race going again, Loic maintaining his position of 3rd, finishing lap after lap on full throttle. On the 14th lap, the leader in the #7 machine (Motoyama) was passed by the #20 car (Hirate), and then immediately after by Loic on the run-up to the chicane.
Duval had now moved up to 2nd position. Throughout the remaining laps, Loic was unable to overtake, but he took the checkered flag in 2nd place, earning another 4 championship points.

Loic Duval:“This time the start was better than in the first race, and I was able to up my position after a fair battle passing Motoyama so it wasn’t a bad race at all. Of course, I’m very happy to be on the podium for 3 races in a row, but I did have an advantage due to the reverse grid regulation. When I look back on the entire weekend, the car performance wasn’t satisfactory, and my qualifying results weren’t good, so we will look for a better set-up from now on. Thank you for your support.”

The next round of Formula Nippon, Round 6, takes place on August 9-10 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Photos by T.Moriyama