Formula NIPPON Rd.6 Motegi

L. Duval’s powerful performance controls Race 1, for his second victory of the season!

Round 6 of the All-Japan championship Formula Nippon took place over the August 9-10 weekend at Twin Ring Motegi in Tochigi prefecture. Following its first-ever implementation at the last round at Suzuka Circuit, the event featured a two-race system, with a reverse grid of the top eight finishers from the first race.
Having already claimed the third step on the podium at Honda’s home course, GRM driver Loic Duval currently sits 4th in the series’ ranking. This time he would stand on the centre step of the rostrum, and also achieve his objective of rising in the championship standings.

After prolonged heat of over 35 C across the Japanese archipelago, Motegi was no exception, qualifying taking place on August 9th (Saturday) in climes of 32 degrees (track surface 45 Celsius). This was slightly alleviated by an occasional light breeze. The 30-minute free practice session got underway at 10:30am, ahead of the afternoon qualifying session where teams and drivers made their final runs.

In the previous day’s joint official test, an optimal setting was unable to be obtained, and Loic ended up sixth overall with a best time of 1:34.473. Though it was PIAA Nakajima driver Loic Duval who had delayed his start a little, on Saturday he rose to fourth overall (1:34.469) and challenged the knockout qualifying session on the afternoon.
From the 14:00 start, those ending up 16th or lower were knocked out of any further proceedings (Q1 – 20 minutes). Loic brought out the #31 PIAA-liveried machine on fresh tyres for his time attack. After that, his tyres were cooled with water, and he went out again for another attack, setting a time of 1:33.898. This set him in third place overall, easily advancing him to the second section of qualifying. In this 10-minute section, he made his second time attack (Q2 – where machines from 9th to 15th would be eliminated), setting a 1:33.783 and earning him 4th place. Following this, in the final section (Q3 – for the top eight performers), Duval set a 1:33.718, earning him third on the grid for the following day’s race.

Loic Duval:“Considering we hadn’t reached a suitable set-up in yesterday’s official test, I don’t think that third is a bad place to be. We were able to improve the day in this morning’s free practice session, and I didn’t make any mistakes in qualifying so it was possible to attack without reserve. I want to do my ultimate best in tomorrow’s races, and I’ll be aiming to getup to 2nd in the driver rankings.”

Sunday, August 10th: during the free running in the morning, the skies above Twin Ring Motegi began to cloud over. The air temperature stood at 27 degrees, with the track surface measured at 31 degrees. The #31 machine ran 2nd in this session, though Loic complained that his brakes were showing signs of heating up, and sat down with his engineer ahead of the afternoon’s races to talk about it.

With the two-race feature, the day’s time schedule started a little earlier; race 1 beginning at 12:45 (34 laps – 163kms). With the sun in retreat, the temperature was a bearable 30 degrees Celsius (track surface 42 C) and rising. The signal blackout saw 20 machines pull away from the line for the start.
From third on the grid, the opening lap saw the #31 PIAA NAKAJIMA car of Loic Duval maintain its position as the cars made their way round. From lap 3, Loic gave chase to the 2nd-placed machine (SG Team 5Zigen, Toshihiro Kaneishi), looking for a chance to get past. However, the layout of this track means there are few passing points; in addition, at one part of the circuit yellow flags flew, preventing any opportunity to move ahead there either. The number of laps meant it would be a drive of endurance. However, at the third corner on lap 7 he caught the #5 machine, and Loic advanced to 2nd place.

From there, he hunted down the leading machine, the #1 LAWSON TEAM IMPUL car of Tsugio Matsuda. Running over 2 seconds a lap quicker than his rival Loic was right on his tail by lap 15. However, at Turn 5, two cars battling for eighth place clashed, bringing out the Safety Car (SC). This cooled things down considerably, and it wasn’t until three laps later that the SC went back in, allowing the race, and the battle between the #1 and #31 cars to resume.
The moment the SC’s lights went out, and their tyres once again warmed, the battle was on! Loic built up his momentum to the car ahead, caught it, and eagerly awaited his chance. And then on lap 25, it happened. Braking as late as possible, Loic jumped to the inside at the 90-degree corner and was through! He had risen to the top!
From there on, Loic maintained his pace as he counted the laps down, setting his best time on lap 28. And on lap 34, he crossed the line first, to claim his second victory of the season.

After a two-hour interval, Race 2 (23 laps – 110km) got underway at 15:45. The temperature was a little hotter than for the first race at 29 degrees (track surface 36 Celsius, with strong reflection coming up off the asphalt. With the reverse grid, Loic started this race from eighth place. He moved up to 7th on the opening lap, and on lap 4 overtook the #7 machine (Team LeMans – Satoshi Motoyama) to run sixth. In addition, the fifth-placed machine (#48 CERUMO INGING – Yuji Tachikawa) was soon caught, and a lengthy tail-to-nose battle ensued. However, he was unable to overtake, and had to endure sitting behind his rival lap after lap. The top 6 cars became locked in a stalemate on lap 17. The second-placed car ran into trouble and exited the racing line, promoting Loic to fifth and a points-paying position. Just then, something happened and on lap 18 Loic’s car stalled! He returned to the PIAA NAKAJIMA pits, and got out of the car. It was a most regrettable retirement for the #31 car.

Loic Duval:“I made a pretty regular start to Race 1, saw how the car was behaving after 2 or 3 laps, (and I was able to confirm the good balance of the car), and then pushed, setting my sights on Kaneishi who had made a good start. Because the Safety Car came in right where I had made my pass, I held my breath for a second. As my tyres had become dirty during the time behind the Safety Car, I wasn’t able to push right away after he went back in. With the car running well, I was able to have a clear battle with Matsuda over the remaining 10 laps of the race. I was able to manage the race very well also.
At the beginning of Race 2, gears 1-2-3, and towards the end gears 4-6 went away, causing trouble that there was nothing I could do anything about. It’s really disappointing because I wanted to get another 1 or 2 points. But looking back on today, I beat points-leader Matsuda. I achieved my goal of rising to 2nd in the Driver’s standings, the team did a fantastic job, and there are many positives, it’s a great relief. I want to express my gratitude once again to the team and to all our fans who have supported us.”

The next race in the Formula Nippon championship, Round 7 takes place at Fuji Speedway on August 30-31.

Photos by T.Moriyama