Formula NIPPON Rd.7 Fuji

L. Duval vaults from 10th-place start to finish 2nd with aggressive drive
Race 2 halted after six laps due to bad weather

Round 7 of the 2008 All-Japan championship Formula Nippon was held at Fuji Speedway on the last weekend of August. In terms of this season, this and the next round at SUGO are all that remain. It is important for Loic Duval to finish well in these two final rounds of the category this season. In addition, it is critical for the team to do well in order to capture the Teams championship.

Saturday, August 30th: Until the previous day, weather fronts had stalled over much of Japan, bringing record rainfall to a number of locations, and unsettled conditions over Fuji Speedway for the race weekend. Fortunately, Friday’s free practice sessions held in the morning and afternoon were both conducted in the dry. Saturday morning’s free session was run on half-wets, after rainfall had continued throughout the night until dawn. For the latter half of the session however, all competing cars were able to go out on slicks, as each team made its final adjustments ahead of official qualifying.

n the official test held on the previous day, the PIAA NAKAJIMA machine of Loic Duval finished well, setting the 2nd-quickest time (1’26.770) behind top-ranked Tsugio Matsuda in the #1 Lawson Team Impul car. Rain finally began to fall before noon at Fuji Speedway, though the one-hour knockout qualifying session that began at 14:25 was held in the dry, blue sky occasionally poking through the clouds. However, the track surface was still wet, and all 20 cars entered the session on rain tyres.

First off, Q1 (20 minutes) was held, to determine the top 15 machines. Loic Duval went out in the trademark monochrome colours of the PIAA NAKAJIMA machine, setting a time of 1’41.428, good for sixth position and advancement to Q2. However, 10 minutes later in Q2 (10 minutes) Loic’s best time of 1’41.848 was only 10th-quickest, and his goal of moving on to Q3 where the top eight grid spots are decided was left unfulfilled.

Loic Duval:“I had really terrible understeer in sector 2, so I wasn’t able to attack as I would have liked. It’s really disappointing. However, the weather should improve tomorrow so I’ll be able to catch up in the race. The car is very good in dry conditions so I’m not worried about it.”

Sunday, August 31st: The weather recovered and blue skies returned to Fuji Speedway. From 08:00, the 30-minute Free Practice session was held, and Loic confirmed there were no problems with the car in dry conditions.
And so to the start of Race 1 (30 laps)… At 13:00, strong sunlight pierced through the clouds, and the temperature rose to 29℃ (track surface 38℃).
When the red lights blacked out, 20 machines took the start. Loic made a brilliant getaway from 10th place, his rhythmical driving seeing him pass four cars at the 2nd corner. He finished the first lap in sixth place. Then on the following lap, he passed another car to move up to fifth. From that point on, Loic ran in the 1’29-bracket, maintaining the high pace with aggressive driving. On lap 8, he disposed of his teammate Takashi Kogure (#32 PIAA NAKAJIMA) and set his sights on the third-placed #36 machine (PETRONAS TEAM TOM’S, Andre Lotterer) in what became a scintillating tail-to-nose battle. On lap 12 at turn 2, Loic made a daring passing move and was up to third!

Loic knew no bounds, continuing his fierce chase, now with the championship leader Tsugio Matsuda in the #1 LAWSON TEAM IMPUL in his crosshairs as he headed for 2nd place. On lap 18, at the end of the long main straight he was through, and now the only car ahead was the #4 KONDO RACING machine of leader Joao Paolo de Oliveira, his next target. At this point, there were 11 laps remaining, with a three-second gap between the two cars. Loic, running in the low 1’29s, was on a charge and narrowing the gap with every passing tour. And so to the final lap… The two cars went into turn 1 right next to each other. Though Loic was right on the tail of the top-placed car, regrettably the gap at the line was 0.455 seconds. Loic Duval ended the race in 2nd place, though he pushed for the top until the very last possible moment.

Loic Duval: “Ahhhh….to be 2nd by such a small margin is really disappointing. But, a loss is a loss. Had there been another four or five laps in the race, I’m sure I’d have been standing on top. It was good to be able to get eight points here because qualifying hadn’t gone that well. I want to express my gratitude to the team for giving me such a competitive car. From here, there’s one more race. My rivals are very strong, so I’ll be giving my best possible effort and challenging completely!”

However, the excitement of Race 1 was forgotten when rain began to fall in earnest at Fuji Speedway at around 15:00. In no time at all, the track was completely inundated, and suddenly it was ‘heavy-wet’ conditions. Heading towards Race 2 (25 laps), at 15:50 a ten-minute session was held in order to confirm track conditions. Because the intensity of the rain had weakened somewhat, the start was postponed until 16:35. Moreover, it was decided the start would be taken behind the Safety Car as a precaution.
Due to the ‘reverse grid’ being adopted for all two-race rounds (where the top eight finishers from Race 1 line up for the second race in reverse order), the PIAA NAKAJIMA car of Loic Duval sat 7th on the grid. Following the SC (Safety Car), all 20 machines carefully made their way round. Though the rain subsided to a drizzle, there remained deep puddles at certain parts of the track. In addition, situations where rainwater crosses the track like a river mean the SC cannot pull off. The rain subsequently increased again, and after 6 laps’ running, the red flag was waved and proceedings halted.

After taking 4th in race 1, Tsugio Matsuda (LAWSON TEAM IMPUL) secured the driver’s title in the All-Japan championship Formula Nippon for the second year in succession. Loic Duval is currently ranked 2nd (52 points), and will be fighting to add to that tally at the final round.

Round 8 of the All-Japan championship Formula Nippon (the final race) will be held at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi prefecture) on September 20-21.

Photos by T.Moriyama