Formula NIPPON Rd.8 Sugo

L. Duval finishes third on the podium in season’s final race, is ranked 2nd in the championship!

September 20th, 21st: The pinnacle of formula car racing in Japan, the All-Japan championship Formula Nippon held its final race of the 2008 season at Sportsland SUGO (Miyagi prefecture). Tsugio Matsuda (LAWSON IMPUL) had already sewn up the Driver’s title in the previous round at Fuji Speedway. Going into race week, Loic, already 2nd in the standings, was eager to bring the Team title home to PIAA Nakajima Racing after three years with the squad.

Top amongst the teams, TEAM IMPUL ended the season 10.5 points ahead. Two years prior, Loic had taken victory at this very circuit. Moreover, last year the same track saw a PIAA NAKAJIMA 1-2 finish in the hands of Takashi Kogure and Loic Duval. Therefore, expectations were running high.

In addition, the last three rounds of the championship featured 2-race meets, whereas this event is a single, 230-km (62-lap) sprint race.

September 20th, Saturday: After the Official Joint Test held on the previous day came qualifying day. The day dawned dull and cloudy, with the air temperature at 23 degrees (track surface measured at 27 C) during the morning’s free practice session. The afternoon’s qualifying session was run in temperatures of 22 Celsius, the track at 25 degrees in what was a cool and pleasant session.
Having continuously been in the top three during the test and free practice sessions, Loic Duval and the #31 PIAA NAKAJIMA car attended the knockout qualifying session at 14:30 with high hopes.

To begin, only the top 15 cars make it out of Q1 (20 minutes). Loic set a 1’07.237, the second-quickest time, and a guaranteed berth in Q2. The top eight cars advance out of this section (10 minutes). Here Loic improved on his previous best, setting another second-fastest time with a 1’07.108 – before readying himself for the final section, Q3.
And so to 15:20 and the climax of Q3 (10 minutes), used to determine the top eight positions on the grid. All cars’ tyres cooled down and they went in for their attack. However, the first to attack was car #7 (Satoshi Motoyama – TEAM LEMANS), who crashed heavily at the first SP corner with three minutes remaining. The session was red-flagged, and that was the end of Q3. Thus, as per the Regulations, (no time extensions are granted in a session if the remaining time is under five minutes) the order was fixed as that immediately prior to the incident. In other words, the Q3 result was decided at the time before the time attack started. Therefore, Loic Duval was relegated to fifth position, and he would have to start the following day’s race from the third row on the grid due to the troublesome ruling.

Loic Duval: “The condition of the car was great in Q1 and Q2, but I still wasn’t giving it 100%. I went into Q3 aiming willingly for a good position, and I believe it could have been pole…I don’t agree that qualifying should have ended this way. Because these are the Regulations, there is no argument. However, in order for such a scenario not to happen again, we would like to request a second look at the Regulations be taken. In any case, I’ll be starting tomorrow’s race from fifth place, from where it will be difficult to win. While I want to protect my second place, I’m also aiming at capturing the Team title so we’re looking forward to a strong race where we’ll be giving our very best.”

September 21st, Sunday: The morning’s free practice session started with light rain falling, but Loic Duval, very strong in wet conditions, soon set the quickest time (1’23.655), proving that whether the afternoon’s race was run in the wet or dry, Loic was going to be competitive.

In the lead-up to the 14:30 start time, the rain had stopped briefly, but when the cars went to take the formation lap, all had installed rain tyres. When the red signals had blacked out signaling the start of the race, the battle that has raged all season got off to its final fight, the spray from all 20 machines kicking up at once.
Making a good start from 5th on the grid, Loic Duval in the #31 car was up to fourth place at the 2nd corner.
However, an accident involving other cars on the opening lap brought out the Safety Car (SC), which soon went back in and the race began again on lap 5. The order was, in front: car #7 – Motoyama, the #32 machine of Kogure, Matsuda in the #1 car, and Loic (Duval) in the #31 contender.
This remained the order at the head of the pack until lap 12, when the leading car ran into trouble and Loic advanced to third position. From this point, he defended his position, easily maintaining a gap over his rivals.

During the middle stage of the race, the water on track began to decrease and the drivers had to constantly search for damp areas of track to try and keep their tyres from overheating. With 10 laps remaining, Loic had come within reach of his teammate Takashi Kogure, running 2nd in the #32 machine, but he made no moves to overtake the sister PIAA NAKAJIMA car. However, on lap 62, the very last, Loic set the fastest lap of the race, a blistering 1’22.773, before crossing the line to receive the checkered flag in third place.
As a result, Loic Duval finished the 2008 All-Japan championship Formula Nippon in 2nd place overall, with 62 championship points.

Loic Duval: “The start was good. Early on, the top car held us down, and my machine suffered very bad understeer so I wasn’t able to push. After that, as the fuel load lightened, the situation became better. I chased hard after Kogure, but once I got close, the understeer characteristics reappeared and I was unable to get past. I couldn’t afford to take too many risks, and had to concentrate on defending my position as I had both 2nd place in the Driver’s title, and the Team title to think about. At any rate, the pace went up and it fell today, we had understeer, now it is settled. Tyre management on a track that was steadily drying made it a really tough race. Unfortunately, we were unable to clinch the Team title today, though I have to say I’m satisfied with 2nd place in the Driver’s rankings. I’d also like to sincerely thank Nakajima-san and all the team staff for doing such a wonderful job this season, and of course, thank all my fans.”

Team Supervisor Satoru Nakajima: “In the first half, the driver and the team was not at their best, and fighting for the championship didn’t seem real. However, in the second half, Loic made a superb recovery and to end up 2nd in the Driver’s is a great achievement. I’d like to say thanks. It was a job well done.”

Photos by T.Moriyama