Formula NIPPON Rd.1 Fuji

LOIC DUVAL places 4th in the season’s first round and earns points

Season-opener race of Japan’s top formula race, the Formula Nippon (total of 8 rounds) held at Fuji Speedway (in Shizuoka Prefecture) on April 4th – 5th

Of the three-year cycle practiced by Formula Nippon for the switch-over of chassis, this year marks exactly that year for change, and this time the machines have been switched to Lola (FN06) of UK, and also to Swift Engineering (FN09) of America – now all the machines are one time larger in terms of both size and power. The engine has also been changed from the former 3-liter/V8 over to 3.4 liter/V8 that exhibits over 600 ps, ever more powerful than before. Furthermore, button-switch operated overtake system has now been introduced to the machines where the engine speed is increased by 400 rpm more from 10300 rpm which is the usual limit. As the drivers are permitted to use this system 5 times during one race, the question is when, in what scene or upon which specific action they might take advantage of this system. This alone is one additional factor that will certainly influence each competitor’s race strategies, even the win or lose, and moreover the overall outcome of the race!

GRM driver, Loic Duval in his 4th year of entry in Formula Nippon with Nakajima Racing puts under his belt Car 31 powered by HONDA engine, and is now fully prepared to take up another set of new challenges that await him in the season’s 1st round.

As the Official Practice session that used to be held on Fridays had to be discontinued from this season, on Saturday April 4th, the day began with one hour of Free Practice from 09:30. The French driver who has demonstrated great performances throughout the pre-season tests, also launched his day at Fuji Speedway under beautiful skies, practicing 16 laps on this track, worked with his team to make final adjustments before the Official Qualifying to be held that afternoon.

From 13:45 started the Official Qualifying session held over 3 times on a knock-out style. First, the 20 minutes of the Q1 where the top 11 positions get decided began under a 15 degrees Centigrade (Track temperature: 25 degrees C) condition, and here Car 31 Loic Duval marked a 1’25.209 which placed him at 5th. Then, after a 10-minute interval, the Q2 began in which the top 8 positions qualify, and here Loic further improved his time (1’24.838) and moved onto Q3 at 3rd position. However, in Q3 which began at 15:30 under much cooler temperatures of 12 degrees C (Track temperature: 19 degrees C), perhaps because of such varied conditions, not much more improvement could be seen with the Frenchman’s time who settled to 6th position at the end of the day.

“It’s a regret not being able to take the pole. Machine was good through Q1 to Q2, and I was able to push hard, but in the last one (Q3), temperatures dropped and the tyres did not warm up enough, which then affected the car balance. Compared to the Q2, it felt like a completely different machine. But anyway the machine is good, and tomorrow starting from 6th on the grid, I know I still have chances to win!”

The next day on April 5th (Sunday), there was overcast spreading over the piedmont of Fuji, and in the Free Practice session that was held for 30 minutes starting at 09:50, temperatures fell to 13 degrees C, which only became lower for the Race that got underway at 11 degrees (Track temperature: 14 degrees C), rather chilly for a day in April.

At 14:30, when the red signal blacked out, the 13 machines started off for a Race of 55 laps. Car 31 Loic Duval of Nakajima Racing made a brilliant start from the 3rd row, but got blocked off right on going into the 1st turn, which also led to a minor collision with his teammate. Luckily this did not give damage to the machine and allowed Loic to run 3rd, early in the race. Soon, in the 5th, 7th, and the 10th lap the French driver initiated strong moves with the use of the overtake system, and repeatedly attempted to pass the machine (LAWSON TEAM IMPUL Car 2 Benoit Treluyer) going in front. This did not result with a move-up in his position however, and some more laps of patience had to be continued by this audacious driver. Eventually in the 24th lap, Loic pitted for the routine works of re-fueling, tyre change, then returned to the field.
At the point when all machines had completed the pit-stops, Car 31 was positioned 4th, and in the last half of the Race, although trouble was evident with the machine failing to shift to 2nd gear, regardless, the French driver stayed well-focused on his race, finishing 4th and earning decent points.

“I made a good start, but right after that there was a hit with Kogure and I feel bad for he and his team… but I couldn’t find the space to avoid. Today the machine was very fast, and I also used the overtake system but I just could not pass Benoit. In fact, I was quicker in sector 2, but then not in sector 3, so in the last half I couldn’t reduce the gap against machines going in front. Maybe if I had pitted in a bit earlier, things may have been different … Sadly I couldn’t make a podium finish this time, but in this season’s first round I have to say that gaining 5-points is an ‘okay’ start. I’ll make efforts to catch up and do better in the next round!”

Photos by T.Moriyama