LOIC DUVAL wins the hard-fought battle in the rain taking the first victory of this season!

The 2nd round of the All-Japan, Formula NIPPON took place at Suzuka Circuit (Mie Prefecture) on May 16-17. After some interval of a month and a half since the 1st round (held at Fuji Speedway), now the stage moved to the ‘New’ Suzuka Circuit and here the top-formula race of Japan was fiercely fought among 13 machines.

May 16 (Saturday), GRM driver Loic Duval started the Free Practice session (from 9:25am) on No. 31 (HONDA HR09E) of NAKAJIMA RACING, as checking into the machine setting. The session which began over a dry track gradually turned wet, but regardless, Loic marked the best time (1’58.254) with the rain, showing his strength as usual in the wet conditions.
From 13:45 began the Official Qualifying carried out on a knock-out style. In Q1 (20 minutes) where the fastest 11 first qualify to move on to Q2, here the NAKAJIMA RACING pilot placed 5th (1’59.479). Then, in the Q2 (10 minutes) where further elimination takes place to decide the 8 fastest, rain that started coming down harder affected the machine control, and Loic placed 6th (2’05.202). Regardless, Loic continued his push throughout Q3, perhaps so hard he spins as coming onto the first turn, but in the end, the time of 1’59.203 marked in the last lap brought Loic up to 3rd on the grid. “In the heavy-wet, the track condition wasn’t as easy to manage, but I’m happy to make the top 3, as it has been some while. Today I fell just short to take the pole position, but the gap with the top time (1’59.106 by LAWSON TEAM IMPUL, No. 2 Benoit Treluyer) is quite small, so let’ just look forward to how the race goes tomorrow,” said Loic with a glint in his eye.

On Sunday the 17th, Free Practice started in the morning with the track still partly wet and clouds seeming to have turned less dense. All the machines selected slick tyres in view of the Race afterwards. Here, Loic Duval ran the session marking the top time of 1’43.079 – even heavy-fueled – for a good reminder that the machine is in great shape, just as well in the dry.

With approach of the 13:45 warm-up time just preceding the Start, the rain started pouring down, and in no time the track surface started looking very wet again. Then, 14:30 the machines fired up to start the 43 laps of the Race. Loic Duval to command the white-color based machine No. 31, jumped out from the grid with a great start from the left-side of the second row, soon took the 2nd position on going into Suzuka’s First Corner! Hence, Benoit Treluyer who started from the pole position and Loic Duval, the two drivers from France already led the field in 1-2 position from early in the race. In each lap, the two drivers took turns getting the fastest times, created a large margin apart from 3rd and behind. Eventually, from the 13th lap, Loic consistently updated his own fastest times and began his charge to close in with the top. By the time going into Lap 18, the gap was narrowed to just 0.5 seconds. Onwards from there and still for some laps more, back and forth the two front-running drivers continued to battle fiercely tail-to-nose! Then just one moment on the Spoon Curve during the 23rd lap was a scene when the NAKAJIMA RACING driver lost space in the front and went off course a bit, trying to avoid jamming in, but soon recovered with the fastest lap marked again (to 1’59.052) in the next lap. As closing in ever more to stick behind No. 2, Loic stayed keen to overtake any minute. In Lap 29 at last, Loic succeeded passing the veteran driver Benoit Treluyer at the Spoon Curve, despite Benoit’s very skillful blocking. With this fantastic passing, No. 31 jumped up to take the lead, with also his pace growing better and better during the next few laps until pit-in on Lap 31, which was only for re-fueling. This strategy to pit and go without changing tyres proved to be effective, and back on the course Loic Duval on No. 31 of Nakajima Racing team maintained a dominant lead over the rest, but never satisfied with just that the unstoppable driver aggressively topped another fastest (1’58.144) in Lap 36. Thus, Loic Duval conquered this very challenging race of 43 laps and captured the first victory of this season. (5th win in Formula NIPPON)

“It was a great race. I’m glad my start went well and that I could run at 2nd position from early on. Benoit’s pace was very fast in the beginning but I saw that his tyre performance might gradually come down, so I watched closely and waited for chances to overtake. I was also aware that the positions could be reversed if our pit strategy went well, so I was not going to take any risk. But actually the chance to pass came earlier than expected (even before pit in), so I took the advantage and overtook Benoit right before the Spoon. My only mistake today was contact with my mechanic upon pit stop, but I’m relieved it didn’t turn into anything too serious. Today’s race was good, with the machine and strategy both working at their best, and I’m grateful for the team who has enabled me to manage a perfect race. I’m very happy too myself. Now my standing has risen to the 2nd position, and I know that the machine works well whether under dry or wet. As the next round will be at Motegi where I always enjoy getting good results, I want to aim at winning again and rise to the top in Driver’s Standings with consecutive victories!”

Mr. SATORU NAKAJIMA / Team Director:
“I just want to say the one word that we are happy with this win, as it’s our first one in a while. Also to have won this race at the new Suzuka Circuit is really pleasing. Most part of the race today went pretty well, I think. Seeing Loic win over Benoit after their long battling, but as staying calm and unruffled throughout the time, I could see that Loic has really broadened his caliber as a driver.”

The 3rd round of Formula NIPPON will be held over the weekend of May 30 – 31 at Twin Ring Motegi (in Tochigi Prefecture).
Photos by T.Moriyama