Formula NIPPON Rd.3 Motegi

LOIC DUVAL becomes absent from the battlefront, shortly after Start

GRM driver, Loic Duval who captured his glorious first victory of this season with NAKAJIMA RACING in the previous round at Suzuka Circuit (Rd. 2) just two weeks ago, now came on to challenge the All-Japan Formula NIPPON Round 3 at Twin Ring Motegi (Tochigi Prefecture), held over the weekend of MAY 30-31, of course determined to take his 2nd win in a row.

May 30 (Saturday), here was another weekend beginning under dense watery clouds, but against the forecast, rain never did come down the whole day and all the sessions took place in the dry. From 9:40 AM started one hour of Free Practice session, where Loic Duval got the feeling of, “Machine balance still not as perfect…”, but even so No. 31 marked the top time (1’34.271) in this session, with teammate Takashi Kogure following closely behind ticking the 2nd best time (1’34.615). Thus NAKAJIMA RACING was anticipating another promising weekend, this time with its two drivers timing 1-2 results in the free practice Saturday morning.

High performance by NAKAJIMA RACING was demonstrated to its fullest again that afternoon in the Official Qualifying which started from 13:00 (Temperature: 24 degrees C /Track temp: 29 degrees C). With the Knock-out style, in the first heat – Q1 (of 20 minutes), Loic advanced to Q2 with the 2nd position time (1’34.318), falling slightly short of his teammate Kogure’s (1’34.264). From the Q2, the team took the strategy of putting on fresh tyres for the first lap and only on the front wheels as they are usually slower to warm, then put on the rear tyres and released the two machines out to the course. Here, Nakajima’s French driver struck the top time (1’34.060), with the Japanese teammate again right behind (with 1’34.100), and without much change to their 1-2 positions, together the two drivers of NAKAJIMA RACING moved onto Q3. Both drivers continued to mark the two top times in the last qualifying heat as well, till they finally dominated the front row of the grid – this time with No. 32 Kogure (timing 1’33.772) taking the pole position, and Loic Duval (1’34.139) in 2nd position.

“Machine was fine, but in Q3 – the most important heat, there was a happening with a torn-off piece of sponge from the seat flying off, which somewhat disturbed my pace, and added with a slight mistake that I made, I missed the pole … a bit disappointing. However, Kogure did a great job and brought good results for the team. Well anyhow, the Race is tomorrow. I’ll give the best I’ve got and strive hard!” commented last year’s Formula NIPPON vice champion.”

Next day on the 31st, the Race day opened under unclear skies with a lingering overcast of clouds. During the Free Practice in the morning, the rain which started pouring down from the night before had already stopped but temperatures stayed rather cool at 18 degrees (Track: 20 degrees C), and the track was in semi-wet condition overall. 13 machines started the practice with rain tyres, then switched to slick from mid-session, and everyone checked into their settings before the Race.
As the clock turned 14:30 and with temperature still not higher than 18 degrees C, all the machines got ready to kick off on slick tyres. From the Formation Lap then proceeding on to line up on the Grid, soon the 52 laps of the Race got under way the moment the red-signals blacked out. Starting from the right side of the front row, No. 31 Loic Duval made a fabulous start towards the 1st Corner, while at the same time, two other machines from behind came thrusting in to join the front-running pack fighting for 2nd position! Then, as the pack came onto the 3nd Corner battling hard, here No. 31 suffered a contact with No. 36 (PETRONAS TEAM TOM’s Andre Lotterer), and due to this Loic could not help but spin out! Moreover, by engine stall, all too soon the French driver could only leave the machine and also the race.

“Just one word to describe my feeling is that it’s really regretful I couldn’t use the chance I had. Nevertheless, I want to congratulate Kogure and my team for the pole-to-win victory. But in any case, let’s make sure the gap from the Points Leader (Benoit Treluyer) does not grow any bigger… I’ll make up for this in the next round!”

The 4th round of the Formula NIPPON will take place on June 27-28, at Fuji Speedway.

Photos by T.Moriyama