Formula NIPPON Rd.5 Suzuka

LOIC DUVAL, two consecutive Pole-to-Win victories!

Over the weekend of July 11th – 12th and now entering the latter half of the season, the stage for All-Nippon Formula NIPPON Round 5 was back to Suzuka. Previously, in Round 2 of this same series that took place on May 16-17 also here – at the new Suzuka Circuit – GRM driver Loic Duval won his first victory of the season then shortly in Round 4 (Fuji) picked up his second win (6th victory in Formula NIPPON). With growing confidence, which is also built upon the sheer strength of NAKAJIMA RACING TEAM, the pilot now came to Suzuka aspired to grab another glory.

July 11th (Saturday), in spite of humid weather, the Official Qualifying heats on this day all took place under the dry. First the Free Practice session commenced from 9:25AM, and lasted for 1 hour. Among the 13 machines running this session, Loic Duval (No. 31) and teammate Takashi Kogure (No. 32) marked a 1-2 result (No. 32 at top with the time of 1’41.536, followed by No. 31 with 1’41.888). Hence, the dominance of NAKAJIMA RACING team stood out again and ‘already’ from Saturday morning, letting no others to come near or equal them.

This unstoppable momentum of the team was evident throughout the Official Qualifying which started at 13:45. First off, in the Q1 where the top 11 machines qualify, the two NAKAJIMA RACING machines ran the 20-minutes session with used tyres and as tuning up the machine balance. The top time marked in Q1 was by No. 32 Kogure (1’41.697), then No. 31 (1’41.989) – again in the same 1-2 positions. Next, in the Q2 where the funneling down is made to the top 8 positions, both machines chose new tyres for their trials, and here the 1-2 figure was now reversed with Loic Duval (1’41.394) at top, Kogure (1’41.726) coming in second. Shortly after, in the last heat – Q3, Nakajima’s French driver further improved his time (with 1’41.214), with Kogure close behind with the time of 1’41.693, and therefore the NAKAJIMA RACING machines finished the qualifying in 1-2 positions, occupying the front row for the race of the next day.

“I’m very pleased to take two pole positions in a row. In Q1, the tyre pressure was not too good, but Q3 went pretty well. In any case, I know that the team has the best car and in today’s qualifying we got a more than 0.8-second lead from other machines. As it looks like tomorrow’s race will be in dry condition, I’ll try to make a good start and just do my best to win the race!”

On the following day (Sunday), fair skies spread over Suzuka from early morning, and the Free Practice from 9:25AM started under dry, warm temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius (Track temp.: 41 degrees C). Loic Duval, together with his engineer Mr. Tanaka – their 4th year working closely together — made last touchups on machine-setting to prepare for the 43 laps of the race to begin from 14:30 that afternoon.

Soon it was 14:30 and time for the Race to start. By then, the temperature had risen to 30 degrees C (Track temp.: 44 degrees C), in fact in the driest condition ever since the season’s opening round.
Loic Duval took off from Pole Position with a poor start and was passed by his teammate Kogure. Therefore, with No. 32 in front of No. 31, the two NAKAJIMA RACING machines stormed into the First Corner! Without change in positions, the two machines kept up a fast pace from lap to lap, pulling more and more ahead from all the rest of the field. In the meantime, surprisingly there were five machines penalized for improper start so in the backfield there was a large shuffle in positions from early in the race. This gave no influence to the top 1-2 structure of Kogure-Duval, however.
In the 25th lap, Loic went in for a pit-stop as scheduled, replaced 4 tyres, re-fueled, and returned to the track. Likewise, the race leader No. 32 also returned to the course after a speedy pit action, then the last half of the race continued on for laps and laps more with the same leaders’ order of 32 followed by 31. In the 34th lap however, Kogure’s machine came down with a trouble of the gear getting stuck at 4th, which allowed Loic to overtake his teammate on the 35th lap over the back-straight, and leap to the top! From ten laps to go and on, the leading position was completely dominated by the team’s French driver at a rather comfortable pace all the way to the chequer, and at this moment the two consecutive pole-to-wins were confirmed for Loic Duval. With this victory, Loic now stands at the top of the series-ranking (with 37 points).

Loic Duval:
“Because of the bad start, I dropped one position down and close behind me was Benoit (LAWSON TEAM IMPUL – No. 2) who made an excellent start, so I began the race today with some disappointment. Also around 5th-6th lap, there was a terrible over-steer. Over the radio I asked the pit to prepare for tyres with adjustments on air pressure, so after the pit-stop the machine was much easier to manage. Though I’m happy with today’s result, because Kogure had a trouble with his machine, I feel sorry that I won instead of him. He made a fine start and was quicker than me, so he had every reason to win this race. But still he finished the race in 2nd place, and for the team this 1-2 finish is an excellent outcome. But for sure other teams are just as strong and for the remaining rounds of the series we will stay on our toes and keep pushing hard! Please continue to give us your support!”

The next round of the Formula NIPPON Rd. 6 will be held on August 8 – 9 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Photos by T.Moriyama