Formula NIPPON Rd.6 Motegi

Loic Duval finishes 2nd place on the podium and retains the top standing

With only three more rounds to go in the season, the 2009 All-Japan Formula NIPPON series have now arrived at its 6th stage held at Twin Ring Motegi (in Tochigi Prefecture) over August 8th – 9th.
GRM driver Loic Duval who has been giving brilliant performances, especially by the recent two consecutive pole-to-wins from this series, came on to this round as the points-leader (currently with 37 points), with the aim to grab another one and maybe deck ‘three in a row’ victories!

On August 8th (Saturday), the first day of the two-day event, Loic Duval on No. 31 of NAKAJIMA RACING was again dominant with the top time (1’34.439) from the practice session held in the morning, with 0.9 seconds lead over all the rest.
From 14:20 that afternoon under clouds and the temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (Track temperature: 35 degree C), the Official Qualifying heats commenced on a knock-out style. In Q1, the qualifying heat (of 20 minutes) where the fastest 11 are decided, Loic Duval on No. 31 with used tyres made just 5 laps and casually marked the top time of 1’34.824. Nonetheless, in the Q2 (of 10 minutes) that followed to pick out the 8 fastest, the same machine on new tyres came 0.093 seconds behind Takashi Kogure on No. 32 (1’34.295), the teammate who has been just as quick as Loic the past many rounds. Then, onto the Q3 (10 minutes) going in 2nd position, again the French driver of NAKAJIMA RACING came 0.133 seconds behind his Japanese teammate to finish the Official Qualifying at 2nd position (1’34.388) of the 8 top grids chosen from these heats.

“Machine was good, but in Q3 somehow the tyres did not warm up the way they should, and at the 1st turn some under-steer was felt. Perhaps that led to the time loss of near 0.1 second? But I’m behind the pole with just a small gap, so let’s do it tomorrow! Machine is quite competitive, with both the feeling and the balance coming well, so I’ll make a fine start, do a good race against my best teammate and my best rival Kogure, which will also bring superb results to my team!”

Coming onto August 9th (Sunday), a thin overcast of clouds spread over the morning skies above Twin Ring Motegi from the Free Practice session. The 13 Formula NIPPON pilots all checked into their machine settings towards the Race scheduled for that mid-afternoon. Until then and during the next few hours following, the drivers attended the Pit Walk and made friendly visits to those zones around the Grandstand where their fans and supporters were sitting in groups.

Finally, as the clock turned 14:30, the battle of 52 laps started under skies with still a light shade of clouds, but looking to stay dry for the afternoon.
No. 31, Loic Duval of NAKAJIMA RACING starting the race from the inside of the front-row slightly failed with the Start, and positioned down to 3rd in the opening lap. On top of that, No. 32 who took the lead from start was charged with a jump-start penalty which cost him a drastic drop of positions. Here, the one who jumped out with a brilliant rocket start from the 5th grid was No. 36 (PETRONAS TEAM TOM’s, Andre Lotterer), who quickly came to stick near Loic Duval on No. 31! From thereafter, during the first several laps of the race, machines No. 31 and No. 36 fought constantly with only a tight gap between them, in fact the two created an almost 40-seconds gap apart from the backfield of 3rd and behind, and went on like this until mid-race.
Then, coming onto Lap 31, the two leaders with only 0.5 seconds apart pitted in at the same timing! And whereas No. 36 finished re-fueling and tyre-change in 20.8 seconds, No. 31 which had to refill more fuel spent 24.6 seconds for this pit stop and finally got back on track 8-seconds behind. So from here again, the French driver of NAKAJIMA RACING now running 2nd forged ahead at full-power, clicking fabulous times in the 1’38.’s, and worked to reduce the gap to the leader from one lap to the next. The gap between them was down to less than 5 seconds by the time the race counted 10 laps to go. Withstanding this hard threat from behind, as one other veteran driver, Andre Lotterer showed very stable driving, managed to stay in control and maintained his lead from NAKAJIMA RACING’s French pilot till the very end. Loic Duval got the chequered flag at 2nd place, 2.259 seconds behind the winner, but was able to keep his points-leader standing ahead of Benoit Treluyer (LAWSON TEAM IMPUL, no. 2), with a 6-points margin.

“In today’s race, the Start meant everything. But in the aim for the championship, a penalty is absolutely not allowed, so when I noticed a skim sense of jump-start from the teammate next to me, I had to repress a bit and my start didn’t go right. In the early laps my pace was not as bad, but on hi-speed corners (on 2nd turn exit and on the S-curve) Andre went quite ahead, and it became very difficult to pass him. So then I concentrated more on doing my race without making mistakes. It also took me a longer time for pit stop, so in the remainder of this race I thought more for the championship, avoided taking risks to make a sure, 2nd place finish. I also had to give considerations for heat-up of the brakes. So overall, I’m satisfied with this result, which keeps me in the rank-top position. I’ll continue to do my best in the remaining two rounds of the series. Please give me your lasting support!!”

The next Formula NIPPON, Round 7 will be held at Autopolis in Oita Prefecture over August 29 and the 30th.

Photos by T.Moriyama