Formula NIPPON Rd.8 Sugo

LOIC DUVAL concludes one illustrious season with another Pole-to-Win!!

The season-closing 8th round of the All-Japan Formula NIPPON championship was held at Sportsland SUGO (in Miyagi Prefecture) over September 26 – 27. GRM driver, Loic Duval who has already claimed his series champion title in the previous round held at Autopolis, came to this final race of Formula NIPPON with NAKAJIMA RACING which also won the team championship from the series this year, together determined to fight this very last stage and conclude the season with a perfect finale!

On September 26 (Saturday), under clear and pleasant autumn skies, Loic Duval on the wheels of NAKAJIMA RACING formula No. 31 came to the Free Practice session held from 10:00 AM to 11:00AM, making checks into the machine and the soft-tyres implemented from this time. Diligently working to finish the machine setup towards the qualifying heats held in the afternoon, Loic did not seem so content, even after placing second (with the time of 1’07.046) close behind his teammate Takashi Kogure (1′ 06.679).
“Hmm…, machine condition isn’t quite there yet …”, said the French driver on No. 31…
Shortly, at 14:30 the Qualifying session got underway on the Knock-out style. Under the temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and Track temperature of 39 degrees C, here again from Q1 to Q3 heats, the two drivers of NAKAJIMA RACING shared the top-2 leading positions in the same brilliant way the team has been performing all season long. In Q1, Loic first off took the lead with a good time (No. 31 with 1’06.806, followed by No. 32 with 1’07.063), then in Q2 now Kogure timed a course record (1’06.332), and then again, the leading positions were reciprocated in the last session Q3, after Loic having marked a 1’06.574. Thus, Loic Duval took his third pole position of this season with the top time of 1’06.540 followed by his Japanese teammate at second (1’06.635).

“I am pleased to have taken the PP in the last round! Actually from this morning, machine setting was never too good, and in Sector 1 I had troubles with unstable rear. But in the last session, I’m glad the setting finally came right. Though I’m released from that pressure of title-winning, even then, tomorrow’s race is another race where I will do my best to finish the season with the best results!”

Then on September 27th (Sunday) the race day, the weather changed drastically from the previous day and turned into a rather chilly, cloudy day. In the morning’s Free Practice Session (09:45 – 10:15), Loic Duval – No. 31 finished up the free session with a top time (1’07.679) marked again, proving to be in great shape for the coming battle.

Then soon it was 14:30, time to start the 62 laps of the race under the temperature of 18 degree Celsius (Track temperature: 22 degrees C), and though it was as not much then, light showers started to drizzle. Hence, in misty weather, all the 13 machines started the race with slick-tyres. Loic going from pole position missed slightly with the start, got passed by his teammate who came from 2nd position, but coming onto Lap 4, Loic marked the fastest time (1’09.220) in the position where he was then and maintained a constant pace throughout the first many laps of the race.
As the race came to Lap 10, the course started getting slippery due to more rain, and here Kogure pitted in to switch to rain tyres, which then allowed Loic to resume the leader’s position. Continuing on with the slick tyres, the French pilot of NAKAJIMA RACING kept pushing at a good pace with skillful machine control. In the mean time gradually the track became considerably wet, and on Lap 21, Loic could not resist getting swept off the track on the final corner! Luckily, this did not turn into anything too serious, and soon the French driver found himself back on the course. And though this cost him several positions down to 5th, Loic went in for a pit stop in the one lap after, and switched to wet tyres, refueled, and soon got back on the frontline.
Though placing 5th at this time point, the machine in front of No. 31 was still running on slick and the lap time started to drag. On the other hand, Loic Duval and his machine, now given all the positive elements they needed began to pace up reducing the gap with the top pack, marking ever better times from one lap to next. Then on the 36th lap, Loic jumped to the top position at last!
From there and onwards it was just like Loic Duval, this year’s Formula NIPPON champion that we saw all season long, driving strong and steady with solid confidence all the way to chequer in the leading position, capturing one more and the one last fantastic win to conclude the season of this series.

“Looking back on today’s Race, … as usual, there was my great (?) start again! In the early phases of the race, there was over-steer which I had to tolerate for a while, but during that time I was also watching out for the rain condition. I held on for a while (going on slick tyres), but the rear tyres started losing the grip, as well as the traction, and so I pitted in just after that course-off. This timing worked out in the best way, and I think this is the reason for my victory today. The team has also worked hard the whole time, always together as one, which was proven again in this race as the greatest strength of NAKAJIMA RACING. I took 4 victories (3 Pole Positions) out of 8 rounds this year, and was able to finish the season with an excellent achievement as a Series Champion. I thank my Team and Honda, all my sponsors, the fans, and my family who has long supported me.
I thank you all very much!!”
Photos by T.Moriyama