SUPER FORMULA successfully concluded its second season with Yokohama Tires. Here, we look back at the stunning 2017 season in a summarized review.
If you try to review the 2017 SUPER FORMULA season, you should start it with the pre-season testing days. Held at Suzuka Circuit on 6-7 March, the testing sessions saw an unofficial course record even on the first day. This meant now the SUPER FORMULA’s lap time in Suzuka was even closer to that of Formula One and the performance of Yokohama Tires which made it possible was openly praised.
But another testing at Fuji Speedway – 31 March to 1 – was hampered by unfavorable weather conditions. In fact, the first half of the second day had to be cancelled by untimely snowfall.
As widely expected, eight drivers broke the old course record in the qualifying session for the season opener at Suzuka. Especially, in Q3 which decides the pole position, top two drivers set the lap times under the 1’36” domain, with only nine hundredths between them. After the phenomenal battle, the pole position was grabbed by Kazuki Nakajima.
The 203km race, which was a little shorter than other single race rounds, with a mandatory pit stop for changing at least one tire, was lead throughout by Nakajima. He made the most of the Safety Car period during race and his crew did a perfect tire change, so the Japanese made a good start of the season with an impressive pole to win.
Round 2 at Okayama International Circuit was run under the two race format. The race weekend was favored by fine weather. The star of Race 1 – 30 laps, no tire change required – on Saturday was Andre Lotterer who made a very good start from the second grid. Then the German gradually pulled away from the rest of the field and crossed the finish line first, after more than a yearlong victory drought since the final round of 2015 season.
In the 51 lap Race 2 on Sunday, every driver was obliged to change four tires during the race. Despite starting from the second row, Yuhi Sekiguchi lost a few positions in the opening lap and was stuck in a traffic. To drive at his true pace, he chose to make the mandatory pit stop at the end of Lap1 and after that he pushed very hard with a clear space ahead of him.
The strategy paid off. Sekiguchi moved up to first when the race leader at that time Hiroaki Ishiura made his pit stop, and he kept the position until the checkered flag fell. This was his second SUPER FORMULA win in his career.
Round 3 was held at Fuji in July. With the air temperature going over 30 degrees Celsius, the reigning champ Yuji Kunimoto dominated the whole qualifying session, from Q1 to Q3. While his team mate Ishiura had been trying to catch him, Kunimoto comfortably led the race until his pit stop at the end of Lap 31. But the 2016 champion had to retire the car on his out lap after the stop due to a mechanical problem and this gave Ishiura his first victory of the season.
Round 4, the halfway point of the 7 race series, took place during summer holidays at Twin Ring Motegi. The race was noteworthy because the soft compound tires were introduced as a option for the first time. But, as the qualifying day was hit by heavy rain, no one could see how the new tires performed yet on Saturday.
Fortunately, the weather got better on Sunday, so Q2 and Q3 which had to be postponed because of bad conditions and the race were run on the totally dry track. On the starting grids, a half of the field chose the soft tires, while other half took the medium. The drivers who started the race with the soft tires tried to pull away and build enough gaps but it was Pierre Gasly who became the race leader around the halfway point, partly thanks to his team’s lightening fast pit work. The 2016 GP2 Champion had attracted much attention from the beginning of the season and, only in his fourth race in SUPER FORMULA, the Frenchman scored his first victory in style.
The teams and drivers visited Autopolis in Kyusyu for Round 5 which was the start of season’s second leg. In the aftermath of 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, the race track didn’t host a SUPER FORMULA race in 2016. Therefore, this was the first time for Yokohama equipped SF14 to race at Autopolis.
For the second race in succession, Yokohama supplied the soft compound tires for this race, so it was interesting to see again how the driver would make the most of these two types of tires in the race. The winner of Round 4, Gasly, changed his tires from the medium to the soft on the starting grid. He jumped up to second from the fifth grid and had a close fight with Tomoki Nojiri for a while. Then the Frenchman opted to make a stop earlier, while Nojiri tried to extend the first stint, but Gasly’s hard push using the medium tires fluited as his second wins in a row at the end of the day.
With the championship fight was still very open, the penultimate round of this seven race series was held at Sports Land Sugo in Miyagi in late September. In this race, there was no pit stop obligation, so the drivers tried to go as fast as possible within the limitation of fuel consumption and were busy for fuel simulation during the practice sessions.
Under the clear sky, the race got underway with Sekiguchi taking the lead from the second grid. Then he increased the pace even more after he completed the first ten laps and no one could seriously threaten him anymore. While Gasly tried to close the gap, Sekiguchi comfortably hold on to his lead and marked his second win of the season at Sugo.
As many as eight drivers had mathematical chance of winning championship when they headed to Suzuka for the season’s final round. Among those who had a shot at the title, the championship leader Ishiura, Gasly, Sekiguchi, and Felix Rosenqvist were in a position where they would secure the title if they won this final round, regardless of other drivers finishing positions. Naturally, at the press conference on Friday, each of them expressed strong will to win the race and the title.
In the weekend, however, a big typhoon was approaching the Japanese archipelago. Of course, it was predicted in advance but its intensity was much more than expected. Actually, the conditions on Saturday was worse than the day before and the on-track activities including the qualifying sessions were cancelled. And, because the forecast said the weather on Sunday might be even worse, the race organizer had to make a difficult decision to cancel the whole of this final round. As a result, Ishiura won the championship title for the second time for him.
On the next page : A few words from the new champion Hiroaki Ishiura and Team Manager Yuji Tachikawa.
UPDATE : 26.Jan.2018