Junior Single Seater Race Weekend Round-up – 19-22 April 2019

by Paul Hensby
Nick Cassidy - Vantelin Team TOM’S - Suzuka International Racing Course

Two more single seater categories got underway across the globe last weekend, with the Super Formula category racing at the famed Suzuka International Racing Course in Japan, whilst the French Formula 4 season began at the Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro.

Super Formula – Suzuka International Racing Circuit

After struggles during practice and qualifying at Suzuka, New Zealander Nick Cassidy turned his weekend around in style on Sunday, with the Vantelin Team TOM’S racer storming from twelfth on the grid to claim the victory.

FIA Formula 2 refugee Tadasuke Makino took pole position on Saturday and the TCS Nakajima Racing driver held onto his advantage at the start, while fellow front-row starter and team-mate Alex Palou lost a place heading into turn one to Naoki Yamamoto of DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing.  The Spaniard would get revenge on the second lap however, passing the Japanese racer with the aid of Super Formula’s overtake system on the run down to turn one to assume second.

However, the race would then be turned on its head when the first of four safety car inventions began, not long after Cassidy had made his mandatory pit stop to switch from the medium to the soft tyre.

Two drivers – Ryo Hirakawa of Itochu Enex Team Inpul and Tristan Charpentier of Real Racing – crashed out at 130R to bring out the safety car.  Makino pitted from the lead but Yuhi Sekiguchi, running fourth on the road, stalled on the pit lane and caused a bit of chaos.  Despite getting going again, the Team Inpul driver joined his team-mate in retirement a lap later with a gearbox issue.

After delaying his pit stop, Kamui Kobayashi found his way to the front of the field while Makino dropped behind both Cassidy and Yamamoto to run fourth, before the two more safety car periods broke up the race, the first when Kazuki Nakajima and Harrison Newey both spun out separately at the Degnes Curves, and the second when Palou’s impressive debut came to a halt with a mechanical issue at Dunlop Curve.

Alex Palou - TCS Nakajima Racing - Suzuka International Racing Course

Alex Palou impressed on his Super Formula debut, qualifying second and challenging for the win – Credit: Alex Palou/Super Formula

The final safety car intervention was caused by Makino, who crashed into the barriers on the exit of Spoon Curve with what appeared to be a right-rear wheel failure, but even then Kobayashi gambled on staying out, only for him to run out of laps to build a big enough lead to retain his position at the front of the field once his pit stop was made.

In prime position to inherit the lead was Cassidy, who assumed the position at the end of the penultimate lap as Kobayashi finally hit pit lane, while Yamamoto claimed second ahead of Kenta Yamashiti of Kondo Racing, while fourth went the way of Tomoki Nojiri of Team Mugen.

“I think for sure there was an element of luck,” Cassidy is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com after the race. “Of course I chose the strategy at the start the race for a reason. I mean, we just don’t do any random strategy not knowing what would happen.

“We of course have a plan and we stuck to that plan. Thank you to the team for good communication. We knew what would happen, more or less.

“At the Suzuka test and Fuji test, we’ve always been top three or one of the fastest cars.  At Suzuka these two guys beside me [Yamamoto and Yamashita], were also very fast, the three of us I thought were quite strong. And at Fuji our long run pace was I think quite clearly the best.

“When we arrived this weekend we had something very strange going on with my car. I have been more than one second too slow, not a little bit, it’s been really huge.

“So I think it’s absolutely incredible that we could win today because in the race I still had the issues.  We need to find the problem and get back to our form in testing. And we can be even stronger. So I’m looking forward to that.”

Fifth on the road was Kazuya Oshima of UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans but he was penalised post-race with a thirty-second time penalty, relegating him to the back of the field, promoting JMS P.mu/cerumo – INGING’s Sho Tsoboi up to fifth, Yugi Kunimoto to sixth, Lucas Auer to seventh and Daniel Ticktum eighth.

Kobayashi’s pit stop gamble failed to bring him any points as he could only muster ninth ahead of Artem Markelov, Nirei Fuzuzumi and the penalised Oshima.

Naoki Yamamoto - DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing - Suzuka International Racing Course

Naoki Yamamoto claimed second at Suzuka – Credit: Super Formula

French Formula 4 – Nogaro

Hadrien David opened up the French F4 season with victory from pole position, but the young Frenchman was made to work for it after slipping behind Enzo Valente at the start.

Valente held the advantage for much of the race with David on his tail, but the decisive move was made on lap twelve, before he pulled away to win the fourteen-lap race by 1.197 seconds.

Reshad de Gerus completed the podium after a sluggish start from Jules Mettetal dropped him from third to fifth, although he could have been worse had Evan Spenle, running fourth early on, did not drop back and eventually retire from the race, promoting Nicky Hays up to fourth and Mettetal back to fifth.

Stuart White, a South African who was recently brought into the Sauber Junior Team, was sixth ahead of Gillian Henrion, while Isack Hadjar took eighth (and the rookie class victory) ahead of Victor Bernier and Ugo Gazil.

The grid for race two was set by reversing the top ten from race one, which gave Gazil pole position, which he converted into a lights-to-flag victory, although the last few minutes he was pressurised from behind by de Gerus. who made a few attempts on the lead only to lose out and slide through the gravel trap.

Luckily he was able to retain second ahead of Henrion, who completed the podium ahead of race one winner David, who gained four positions in the final four laps to finish ahead of Hays, while Bernier dropped from second to sixth in the final six minutes of the race but did claim rookie honours.

White was seventh ahead of Valente, who couldn’t make the kind of gains that David did, while Mettatel and Hadjar completed the top ten.

Race three, which took place on Monday, saw a dominant performance from David, who led from lights out to the chequered flag, with the fifteen-year-old ending almost eight seconds clear of de Gerus, who ensured he finished on the podium in all three races.

Hays completed the podium despite ending lap one down in eighth, with the American making successful overtakes on Spenle, Henrion and Hadjar to run fifth before he caught and passed Mettetal for fourth and Valente for third with just five minutes remaining, although he ran out of time to fight for second.

Mettetal’s weekend ended badly as he damaged his front wing against Valente as the two battled for fourth on the final lap, with the subsequent spin relegating him to the rear of the field.  Henrion claimed fifth ahead of Valedemar Eriksen, who captilised on White and Mikkel Grundtvig taking avoiding action around the spun Mettetal, in sixth.

White and Grundtvig did retain seventh and eighth ahead of Mathis Poulet and Sten van der Henst, while Spenle again missed out on points after retiring at turn one whilst battling with Henrion.

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