Having retired from the opening race of the 2020 Super Formula season at Twin Ring Motegi, 2018 All-Japan Formula 3 Champion Sho Tsuboi took a superb victory at the Okayama International Circuit as he led home a JMS P.mu/cerumo – INGING one-two ahead of team-mate Hiroaki Ishiura.
The race was the second of seven planned for the disrupted 2020 season, and it saw a number of drivers missing from the entry list due to quarantine regulations in place in Japan for coronavirus, which meant all the drivers who competed in last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans were missing.
Nineteen Cars on the Grid as Le Mans Combatants Ruled Out
The 24 Hours of Le Mans, held just one week prior to the race weekend at Okayama, meant a host of drivers were ruled out of the weekend’s events as they were not given special permission to skip the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine period in Japan.
Kazuki Nakajima, Kenta Yamashita, Kamui Kobayashi and Tatiana Calderón were all absent from Okayama, while Jüri Vips also skipped his second consecutive Super Formula race weekend in order to focus on racing in the FIA Formula 2 Championship in Russia.
Nakajima was replaced at Vantelin Team TOM’S by Ritomo Miyata, while Sena Sakaguchi took over the Kondō Racing seat of Yamashita. Kobayashi’s place at carrozzeria Team KCMG was taken by Yuichi Nakayama, while Calderón’s seat at Drago Corse with ThreeBond was given to Koudai Tsukakoshi. Ukyo Sasahara continued to fill in for Vips.
Buzz Racing with B-Max continue to wait on their European-based drivers of Sergio Sette Camara and Charles Milesi, with both still awaiting their first outing in Super Formula. Teppei Natori was called up for the first round of the season but the young Japanese racer was replaced for Okayama by Mitsunori Takaboshi.
Hirakawa Takes Second Consecutive Pole Position
Ryō Hirakawa, who took the pole position and victory in the opening round of the season at Twin Ring Motegi, replicated his efforts of round one in Qualifying to take top spot once more.
The Itochu Enex Team Impul racer was the only driver inside the top eight shootout to get beneath 1:13s, with his 1:12.773 more than three-tenths of a second faster than Miyata, who starred on his Super Formula debut to set a time good enough for the front row of the grid.
Sacha Fenestraz, the 2019 Japanese Formula 3 champion, continued his good start to his rookie season with third place on the grid for Kondō Racing, just ahead of the two TCS Nakajima Racing entries of Tadasuke Makino and Toshiki Oyu.
Ishiura qualified sixth, while the top eight placings were completed by Naoki Yamamoto of DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing and Tsuboi.
Team Mugen’s Tomoki Nojiri missed out on an appearance in Q3 by just 0.010 seconds, with defending champion Nick Cassidy tenth for Vantelin Team TOM’S. Sakaguchi placed eleventh ahead of Nakayama, with Sasahara and Tsukakoshi rounding out those who made it through into Q2.
The grid was rounded out by Yuhi Sekiguchi of Itochu Enex Team Impul, DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing’s Nirei Fukuzumi, ROOKIE Racing’s Kazuya Oshima, carrozzeria Team KCMG’s Yuji Kunimoto and Buzz Racing with B-Max’s Takaboshi.
Tsuboi Denies Ishiura to Take Maiden Victory
A crash at turn six by Sakaguchi on the warm-up lap ensured the race was delayed and reduced in distance by a lap, while mechanical issues meant Sasahara was forced to start from the pit lane.
From eighth on the grid, Tsuboi made a great start to run second, although this was helped by a coming together on the opening lap that eliminated Fenestraz and Makino and forced Oyo into the pits for repairs.
Hirakawa held onto the lead but his fellow front row starter Miyata was slow away, and this allowed second row starters Fenestraz and Makino to go either side of the series debutant. However, Oyu in the second Nakajima Racing car made contact with team-mate Makino at turn one, which in turn saw Fenestraz caught up in the incident.
Both Makino and Fenestraz were out on the spot, while a damaged front wing saw Oyu head to the pits. He would later be handed a drive-through penalty for causing the crash.
Hirakawa held onto the lead and controlled the restart well, but Tsuboi was able to take advantage of warm tyres to pass the championship leader on lap twelve. A lap earlier, Tsuboi hit the pit lane to take his mandatory pit stop, and he was followed into the pits by Hirakawa a lap later. However, the tyre advantage was enough for Tsuboi to pass for the net lead at turn seven.
Ishiura took over the lead and left his pit stop until lap thirty, but much like with what happened with Hirakawa, Tsuboi was able to sweep around his team-mate. He withstood pressure from Ishiura until the chequered flag and took his maiden victory in just his ninth Super Formula outing.
Cassidy completed the podium after leaving his pit stop until the penultimate lap and coming out ahead of Hirakawa, although fourth place ensured the Japanese racer retained his lead in the championship standings.
Sekiguchi climbed from fifteenth on the grid to claim fifth, although he was helped massively by the first lap carnage ahead of him to rise into the top six on lap one. He finished just ahead of the leading Honda-powered entry of Yamamoto, while Kunimoto, Fukuzumi, Miyata and Nojiri completed the top ten and the points scorers.