2009 Japanese Championship Formula Nippon kicked off its new season on April 4th and 5th at Fuji Speedway (Shizuoka prefecture). No.20 Kohei Hirate (ahead IMPUL) snatched the pole position on Saturday in the qualifying practice. On Sunday, No.2 Benoit Treluyer (LAWSON IMPUL) concluded the season opener with his first win in two years.
No.20 Kohei Hirate
Formula Nippon adopts the same 3-session, knock-out qualifying system as the Formula One. Only 8 out of 13 cars remain to the final Q3 and battles for the fastest in a short 10-minute session. Starting his second year in Formula Nippon, Hirate, who has experience in competing in the Euro F3, clocked 1 min 24.653 sec. That was good enough to beat the fastest time of the field set by Treluyer and gave Hirate his first pole position in Formula Nippon.
Two time champion of last year and the year before, No.1 Tsugio Matsuda, was not able to make a satisfying run due to a brake problem, and settled for the last place in Q3, 8th overall.
Qualifying Top 3 - 2nd: No.41 Takuya Izawa / PP: No.20 Kohei Hirate / 3rd: No.2 Benoit Treluyer
◊ ◊ ◊
No.41 Takuya Izawa Polesitter Hirate choked at the start and allowed the second fastest qualifier and also a second-year Formula Nippon driver, No.41 Takuya Izawa, to lead the field, followed by Treluyer, who started the race from third position. Accident occurred just behind Treluyer, which was triggered by No. 31 Loic Duval who bumped into his own teammate, No.32 Takashi Kogure starting from fifth position, after locking up his brakes. Kogure was forced to overrun the first corner that cost him a major break.
No.20 Kohei Hirate After the Lap 1, the order of the field was: Izawa, Treluyer, Duval, No.1 Matsuda, No.36 Andre Lotterer, and Hirate. Izawa began to extend the gap between the second position as he lead the race. On the other side, the fight for the second place was heating up. Duval zoomed in right behind Treluyer time to time as he used the overtake button on his steering wheel. The spectators was also heating up everytime the light on the car that indicates the driver had used the overtake button goes on. Nevertheless, Treluyer showed no agitation and was able to maintain his position.
Chasing Matsuda running in the fourth position, Lotterer put the nose of his car in the inside of Matsuda at the first corner on Lap 17. But Matsuda shut the door by taking a tight line as he entered the turn, and, as a consequence, the two touched, causing Matsuda to spin and stop. That ended the day for Matsuda. The other party of concern, Lotterer, was penalized for the act, dropping him out of the contention for the top positions.
Treluyer came in to the pitlane for the mandatory tire change and refueling at Lap 32 as he was running in the second position. The leader Izawa carried out a pit stop in the next lap in a response to the strategy of Treluyer’s side, but, right after his return to the track, he overran the first corner with his tires locked up. Izawa did not hesitate to use the overtake button at the straight as he tried to recover from the loss as well as to keep the gap he created against Treluyer. Still, Treluyer was able to catch up and jumped in the inside of Izawa at the first corner on Lap 35 to take the de facto lead. The battle for the second place became intense among Izawa, Hirate, and Duval towards the end of the race, but the three crossed the finish line with the order remaining unchanged.
Treluyer was able to increase the gap against the rest of the field all the way to the finish after he took the lead. The 2006 Champion grabbed his first win in two years since the opening round of '07 season.
◊ ◊ ◊
2nd: No.41 Takuya Izawa / Winner: No.2 Benoit Treluyer & Hoshino (Team Manager) / 3rd: No.20 Kohei Hirate