Round 3 of 2009 Japanese Championship Formula NIPPON took place at Twin Ring Motegi (Tochigi Prefecture) on May 30th and 31st. No.32 Takashi Kogure (NAKAJIMA RACING) snatched the pole position in the qualifying. The race next day turned out to be a difficult one to tackle with the rain falling on and off, causing to see race leader change multiple times during the race. After all, it was Kogure winning his first race since 2007.
No.32 Takashi Kogure
Formula NIPPON adopts a knock-out qualifying system where slower drivers fall out in each of three sessions. The weather forecast said it was going to rain during the weekend, but the qualifying session was held under overcast sky with dry condition. The NAKAJIMA RACING duo of Takashi Kogure and No.31 Loic Duval went head to head for the first place in every session, and the pole fell in the hands of Kogure at last. Coming to the Formula NIPPON this season with a career including 6th overall in last year's F3 Euro Series, No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi (HFDP RACING) followed the flying NAKAJIMA RACING drivers and placed third in the qualifying.
Winning the season opener and finishing second at the round 2, the championship point leader No.2 Benoit Treluyer (LAWSON IMPUL) struggled with the machine setup for Motegi and was knocked out in Q2 for a surprise. He had to start the race from uneasy position of 11th on the grid.
Qualifying Top 3 - 2nd: No.31 Loic Duval / PP: No.32 Takashi Kogure / 3rd: No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi
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No.2 Benoit Treluyer Rain intermittently fell on the circuit from the morning on the race day, creating a highly difficult condition for the teams with the track surface turning wet and dry back to back. It hardly rained in the last hour before the race start and the track was fairly dry. All cars wore slick tires at the start.
Stormy scenario had started to show from before the start. Last year's Macau GP winner No.7 Keisuke Kunimoto (Team LeMans) was struck with an electrical problem on his car halted on the starting grid and No.41 Takuya Izawa (DOCOMO DANDELION) span his car around during the formation lap. Two cars had already retired before the opening lap.
No.8 Hiroaki Ishiura In the early stage of the race, it seemed that Kogure will extend his lead, but the rookie who was born and raised in a town near Twin Ring Motegi closed in the gap behind the leader. Tsukakoshi looked as if he really got the power from his hometown fans and pushed Kogure very hard from behind. He eventually stole the lead from one of the top drivers and a regular champion candidate, and the circuit was erupted by the cheer from the fans.
But less than ten laps later, big drops of rain scattered on the circuit and the track got wet in a very short while. Cars rushed into the pit lane for a set of rain tires. With the rain, Tsukakoshi on the lead went off the track and lost his position to Lotterer as well as Kogure which put him to the third position. Contrarily, Treluyer who started from the eleventh grid took the rain as his every opportunity and advanced his position one after another and even passed Tsukakoshi to take third place. Treluyer pulled not only podium finish but also the victory within his reach.
No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi But the rain didn't last for a long time and the track surface started to dry up after around Lap 20 in the mid stage of the race. Tsukakoshi saw the situation as a chance and came in quickly to the pit to change his tires to slicks. From there others followed to make another pit-stop. After cars made their pit-stops, the order on the track was Kogure at the top followed by Tsukakoshi, Lotterer, Treluyer, and No.8 Hiroaki Ishiura (Team LeMans). On Lap 30, No.48 Yuji Tachikawa (CERUMO/INGING) crashed and his severely damaged car stopped on the track causing the Safety Car to come in for three laps to clean up the site.
Remaining 19 laps of the race reopened with tighter gap between the cars. Capricious rain started to fall again. Lotterer got swept away by the rain and went off the track to put him outside of the contention for victory. Cars came in again for another pit-stop one after the other, but Tsukakoshi remained on the track and continued to run on the slick tires. This decision put Tsukakoshi back on the lead with the second place Kogure 27 seconds behind. Undoubtedly, Kogure with the rain tires lapped 2 to 3 seconds faster than Tsukakoshi. So the stakes were on Kogure if the rain continued and on Tsukakoshi if it stopped.
Although lightly, the rain continued to wet the track, and Kogure caught up Tsukakoshi with two laps remaining in the race and kept up his pace to overtake resisting Tsukakoshi to cross the finish line first. Tsukaskoshi was also overtaken by Treluyer and Ishiura on the last lap dropping not only a victory but a podium finish at fourth. Becoming a hero of the hometown, Tsukakoshi said, "I did what I could do, so I'm satisfied with the fourth place today." He implied that he was well fit for the next round in his words.
The winner Kogure grabbed his first victory since the round 8 of 2007 season held in October and extended his career wins to five. Treluyer finished second and added another points to his championship point to 29 and retained his lead. Ishiura climbed on the third highest place on his first podium. After all, it was a survival with only 7 cars completing the race out of 13.
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2nd: No.2 Benoit Treluyer / Winner: No.32 Takashi Kogure & Nakajima (Team Manager) / 3rd: No.8 Hiroaki Ishiura