On August 29th and 30th, the Japanese Championship Formula NIPPON Round 7 was held at Autopolis (Oita Prefecture), the only international circuit in Japan's southern island Kyushu. It had been 3 years since the last time Formula NIPPON visited the only international circuit in Japan's southern island Kyushu. Obviously, it was the first time for the new machine, FN09, to race at the circuit, and that became one of the major topics of the event.
No.32 Takashi Kogure
Knock-out qualifying format, where the qualifying is divided into three sessions and slower drivers get eliminated as the sessions proceed, was again adopted for the Kyushu round. It was on everybody's expectation that NAKAJIMA RACING on the run since the mid-season will be the major player in the qualifying, but it was No.41 Takuya Izawa (DOCOMO DANDLION) who topped the list of Q1.
In Q2, No.32 Takashi Kogure (NAKAJIMA RACING), who settled for second place in Q1, sat on the top, and No.31 Loic Duval, who was looking ahead to secure the championship crown at this round, placed second. However, Duval recorded his best time during a lap where a yellow flag was displayed on the track and, as a consequence, his time from the lap was deleted, which caused him to be eliminated from the qualifying at tenth position. Ranked second in the championship, Treluyer got caught behind a car slowing down on his flying lap and fell short to place him in the ninth position.
As the qualifying progressed to Q3, Kogure pulled off a new track record of 1 min 32.556 sec to keep Izawa behind and grabbed his third pole position of the season. The winner of the previous round, No.36 Andre Lotterer (PETRONAS TOM'S), captured second place on the grid. Rookie No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi (HFDP RACING) placed third in the qualifying for the second time in the season.
Qualifying Top 3 - 2nd: No.41 Takuya Izawa / PP: No.32 Takashi Kogure / 3rd: No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi
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With the sunlight getting stronger in the afternoon, the race started on time at 14:30 with the air and track temperatures rising to 30 and 47 degrees, respectively.
No.36 Andre Lotterer Pole sitter No.32 Takashi Kogure (NAKAJIMA RACING) lost some ground at the start and allowed No.41 Takuya Izawa (DOCOMO DANDELION), starting from second place, and No.36 Andre Lotterer (PETRONAS TOM's) to get around. So the contention for the highest position was fought between No.41 Izawa at the lead, followed by No.36 Lotterer and No.32 Kogure within about 1 second.
On Lap 23, Lotterer and Kogure came in for a scheduled pit stop. Lotterer took about a second or two longer than usual and let Kogure to get in front. The leader Izawa also came in to the pit on Lap 24, but he lost about 15 seconds in the pit-work with some trouble in getting the right-front tire changed. That put Izawa out of the contention.
No.31 Loic Duval Taking the lead after Izawa, Kogure gradually extended the gap between Lotterer, who refused to let Kogure go easily, and crossed the finish line nearly 20 seconds ahead of Lotterer at the end to grab his second win of the season since the third round in Motegi.
Another topic that drew everybody's attention at the race was the championship battle. The championship leader No.31 Loic Duval (NAKAJIMA RACING) was tenth on the starting grid, and No.2 Benoit Treluyer (LASWON IMPUL), second in the championship, started from the ninth grid position. Treluyer had managed to work his way up to sixth position in the first half of the race, but he stalled his engine during his pit stop and couldn't restart it quickly, costing him about 30 seconds in the pit. He returned to the track at last place on the field.
No.20 Kohei Hirate Things were not going quite smoothly for Duval either, as he dropped his tires on to the dirt at the first corner right after the start, losing his position all the way to the end of the pack on Lap 1. It looked as though the championship decision was to be carried over to the final round, but by finishing his pit stop earlier than his rivals and steadily gaining positions on the track, Duval was running at third place by the time the race was going in to the final stage, giving him a situation where he can claim the championship if he was able to hold his position until the end. Nonetheless, he had No.20 Kouhei Hirate (ahead IMPUL) and No.8 Hiroaki Ishiura (Team LeMans) closing in behind. With seeing Duval unable to speed up, Hirate started to make some moves to overtake, but Duval managed to keep himself in front of Hirate to finish the race at third position. Treluyer, on the other, showed some impressive driving to recover his position to finish the race at eighth place. Another championship contender, Kogure, did what he can possibly do at the most to stay in the contention and won the race.
No. 8 Hiroaki Ishiura
No.41 Takuya Izawa
With the result from the seventh round, Duval extended his lead over Treluyer and Kogure to 11 points in the point standing. Even if Treluyer completes pole-to-win and Duval finishes without a point at the final round, the two will have equal number of points, and, based on the number of wins (3 wins for Duval and 2 wins for Treluyer), Duval would be given higher place. As a result, Duval, after four years in the Formula NIPPON, was awarded his first driver's champion before seeing the final round. The team champion was also decided with the result of the race and given to NAKAJIMA RACING.
The winner of the rookie of the year will not be decided until the final round, and it will be between No.10 Koudai Tsukakoshi (HFDP RACING) and No.37 Kazuya Oshima.
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2nd: No.31 Loic Duval / Winner: No.36 Andre Lotterer / 3rd: No.2 Benoit Treluyer / Nobuhide Tachi (No.36 Team Manager)
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