2017 Super Formula Round 6 at SUGO Preview
It’s been just 2 weeks since Pierre Gasly won his 2nd consecutive race in Round 5 at Autopolis. This weekend, 2017 Super Formula Round 6 will be held at Sportsland SUGO in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. SUGO is known for being one of the most challenging courses in the country. There is really nowhere to escape, so one slight miss can force a driver off course in an instant. But most drivers like to face the challenge that SUGO has to offer, especially in the last part of the course from the SP in and out corners to the last corner where there is a 10% rise in gradient, leaving the drivers no other choice but to go full out. Corners at SUGO are not very wide, making it a difficult course to pass on. Probably the only real place where drivers have a chance to take advantage of another driver’s miss is by getting into the slip stream and trying to move up into passing position somewhere between the 1st corner to the 3rd corner.
Unlike the past two races, only one spec of tires will be used. In addition, there will be no mandatory pit stop for this race. However, it is extremely difficult to run this race on just one tank of fuel. So as in the race last season, we will more than likely see the drivers come into the pit for fuel only. Even if drivers put on new tires, passing on this courses is extremely difficult. With that said, when the drivers come into the pit for fuel, and when they get back onto the course will more than likely play the biggest role for them in the race. Therefore the most important part of this race will actually be what position drivers finish the qualifying in. At SUGO, there is not much distance from the start to the 1st corner, so the better the position at the beginning of the race, the better chance a driver will have.
Qualifying session 1 (Q1) will probably be the toughest for the drivers in the knock-out format qualifying. That is because SUGO is a short course, and with all 19 machines out at once vying for a good fast lap, there is always a lot of congestion. Unlike the soft spec tires used in the past two races at Motegi and Autopolis, the medium tires that will be used in this race require a little more time to warm up. Finding time to warm up tires and record a fast lap is a tall order. Last season, the drivers only had 3 actual laps to record a fast lap, because they required at least one lap to warm up their tires in the out lap. This season will probably see drivers using two sets of new tires in Q1, vice using one of those sets in the free practice on Saturday morning. And since there is a good chance that one of the drivers will go off course during Q1, there is a high probability of the red flag coming out. If that is the case, some drivers may fall victim to those unfortunate circumstances. More than likely, the difference in making it on to Q2 may be 1/100 to 1/1000 of a second for some. So that is why it is pertinent to have a good Q1. And even though 5 cars will be knocked out, there still won’t be that much of a difference between having 19 on the track for Q1 and 14 for Q2. So traffic management will be of the upmost importance. If Q3 is anything like it was last season, the pole sitter will not be decided until the very end of the session.
For the race, the biggest focus will be on the start. SUGO is the only circuit in Japan that starts with a slight elevation leading into the 1st corner. No matter who gets off to a commanding leading in the race, that doesn’t mean they still don’t have a lot of tough driving in front of them to try to seal the deal. This course is known for things to happen during the race, such as the one last season when the safety car came out onto the track cutting down on the lead that Yuhi Sekiguchi had built up to that point. He was able to build that lead up again after the safety car went off the track like it was a qualifying and capture a commanding victory. It was certainly a race that will be remembered, but there have been other good ones that have taken place at SUGO in the past. Hopefully this year’s race will not be an exception to that rule.