Matsushita quickest as Super Formula test ends
Honda Formula 1 protege Nobuharu Matsushita led a closely-contested pack as the first Super Formula pre-season test came to a conclusion at the Suzuka Circuit on Tuesday.
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Matsushita rose to the top of the order with 25 minutes to go with a 1m37.344s effort, before improving further still with a 1m37.002s lap to secure the fastest time.
Three drivers lapped within a tenth of the multiple Formula 2 race winner, with Ryo Hirakawa ending closest with a time of 1m37.079s.
Ex-F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan was just 0.009s adrift in third, while Nirei Fukuzumi made it three Honda-powered cars in the top four.
Defending Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura was classified fifth with a time of 1m37.138s ahead of Inging teammate Yuji Kunimoto, who was exactly half a tenth adrift in sixth.
Naoki Yamamoto was seventh for Mugen, while James Rossiter, who replaces Andre Lotterer in TOM’S line-up, finished eighth.
Real Racing’s Koudai Tsukakoshi set the quickest time in the morning but was unable to improve on his benchmark after lunch, ending ninth in the combined order.
The top 10 was completed by Impul’s Yuhi Sekiguchi, who caused a red flag when he stopped at Degner with 30 minutes left in the session.
The stoppage caused a 10-minute extension to the session, allowing Sekiguchi to return to the track and make a marginal improvement over his previous effort, with which he had led much of the afternoon.
Formula V8 3.5 champion Pietro Fittipaldi impressed on his maiden Super Formula appearance, beating Team LeMans's regular driver Kazuya Oshima by half a second.
The Brazilian had taken over driving duties from Williams F1 junior Oliver Rowland, who had clashing testing commitments with the Manor LMP1 team in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Katsumasa Chiyo was announced as B-Max’s race driver on Monday, leaving Nissan protege Jann Mardenborough without a seat on this year’s grid.
Mardenborough was initially left without a Super Formula drive after Impul elected to sign Hirakawa, but a new opportunity arose at the new-for-2017 B-Max team.
Both 2015 Blancpain Endurance series champion Chiyo and Mardenborough tested for the outfit on Monday, but it was announced that evening that the Japanese driver had got the nod.
The move just leaves the Team LeMans seat alongside Oshima to be filled, with Rowland and Fittipaldi the frontrunners for the last remaining spot on the grid.
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