Motegi Super Formula: Nojiri inches closer to title with win

Honda driver Tomoki Nojiri moved one step closer to lifting the 2021 Super Formula title with a commanding drive to victory from pole position at Motegi on Sunday.

Nojiri successfully defended an attack from Yuhi Sekiguchi on the opening lap of the race and was over a second clear of his Impul rival when the safety car was called at the start of lap 2 of 35.

Sugo winner Nirei Fukuzumi had spun on track - after being hit by Kenta Yamashita - with an unsighted Koudai Tsukakoshi collecting his stranded Dandelion car and spewing debris on the track.

The race went back to green on lap 5, with Mugen driver Nojiri making a rapid restart to pull clear of the chasing Sekiguchi, expanding his advantage to 1.7s over the next three tours.

Sekiguchi was the first of the leading duo to hit pit road on lap 10, with Nojiri covering him a lap later.

Undercuts have traditionally proved to be very strong at Motegi but with the gap Nojiri had built in the first stint he was able to emerge from the pits well clear of Sekiguchi’s Impul machine.

From there on, Nojiri’s only threat was Ryo Hirakawa, who was on a reverse strategy and putting in some quick laps in clear air.

Hirakawa finally stopped on lap 26 of 35 with a 25-second advantage but that didn’t prove to be enough to get the jump on Nojiri, not helped by a slow eight-second stop from the Impul team.

Hirakawa, in fact, returned on track down in fourth place, behind the battling pair of Sekiguchi and Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max Racing).

With Hirakawa no longer in contention for victory, Nojiri was able to cruise to the chequered flag to claim his third victory of the season - and the first of his career at Motegi.

Sekiguchi finished a second behind the Mugen driver to bag back-to-back podium finishes, while Matsushita held on to the final spot on the rostrum despite Hirakawa’s best attempts at overhauling him in the closing stages of the race.

Inging’s Sena Sakaguchi finished some way behind the leading quartet in fifth place but ahead of Nakajima Racing’s Toshiki Oyu, who arrived at Motegi second in the championship behind Nojiri.

Oyu goes into the final two races of the season 35 points down on Nojiri, before dropped scores are considered.

Tadasuke Makino made his way from 13th on the grid to finish seventh in the only surviving Dandelion entry, while Ritomo Miayata finished eighth for TOM’S after employing a strategy similar to that of Hirakawa.

The top 10 was rounded out by Sho Tsuboi (Inging) and the second Mugen entry of Hiroki Otsu.

Reigning champion Naoki Yamamoto’s troubles continued as he could best manage a 12th place finish after starting well down the order in 17th place for Nakajima Racing.

TOM's driver Giuliano Alesi - replacing the absent Kazuki Nakajima for the fourth round in succession - was in the fight for points after qualifying 12th but a slow pitstop dropped him down the order, leaving him last of the classified finishers in 16th.

Race results:

Cla # Driver Team Laps Gap
1 16 Japan Tomoki Nojiri
Team Mugen 35
2 19 Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi
Team Impul 35 1.039
3 51 Japan Nobuharu Matsushita
B-Max Racing Team 35 3.683
4 20 Japan Ryo Hirakawa
Team Impul 35 4.409
5 39 Japan Sena Sakaguchi
P.MU/CERUMO・INGING 35 20.317
6 64 Japan Toshiki Oyu
TCS Nakajima Racing 35 21.606
7 6 Japan Tadasuke Makino
Japan Dandelion Racing 35 23.383
8 37 Japan Ritomo Miyata
Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S 35 23.880
9 38 Japan Sho Tsuboi
P.MU/CERUMO・INGING 35 28.085
10 15 Japan Hiroki Otsu
Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh 35 31.639
11 18 Japan Yuji Kunimoto
KCMG 35 33.365
12 1 Japan Naoki Yamamoto
TCS Nakajima Racing 35 33.945
13 4 Japan Yuichi Nakayama
Kondo Racing 35 54.957
14 7 Japan Kazuto Kotaka
KCMG 35 55.706
15 3 Japan Kenta Yamashita
Kondo Racing 35 56.528
16 36 France Giuliano Alesi
Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S 35 57.557
5 Japan Nirei Fukuzumi
Japan Dandelion Racing 0
12 Japan Koudai Tsukakoshi
ThreeBond Drago CORSE 0
14 Japan Kazuya Oshima
NTT Communications ROOKIE 0
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