Ryo Hirakawa took his first ever win in Super Formula for Team Impul at Twin Ring Motegi.
In the build up, strategy was a key talking point for the race, with track temperatures in the high 40’s.
Subsequently, drivers were expected to make two stops due concerns over the life span of the soft tyres.
Yamamoto and O’Ward Delay Race Start
On the formation lap, championship leader Naoki Yamamoto stalled from eighth on the grid. Although he was able to get going, he was forced to start from the pit lane.
The race start was then aborted after Patricio O’Ward also stalled before his reached his grid position. Additionally, this hampered Koudai Tsukakoshi, who was also out of position on the pit straight.
As a result, the race mechanics returned to the track to stop the cars from overheating.
At the beginning of the second formation lap, Harrison Newey was held on the grid after he also stalled his car. Because of this, he started the race at the back of the pack alongside O’Ward, while Yamamoto stayed in the pit lane.
Palou Leads As Many Drivers Make Early Stops
When the race finally got underway, pole sitter Alex Palou led into Turn 1 ahead of Ryo Hirakawa, with Nirei Fukuzumi in third place. Unseen by the TV cameras, Kamui Kobayashi also got past Lucas Auer to claim fourth place.
At the end of the opening lap, Newey, O’Ward and Artem Markelov all pitted for soft tyres. However, Newey suffered another problem with refuelling and had to pit again a couple of laps later.
After three laps, Palou led Hirakawa by 1.5 seconds, with Fukuzumi a further 1.8 seconds adrift.
Further back, Kenta Yamashita took 11th place from Kazuya Oshima on Lap 4, while Nick Cassidy pitted for fresh tyres.
Makino Gets it Wrong As Hirakawa Pressures Palou
On Lap 6, Hiroaki Ishiura and Tomoki Nojiri were next to make their stops, while at the final corner, Tadasuke Makino spun off.
As Makino was unable to restart, he was the first to retire and his car was towed away from the track. During this period, Kazuki Nakajima was another driver to make a trip to the pits, taking on the medium tyres.
Back at the front, Hirakawa started to close the gap to Palou as the soft tyres started to drop off. As a result, the pair were separated by just half a second, while Fukuzumi and Kobayashi began to catch them.
Meanwhile, Yuji Kunimoto executed an excellent manoeuvre on Auer, going around the outside of Turn 11 to move into fifth position.
Kondo Racing Make Tyre Gamble
At the end of Lap 14, Yamamoto pitted from 13th for new soft tyres, and rejoined in 18th place ahead of Newey.
Three laps later, Kunimoto also made his stop, opting for the medium compound. However, just a lap lat, he pitted again to switch back onto the soft tyres.
Then, on Lap 21, Tsukakoshi and Yamashita raced each other out of the pits, with the latter coming out on top.
On the approach to Turn 4, Tsukakoshi moved to the outside line and got a better exit out of the corner. He then swept through Turn 5 to hold the inside line into the position and take 11th place.
At the end of the lap, Yamashita pitted again to mirror the same strategy as his Kondo Racing teammate Kunimoto.
Hirakawa Makes His Move
Towards the end of Lap 23, Palou continued to struggle with tyre wear and saw Hirakawa finally get past the Spaniard.
The former Super GT champion got a good exit off Turn 11, going around the outside through the tunnel to take the lead.
Now clean air ahead of him, Hirakawa immediately pulled a gap of 3.5 seconds over Palou.
At this stage, the top five of Hirakawa, Palou, Fukuzumi, Kobayashi and Auer were yet to stop, holding a sizeable gap to Cassidy in sixth.
As they continued to manage their tyres, Kobayashi caught Fukuzumi napping as he lunged down the inside of Turn 2 for third place.
With Hirakawa leading by over ten seconds, Kobayashi then set his sights on Palou in second place.
Attempting a move into Turn 11, Palou held the inside line and forced Kobayashi to lock up in avoidance.
The Leaders Make Their Mandatory Stops
With 14 Laps remaining, Hirakawa made his only stop for the medium tyres, who dropped to fifth behind Auer.
One lap later, Palou, Fukuzumi and Auer also made their stops, which left Kobayashi alone in the lead.
Cassidy then inherited fourth place after Fukuzumi locked up heavily on his outlap at Turn 2, and pursued after Palou.
Further back, both Sho Tsuboi and Tsukakoshi dropped out of the points after making their second stops for soft tyres.
Additionally, Auer struggled with his medium tyres, losing seventh to Ishiura. Consequently, the Austrian led a long train of cars in the latter stages as he tried to hold on to eighth position.
Hirakawa Victorious As Cassidy Makes Late Charge
With eight laps remaining, Kobayashi finally stopped and dropped 5.5 seconds behind Hirakawa, who reclaimed the lead.
Shortly after, Cassidy got the better of Palou into Turn 11 to move into third place.
In the closing stages, Kobayashi attempted a late charge for the lead, he was too far adrift.
As a result, Ryo Hirakawa took the chequered flag at Twin Ring Motegi to claim his first win in Super Formula. The victory was also his first points finish of the season.
Kamui Kobayashi finished second ahead of Nick Cassidy, with Alex Palou and Nirei Fukuzumi fourth and fifth respectively.
Bizarrely, Hirakawa’s teammate Yuhi Sekiguchi pitted at the end of the final lap from sixth place. However, as he didn’t hold the necessary gap to those behind, he dropped to 15th at the finish.
Because of this, Hiroaki Ishiura was promoted to sixth, with Lucas Auer and Tomoki Nojiri rounding up the top eighth. Naoki Yamamoto finished outside of the points in ninth place.
Cassidy Claims Championship Lead
Nick Cassidy now leads the Drivers’ Championship on 28 points, with Naoki Yamamoto’s successive non-points leaving him a point adrift.
Alex Palou remains in third with 20 points, with Kamui Kobayashi close behind with 19 points and Sho Tsuboi a distant fifth on 12 points.