With the title hunt getting intense, the Okayama International Circuit prepares to host the penultimate round of the 2019 Super Formula Championship.
First opened as a private track in 1990, Okayama might be recognisable to some Formula One fans. Under the name TI Circuit Aida, it hosted two Pacific Grand Prix in the mid-90’s.
Both events were won by Michael Schumacher, who secured his second Drivers’ title in the 1995 race.
Okayama consists of 11 corners, with the main overtaking opportunity situated at the end of the back-straight at Turn 5.
Additionally, the final sector shares a strong resemblance to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
Yamamoto Admits ‘Weakness’ after losing Points Lead
At the start of the 2019 season, Naoki Yamamoto looked certain to retain his Drivers’ title.
A win at Sportsland SUGO rounded off a strong start, resulting in nine-point lead in the standings for Yamamoto. However, the two subsequent races in Fuji and Motegi have seen him fail to add to this.
Consequently, Nick Cassidy now tops the Drivers’ Championship by a single point, echoing the latter part of the 2018 campaign. That season, Yamamoto recovered to win the season finale at Suzuka.
Speaking after the race at Motegi, Yamamoto stated the need to work harder to become a three-time Super Formula Champion.
“Having the championship order reversed at the top isn’t something I wanted,” Yamamoto told motorsport.com.
“I realised my weakness again and I understand that I have to work harder [to fight] against strong rivals.”
“The end result is all about the effort. The only thing I have to prove is the results, and if I don’t have the results, I’ll have no power. I want to return to a position where I can show my strength, and win the champion in the remaining two rounds at all costs.
“This time I was in a difficult condition and I had to make some changes – for better or worse. I hope I can make use of this for the next round in Okayama.”
Pit Stop Window Introduced for Okayama
This weekend’s Super Formula race at Okayama will see a change in the pit strategies adopted by teams and drivers.
During the first ten laps, they won’t be allowed to make their mandatory pit stops.
Over the last few years, Yokohama have produced high durability tyres which has resulted in abnormal results.
At some circuits, the softer compound has been able to last the full race distance, leading to subsequent stops after Lap 1.
In an attempt to combat this, Japan Race Promotion (JRP) have implemented a pit window. This will open after on Lap 11 of 68 and will close after the penultimate lap.
The latter was included to prevent teams attempting to pit on the final lap, in response to Yuhi Sekiguchi’s strategy in Motegi.
It is unknown whether the rule will be carried over for the season finale at Suzuka, with any future usage of this rule being influenced by track length.
Drivers will still be able to pit within the first ten laps if they picked up a puncture or sustain damage to a wheel. However, these stops won’t count towards the mandatory tyre change.
The Form Guide
Since joining the Super Formula calendar in 2015, Okayama has hosted seven race; three of which occurred in 2016.
Out of the current drivers, Yuhi Sekiguchi and Hiroaki Ishiura hold the best records with two wins apiece. In fact, Sekiguchi has won the last two Super Formula races held at Okayama.
Furthermore, Yuji Kunimoto was also victorious there during his championship winning season in 2016.
In the title hunt, Suzuka race winner Nick Cassidy leads the Drivers’ Standings for Team TOM’s on 28 points.
Naoki Yamamoto is just a point behind in second, with Alex Palou’s victory in Fuji helping him to third with 20 points.
Kamui Kobayashi is in touching distant on 19 points, with the duo of Sho Tsuboi and Nirei Fukuzumi tied on 12 points.
With 25 points available from the remaining two races, the Drivers’ Championship is far from over.
Once again, Let’s Go Racing will broadcast the race live and free on YouTube, with coverage starting at 6am BST.