Alex Palou cemented his title challenge in Super Formula, after claiming his first win at a wet Fuji Speedway.
Safety Car Start; Kobayashi fights back
In the final practice session before the race, rain and heavy clouds arrived at Fuji Speedway.
By the time the race arrived, visibility conditions hadn’t improved and saw the start take place under the Safety Car. After three laps, the Safety Car pulled in and the racing got underway.
Pole sitter Alex Palou led the field on the long down to Turn 1, with fellow rookie Sho Tsuboi in second and Yuhi Sekiguchi in third.
At the Dunlop chicane, Nick Cassidy went down the inside of Tomoki Nojiri to move up to fourth.
However, the Kiwi quickly demostrated the lack of grip on track, as he understeered wide at Turn 1. Luckily for him, he managed to hold the position.
After a caution start, Palou started develop some rhythm and pulled a gap of four seconds over Tsuboi.
Elsewhere, Kamui Kobayashi was making his way up the field after starting in 19th place. On Lap 7, he eased past Lucas Auer at the Dunlop chicane to take 14th.
This opened the door for Auer’s B-Max Motopark team-mate Harrison Newey and saw the two drivers go wheel-to-wheel down the pit straight.
Auer tried to defend the inside line, but ran wide at Turn 1 and subsequently conceded 15th to Newey.
Several Drivers Struggle as Palou Pulls Away
On the end of Lap 10, Ryo Hirakawa served a drive-through penalty. He was judged to have for passed another driver before the start/finish line when the race went to green flag conditions.
Shortly after, Artem Markelov also entered the pits after losing his front wing. Although he opted not to change tyres or refuel, a lengthy stop dropped Markelov a lap behind the leaders.
In the battle for 14th, Kenta Yamashita executed a brilliant manoeuvre on Koudai Tsukakoshi, going around the outside at the Dunlop chicane to take the position.
Before the race, there were concerns regarding the durability of Yokohama’s wet weather tyres, with some reporting blisters after just 10 laps.
Having dropped to 19th, Auer struggled for pace and was five seconds a lap slower than race leader Palou. Markelov was also suffering and lost control of his car at the Coca-Cola corner.
Championship leader Naoki Yamamoto was the next driver to make a mistake, as he went onto the kerbs at Turn 15 and spun. As a result, he dropped to 12th behind Kobayashi and Nirei Fukuzumi.
Nakajima moves into the Points
Kazuki Nakajima then produced a ballsy overtake on Tadasuke Makino for eighth place.
As the pair entered the 100R corner, Nakajima moved to the outside line and saw Makino make a mistake. Consequently, Makino was demoted to 11th place, behind Fukuzumi and Kobayashi.
Amongst the midfield, Patricio O’Ward was having a decent race. Starting 20th after failing to set a time in qualifying, O’Ward slowly made progress.
On Lap 27, the Mexican driver lunged past Yuji Kunimoto at Turn 1 for 14th position.
Back at the front, Palou was beginning to experience tyre wear issues as well, losing six seconds after going wide on two separate occasions.
Three laps later, the rain picked up and saw several drivers fail to stop for Turn 1, but somehow, they all avoid a incident.
Nakajima continued his charge and got the better of Kazuya Oshima, going around the outside at Turn 1 for seventh place.
Behind them, Kobayashi also overtook Fukuzumi for ninth, lunging down the inside of the final corner and successfully defending the position into Turn 1.
The former F1 driver then repeated the same move two laps later on Oshima to take eighth position.
Added Rainfall causes Tyre Wear Issues
On Lap 36, Tsukakoshi rolled the dice and pitted for new wet tyres, as the heavy rainfall continues.
Newey did the same a couple of laps later, but for the second successive race, his car caught fire during refuelling. Thankfully, no one was injured and the Briton was able to rejoin the race.
As the 90-minute time limit approached, Sekiguchi pitted from third place on Lap 44 for a splash and dash. As a result, he dropped to eighth behind Kobayashi.
Meanwhile, at the Turn 6 hairpin, Hiroaki Ishiura ran wide as he was another driver to suffer from tyre wear. This allowed Nakajima to take the position and collect sixth place.
However, as he challenged Nojiri for fourth, he overcooked it into the final corner gifting the place back to Ishiura.
Then, Ishiura made another error and susbequently dropped to seventh behind Nakajima and Kobayashi.
Ishiura’s team-mate Tsuboi was also struggling, as Cassidy gained significant ground in the battle for second. The pair went toe-to-toe through the sector, but Tsuboi held his own and kept the position.
Palou Claims Dominant Victory in Fuji
However, Alex Palou was in a class of his own. Having led every lap and claimed the fastest lap, the Spaniard secure a memorable lights-to-flag victory for Nakajima Racing.
“It was an amazing day. The car was amazing,” Palou said after the race.
“I had to manage the fuel, to avoid a stop for fuel, so I was just managing the fuel and the gap [to Tsuboi]. It was a crazy race, really good.”
“The team did an amazing job,” Palou added. “They gave me the best car today, so I’m really thankful for everybody.”
— Super GT World (@supergtworld) July 14, 2019
Palou’s victory was the first for Nakajima Racing in Super Formula since 2010, and the first for a Spanish driver since Pedro de la Rosa in 1997.
Sho Tsuboi finished in a impressive second place, ahead of Nick Cassidy. Tomoki Nojiri held on finish a distant fourth, ahead of Kazuki Nakajima – his first point finish of 2019 – and Kamui Kobayashi.
Hiroaki Ishiura came home in seventh, with Yuhi Sekiguchi taking the last championship point in eighth.
The Championship turns on its head
As a result of Naoki Yamamoto’s failure to score points at Fuji Speedway, Nick Cassidy has reduced the gap to five points.
Alex Palou’s victory moves him up to third with 14 points, with Sho Tsuboi a further two points adrift in fourth.
Kamui Kobayashi is joint-fifth on 11 points, with Yuhi Sekiguchi and Kenta Yamashita.