Naoki Yamamoto produced a dominant win at Sportsland SUGO to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Standings.
Many Drivers Suffer in the Pits
On the race start, pole sitter Naoki Yamamoto led into Turn 1, while Lucas Auer got past Tomoki Nojiri for second.
Many drivers opted to make their mandatory pit stops early on and bizarrely saw several teams make mistakes.
Kamui Kobayashi’s mechanics experienced issues with the wheel gun, while Yuji Kunimoto ran over a wire in the pit box.
The latter rejoined the track towards the back of the pack and banged wheels with Hiroki Ishiura. Despite this, neither driver recieved major damage to their cars.
Back at the front, Yamamoto was beginning to pull out a small lead over Auer, with Tadasuke Makino in third.
Hirakawa suffers on Mediums
In the battle for fifth, Alex Palou struggled to find a way past Ryo Hirakawa.
Hirakawa started on the un-favoured medium tyres and demonstrated this as he lacked race pace.
The Spaniard was within half a second but was unable to get enough silpstream down the pit straight to attempt a pass.
On the end of Lap 20, Hirakawa pitted for soft tyres and saw brake dust emerge from his car.
The stop freed Palou and saw Hirakawa drop to 16th place.
A few laps later, Kobayashi looked to get by Nick Cassidy into Turn 1 for tenth place. However, Cassidy anticipated the move and cut across to close the door and maintain the position.
Meanwhile, Kazuki Nakajima closed up on sixth placed Yuhi Sekiguchi as the latter experienced difficulty with tyre temperatures.
Along the back straight, the two-time Le Mans winner got right behind Sekiguchi’s gearbox. However, he was unable to find a way through.
Newey Catches Fire and Nojiri Bins It
Harrison Newey was running well in fourth when he made his stop with 19 laps remaining. Unfortunately, a fire broke out and forced the British driver to climb out and retire from the race.
By this point, Yamamoto had developed a 50 second lead over eighth Nojiri, who was highest placed driver to have made his stop.
The Dandelion team produced a trouble free stop and saw their driver rejoin in second behind Palou, who had yet to stop.
Behind him, Auer and Makino also pitted from second and third respectively. On the pit exit, Makino overshot across the track and lost valuable time.
Makino suffered problems with getting heat into his tyres and dropped to ninth, while Auer inherited third place.
The Red Bull junior was then pursued by Nojiri, and saw the Japanese driver make an ambitious move into Turn 1.
However, Nojiri missed the apex spun his car into the gravel trap.
This resulted in the deployment of the Safety Car, which allowed Palou to make his stop.
As a result, Yamamoto now led ahead of Auer, Kobayashi, Cassidy, and Nirei Fukuzumi, who was under investigation for overtaking under yellow flag conditions.
Behind the Safety Car, Sekiguchi also made his stop and dropped to 15th.
Sprint to the Finish
On the restart, Yamamoto and Auer were split by backmarkers Kazuya Oshima and Sho Tsuboi.
As Yamamoto got up to speed on the exit of Turn 10, Tsuboi spun his car and held up those behind him, including Auer.
The Safety Car returned as Tsuboi had stalled his car in a dangerous part of the track.
With three laps remaining, the action resumed and once again, Yamamoto benefited from the backmarkers and pulled a gap to Auer.
His race then got worse, as while still stuck behind the lapped car of Artem Markelov.
With Auer boxed in at Turn 6, Kobayashi went to the outside and managed to get past and take second place.
At the front, Yamamoto was in a different league and claimed a well deserved victory.
Kobayashi scored his first points of the season in second, ahead of Auer, while Cassidy pipped Palou to fourth place.
Fukuzumi held off a late charge from Kenta Yamashita to finish sixth, with Ishiura claiming the last points in eighth.
Yamamoto in Cruise Control
After three rounds, Naoki Yamamoto continues to lead the Drivers’ championship with 27 points.
Nick Cassidy remains in second place, but is now 11 points adrift of the defending champion.
Yuhi Sekiguchi is still third on 10 points, but is only ahead of Kenta Yamashita courtesy of the count-back rule.
Kamui Kobayashi is joint-fifth with Lucas Auer on eight points, while Alex Palou and Nirei Fukuzumi both have seven points.