Super Formula: Yamashita Prevails in Strategic Battle in Okayama

A smart strategy from Kondo Racing paid dividends for Kenta Yamashita at Okayama. Copyright Takashi Ogasawara.

Kenta Yamashita claimed his first Super Formula win in Okayama for Kondo Racing, after a race dominated by tyre strategy.

The build-up to the race saw attention drawn to the possibility of rainfall during the race. Despite dry conditions in the support races, there was a 30-40% chance of rain.

Following up on his maiden win in Motegi, Ryo Hirakawa pipped Kenta Yamashita to pole position in Okayama. Yamashita’s Kondo teammate Yuji Kunimoto lined up third alongside Hiroaki Ishiura.

In the title picture, Alex Palou was the best placed in eighth, with Kamui Kobayashi close behind in ninth.

Nick Cassidy could only manage tenth after held up by the sister Team TOM’s car of Kazuki Nakajima. This cost the Kiwi a spot in Q3 and led to a since deleted rage-filled tweet.

In response, Cassidy was almost a second clear of everyone in this morning’s warm-up session.

Further back, Naoki Yamamoto continued to struggle after being eliminated from Q1 in 16th.

Hirakawa Leads from Pole

Ryo Hirakawa led the early stages of the Super Formula in Okayama. Copyright Takashi Ogasawara

At the end of the formation lap, the cars at the back of the grid were slow to line up in their respective position.

When the lights when out, Ryo Hirakawa led into Turn 1 ahead of Kenta Yamashita.

Behind them, Nirei Fukuzumi shot off the line to jump into third ahead of Yuji Kunimoto and Kazuki Nakajima.

Fukuzumi was lively on the opening lap, who took advantage of Yamashita’s mistake at the hairpin to move into second.

At the end of the opening lap, Kamui Kobayashi made a pit stop for fresh tyres after picking up a suspected puncture. As a result of the new pit regulations for Okayama, Kobayashi needed to make another stop.

Meanwhile, Yamashita started to struggle with tyre temperature on the medium compound.

On the run down to the Turn 5 hairpin, Hiroaki Ishiura pounced down the inside to take third place. Shortly after, Yamashita was demoted to fifth and being passed by Nick Cassidy.

Fukuzumi Brings Out the Safety Car

On Lap 8, Fukuzumi spun at the Attwood Curve and beached his car in the gravel, after his rear tyres locked up. As a result, the Safety Car was deployed.

Subsequently, several drivers chose to make their mandatory stop.

Bizarrely, Tadasuke Makino recieved a left-front puncture on pit exit after reportedly striking a tyre within another team’s pitbox.

Luckily for him, a slow Safety Car allowed the Spaniard to make a second stop without losing significant time.

However, Makino would later serve a drive-through penalty for an unsafe pit release.

Having started the race on the soft compound, Yamamoto made two stops under the Safety Car.

After spending one lap on the mediums, the defending champion then switched back onto the soft tyres.

At the end of Lap 12, the race resumed with Hirakawa in the lead, ahead of Ishiura, Cassidy.

These three drivers, along with Lucas Auer, Tomoki Nojiri, Sho Tsuboi and Kobayashi had yet to make their mandatory stop.

Ishiura Hits Tyre Trouble

Hiroaki Ishiura has endured a difficult campaign in Super Formula. Copyright INGING Motorsport.

As the race began to settle, Hirakawa started to pull out the gap to Yamashita and create a window for his pit stop.

Additionally, second-placed Ishiura had a severe blister on his right-front tyre. This would prove to be a crucial talking point of the race.

On Lap 33, Ishiura locked up into Turn 1 and went wide, which moved Cassidy into second behind Hirakawa.

Ishiura then crawled around before pitting for new tyres, after his tyre had failed.

Consequently, the former champion’s race was over and retired shortly after.

Battle for Race Win Heats Up

Hirakawa began to struggle for grip on Lap 43 and slowly slipped into the clutches over Cassidy.

Furthermore, the trio of Auer, Nojiri and Kobayashi were all within five seconds of the race leader.

At the end of Lap 51, Kobayashi made his compulsory stop and changed on soft tyres, rejoining in 13th.

After this, Cassidy enhanced his pursuit of Hirakawa, going down the inside at the Turn 5 hairpin to take the lead.

Elsewhere, Kobayashi started to move up the field, passing Kazuya Oshima at the same corner for 12th place.

On the following lap, he repeated the manouvere on Yamamoto to take 11th place.

As the race approached its conclusion, the 90 minute approached as it became the full distance wouldn’t be completed.

With nine laps remaining, Hirakawa pitted but lost time during the stop. Furthermore, the Impul then had a track excursion and ruined any chance of scoring points.

A lap later, Cassidy pitted for fresh tyre and also experienced problems. Despite, this, he managed to rejoin in seventh ahead of an aggressive Kobayashi.

Nojiri was next to pit and dropped behind Oshima, leaving Auer as the only driver left to pit.

Late Drama As Yamashita Wins

Nick Cassidy’s championship hopes were dealt a huge blow in the latter stages. Copyright Takashi Ogasawara.

At the Turn 5 hairpin, Kobayashi attempt to overtake around the outside, but Cassidy defended the position.

Then, the pair switched sides on the track as they approached Turn 6, with Kobayashi cutting across the track.

This caused the two cars to touch, which sent Cassidy into a spin and dropped him outside of the points.

On the penultimate lap, Auer made his stop which promoted Kenta Yamashita into the race lead.

Yamashita would go on to hold off Nakajima and claim his first win in Super Formula. This also marks the first win of the season for Kondo Racing.

Harrison Newey scored his first points of the season in third, ahead of Palou and Auer.

Patricio O’Ward overcome a stall at the start to achieve his first points of the season in sixth.

Yamamoto and Oshima rounded out the top eight, after Kobayashi spun off on the final lap.

Yamamoto Regains Championship Lead

As a result of the late incident involving Nick Cassidy, Naoki Yamamoto has retaken the championship lead by a point.

Alex Palou is now on 25 points, with Kenta Yamashita a further four points adrift courtesy of his race win.

Kamui Kobayashi’s late spin had several dented his title chances and is now ten points behind.

With 14 points available in the season finale at Suzuka next month, the title race is far from over.

2019 Super Formula Championship – Provisional Drivers’ Standings:

Naoki Yamamoto (JPN), Docomo Team Dandelion Racing, 29 Points

Nick Cassidy (NZL), Vantelin Team TOM’s, 28 Points

Alex Palou (ESP), TCS Nakajima Racing, 25 Points

Kenta Yamashita (JPN), Kondo Racing, 21 Points

Kamui Kobayashi (JPN), KCMG, 19 Points