TSUKAKOSHI RUNNER-UP AT MACAU AFTER STUNNING EFFORT
Japanese Formula 3 sensation Kodai Tsukakoshi came within 1.7 seconds of victory for Manor Motorsport in the 54th staging of the annual Polytec Macau F3 Grand Prix race earlier today, Sunday, 18th November; a scintillating drive through the order from ninth on the grid securing the Honda-backed racer a richly deserved runner-up placing.
Driving the Manor car piloted by Swiss starlet Cyndie Allemann during the main F3 Euroseries season this year, Tsukakoshi entered the blue-riband Macau event as one of the genuine favourites for the Grand Prix win, teaming with the Dinnington squad's regular F3 pilots Yelmer Buurman, James Jakes and Franck Mailleux.
Showing stunning pace right from the off during Thursday's opening free practice, the All-Japan F3 racer put the disappointment of being taken out of contention in Saturday's qualification race behind him to scythe his way through the upper order during today's headline encounter from ninth on the grid through to second several laps from the finish.
Following Saturday's chaotic qualifying race, British star Jakes would be the best placed of the Manor quartet on the GP grid in fourth position, two spots ahead of Buurman with Tsukakoshi three places further back in ninth and Mailleux starting in 13th place.
At the start, Buurman saw his hopes to challenge for the win shattered very early on -- what looked to be a brush with the retaining wall followed soon after by the loss of one of his wheels, terrible misfortune for the Dutchman who performed brilliantly on Saturday to climb from 13th on the grid to take a top six finish in the qualification race.
Jakes also suffered his own share of bad luck with top-end speed from his engine costing him dearly down the straights. Starting fourth, there was no chance for him to hold on to the place and he would eventually end the race in seventh position -- albeit as the top participant from the F3 Euroseries.
For Tsukakoshi and Mailleux the opening stages of today's race went well, both Manor aces driving superbly and racing strongly through the order. The Frenchman's progress was impressive considering he didn't enjoy the happiest of preparation during Thursday and Friday and early on he was the best placed F3 Euroseries runner in eighth.
On the seventh lap though, Mailleux had a major accident at Moorish Hill -- the result of simply pushing a little too hard. With heavy damage to the left side of his car, the Manor star's Mercedes-powered Dallara was left stranded on the track and so the Safety Car had to be deployed.
Tsukakoshi, who celebrates his 21st birthday on Tuesday, had superbly climbed into the top four ahead of the arrival on circuit of the Safety Car and at the re-start on lap 11 he passed 2007 British Formula 3 Champion Marko Asmer for third position on the run to Mandarin Bend.
His electrifying march to the front didn't abate and on lap 13 at Lisboa Bend, he took second place from reigning All-Japan Formula 3 Champion Kazuya Oshima with an outstanding move around the outside of his countryman. Tsukakoshi then began to hunt down race leader, and pole-sitter, Oliver Jarvis and did trim the Brit's advantage.
In the end though he ran out of time and had to settle for the runner-up spot just 1.7 seconds adrift; a truly memorable performance and a superb effort which also saw him take the second fastest race lap. Race winner Jarvis, of course, also has Manor links having raced with the team in 2005 when he won the Formula Renault UK title.
Commenting on Manor's Macau adventure, team boss John Booth said: "Kodai had great pace all weekend and it was a shame what happened in the qualifying race. From ninth on the grid it was always going to be tough today but he performed brilliantly to finish in second place. He was a couple of 10ths of a second quicker per lap than Jarvis.
"James was struggling for power, straight-line speed was a problem for him but there was nothing much we could do to solve that because at Macau there's a one engine rule which meant we couldn't change it before the race. That compromised his race but he did well to come home as the top Euroseries driver."
Booth added: "Franck's accident was very unfortunate and seemed to be just a result of him pushing a little bit too hard. The weekend didn't start brilliantly for him but he worked hard to improve. To have performed the way he did in race conditions was great, he made good progress and lapped with some very respectable times.
"Yelmer's race ended before it started unfortunately. He showed good pace during the weekend and we had high hopes for him. At the start it looked as though he touched the wall and then there was a problem with one of his wheels. We're not sure why but we're very disappointed for him as he should have been a contender for the win."
Rewinding to the first free practice session on Thursday, Tsukakoshi certainly hit the ground running with the fifth fastest time. Opening qualifying though saw Buurman lead the Manor charge to take third on the provisional grid for Saturday's qualification race.
On Friday, Tsukakoshi posted the second fastest time during morning practice and in second qualifying he looked set to take pole position for Saturday's race but he was pipped during the final minute by two other drivers and had to settle for third on the grid.
Following several post-qualifying penalties, including one for the unfortunate Buurman who was adjudged to have entered the fast lane of the pits before the exit was open, the Manor drivers lined up for the qualification race with Tsukakoshi heading row two, Jakes eighth on the grid, Buurman in 13th spot and Mailleux starting down in 22nd place.
On lap one, Tsukakoshi saw his hopes for Sunday's event badly damaged when he was a completely innocent party in an accident triggered by Edoardo Mortara. Thankfully though, he did manage to fight his way back to ninth before the finish.
Jakes and Buurman enjoyed a much better time of things, the British sensation making up good ground early on and racing to a terrific fourth place finish, just 1.5 seconds shy of third placed Kazuya Oshima. Buurman climbed well through the chaos to end the race in the top six while Mailleux raced excellently, fighting through to 13th position.