Michael qualified in fourth position for the seventh round of the Formula Nippon Championship. His time of 1'36.504 was a mere 0.219 of a second from pole position, taken by ex Formula One Driver Tora Takagi and only 0.040 from the second position...
Michael qualified in fourth position for the seventh round of the Formula Nippon Championship. His time of 1'36.504 was a mere 0.219 of a second from pole position, taken by ex Formula One Driver Tora Takagi and only 0.040 from the second position held by the 1998 Formula Nippon Champion Motoyama.
"My quickest lap was very good, but it could have been better, my second run was a better lap but the tyres had already gone off so it was a few hundredths slower. I am pleased with fourth, but would prefer to be on the front row, which was possible. Tora is driving very well and he definitely has a very good set-up for this circuit, so he would have been very difficult to beat for pole. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow, we have a good race set up and the race is 45 laps with a pit-stop, so anything can happen." Michael commented Saturday evening.
From the race start, Takagi fumbled a little and dived across the circuit to the right, blocking the fast starting Motoyama and pushing him into the pit road exit. Michael made a superb start and immediately dived to the left and was alongside Takagi turning into the first corner, holding the slippery outside line round the first corner and onto the short straight before the next right turn. Michael had to concede the next corner to Takagi and slot in behind him.
Michael and Takagi then left the pack behind for the rest of the race, holding the gap to Tora for the first ten laps at around one second. Michael then began to challenge and Takagi immediately responded and started to inch away. Michael would close the gap by a tenth of a second only for Takagi to respond by taking an advantage of two tenths on the next lap. As the gap grew to over two seconds, Takagi made a mistake running wide onto the gravel, but rejoined immediately and Michael could not get close enough to take advantage.
Michael pitted on the 21st Lap and Team 5Zigen made a great tyre change, turning him around in just over 5 seconds. Takagi pitted on the next lap and his team also made a good stop, as Michael charged on his out lap Takagi rejoined in the lead with his advantage reduced by half a second.
The two leading drivers in this years Formula Nippon Championship continued in this order until the finish. Michael set the fastest lap of the race at 1'38.133.
With Takagi taking 10 points he has secured the 2000 Championship with three races remaining. Michael is currently in a comfortable second position in the rankings, but although he has only thirty points less than Takagi he could only equal Takagi in points, but not number of wins.
"I drove one of the hardest races of my career today, every lap was like a qualifying run. But Tora had a great car and he used it very well, every time I took a little time from him he responded and pulled out an advantage, gradually making himself a nice cushion. He made one big mistake and I thought great the pressure has got him, but he got back on and although I closed right up I could not take advantage and pass him.
Tora has used his equipment to the best this year and he has the experience of Formula One that I am sure has helped him and the team get the car working so well. We really lost any chance of the championship when the car would not start for the Fuji race, I was on pole and for sure we had the best chance of winning that race, so now I will keep pushing to win some races this season" Michael commented Sunday evening.