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Race report
Super Formula Autopolis

Autopolis Super Formula: Lawson wins to take championship lead

Red Bull protege Liam Lawson shot to the lead of the Super Formula standings with his second victory of the 2023 season at Autopolis, beating TOM’S star Ritomo Miyata.

Capitalising on the absence of Mugen team-mate and reigning champion Tomoki Nojiri, Lawson recovered from a poor start to clinch victory by 1.2 seconds in the fourth round of the season, despite a late safety car putting him at a disadvantage to his immediate rivals.

When the 41-lap race got underway, Lawson was unable to challenge polesitter Sho Tsuboi for the lead and slipped behind the other Inging car of Sena Sakaguchi, with Miyata nearly demoting Lawson to fourth on a poor opening lap for the Kiwi.

But Lawson pitted early at the end of lap 13 and then used the advantage of fresher tyres to full effect, even as a number of yet-to-stop cars cost him nearly three seconds to the leaders.

This allowed him to immediately get the jump on Sakaguchi, who pitted just one lap later, and put him in an indirect fight with Tsuboi and Miyata, both having elected to run long in the first stint.

Initially, Tsuboi remained the favourite for victory as he stretched out a lead of nearly 5s over Miyata, and put himself well over 30s clear of Lawson.

But as his tyres began to wear, Tsuboi’s advantage began to dwindle and Miyata was able to bring the gap down to under a second by lap 24, with Lawson also closing in on the Inging driver.

Aware his tyres were well past their peak, Tsuboi finally headed to the pits at the end of lap 25, but despite some quick work by the Inging crew he emerged on track behind Lawson, who assumed the net lead of the race.

However, the race wasn’t yet won for Lawson, who had to remain wary of Miyata’s TOM’S car still running at the front of the pack.

A clash between Toshiki Oyu and Sakaguchi at Turn 11 that beached the TGM driver on lap 30 brought out the safety car, giving Miyata the perfect opportunity to complete his pitstop.

But although Miyata pitted under caution, the safety car hadn’t picked up the leaders and the TOM’S driver emerged behind Lawson and Tsuboi in third place, handing Lawson a reprieve.

When the safety car period ended, Lawson’s tyres were much older than both Tsuboi’s and Miyata’s, but the Kiwi made a perfect restart and then set about building a gap up front, eventually taking a comfortable second win in Super Formula in four attempts.

Miyata passed Tsuboi at Turn 1 with three laps to go to claim second, backing up his stunning victory drive at Suzuka from last month.

It means Lawson leads the standings by four points from Miyata, with Tsuboi 11 behind in third.

Fourth place in the race went to Kondo’s Kenta Yamashita, who was among a small group of drivers to benefit from the late-race period safety car.

Impul’s Ryo Hirakawa also stopped on lap 30 like Yamashita and passed both Tadasuke Makino - the first driver to pit on lap 10 - and Nakajima Racing’s Ren Sato to finish fifth.

Nirei Fukuzumi bagged a third consecutive points finish for the rebranded ThreeBond team, while Naoki Yamamoto was able to recover from a poor start to finish inside the points in ninth.

KCMG duo Yuji Kunimoto and Kamui Kobayashi were classified 10th and 11th respectively, the former grabbing his first points finish of the season.

Autopolis Super Formula - Race results:

 
Cla # Driver Team Laps Gap
1 15 New Zealand Liam Lawson Team Mugen 41  
2 37 Japan Ritomo Miyata Vantelin Team TOM'S 41 1.255
3 38 Japan Sho Tsuboi JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING 41 5.265
4 3 Japan Kenta Yamashita Kondo Racing 41 5.569
5 20 Japan Ryo Hirakawa ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL 41 6.556
6 5 Japan Tadasuke Makino Japan Dandelion Racing 41 12.181
7 65 Japan Ren Sato TCS Nakajima Racing 41 14.442
8 12 Japan Nirei Fukuzumi ThreeBond Racing 41 18.391
9 64 Japan Naoki Yamamoto TCS Nakajima Racing 41 20.989
10 18 Japan Yuji Kunimoto Team KCMG 41 22.023
11 7 Japan Kamui Kobayashi Team KCMG 41 22.394
12 14 Japan Kazuya Oshima docomo business ROOKIE 41 23.216
13 36 France Giuliano Alesi Vantelin Team TOM'S 41 24.780
14 1 Japan Hiroki Otsu Team Mugen 41 25.064
15 55 Turkey Cem Bolukbasi TGM Grand Prix 41 25.496
16 19 Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL 41 26.222
17 6 Kakunoshin Ota Japan Dandelion Racing 41 29.642
18 51 United Kingdom Raoul Hyman B-Max Racing Team 41 29.933
19 4 Japan Kazuto Kotaka Kondo Racing 41 40.387
20 50 Japan Nobuharu Matsushita B-Max Racing Team 35 6 Laps
21 39 Japan Sena Sakaguchi JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING 34 7 Laps
22 53 Japan Toshiki Oyu TGM Grand Prix 28 13 Laps

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