Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global
Analysis
Super Formula Fuji testing

B-Max’s last throw of the dice to rescue abysmal season

Last week’s in-season Super Formula test at Fuji Speedway afforded teams up and down the grid a rare chance to try things they wouldn’t normally be able to. But if there was one team that needed it more than any other, it was B-Max Racing.

Hiroki Otsu, B-Max Racing Team

With five races down and four to go this year, B-Max is the only team still yet to score a single point. And that’s despite having two cars this year for the first time since the 2020 season.

Nobuharu Matsushita, who delivered B-Max its first win in the wet at Suzuka last season, has yet to finish higher than 12th, while for debutant Raoul Hyman, 16th in the opening race at Fuji represents the highlight of a season to forget so far.

It was against that backdrop that the team recruited Hiroki Otsu, the Honda reserve driver, to pilot both of its cars at Fuji - Hyman’s on the first day, and Matsushita’s on the second.

Read Also:

For ‘super-sub’ Otsu, it marked his third outing of the season, having driven for his old team Dandelion Racing in the Suzuka pre-season test, and then being parachuted in at Team Mugen at Autopolis to replace the unwell reigning champion Tomoki Nojiri.

“Because he has experience of the top cars within Honda, I thought he would be able to give us some hints,” said B-Max team principal Ryuji Kumita. “If he can give us feedback along the lines of, ‘This is what a good car should feel like’, it can be a shortcut for us.”

 

HPD scholarship winner Hyman himself was similarly enthusiastic about Otsu being brought on board, having struggled in particular with qualifying in the first half of the season.

“I’ve been asking since the first test for someone else to drive the car so we can see where everything is at,” he said. “We have a lot of new guys in the team this year, and I am new to the championship. That makes things a lot more difficult, although the results so far are not what I expected, even in light of that. 

“Driving-wise, you gain confidence from what you are driving, and if you don’t get confidence from the car it’s difficult. The downforce window of this car is quite narrow. For example, at Autopolis we had the car in the window for the race but not qualifying.

“That’s what we are trying to fix. Hopefully we can understand how to get the car in the window, and then keep it there at every track.”

On the first day of the test, Hyman drove the morning session in his usual #51 B-Max car, before handing over to Otsu in the afternoon. In somewhat cool and overcast conditions, Otsu recorded the 19th-fastest time of the day, 0.887s behind pacesetter Naoki Yamamoto, and a little under two tenths slower than Matsushita in the sister car.

Otsu recalled: “I thought [Hyman’s car] was quite difficult. The time difference at the start of the run was huge, so I thought there was a lot that needed improving. After talking with the team we tried things with the set-up and the car gradually got better, and in the end I was close to Matsushita’s time. 

“I accepted the opportunity to increase my experience so I can be ready to race any time, and it was a useful experience for me to see the characteristics of different cars.”

Hyman added: “When Otsu jumped in the car in the first run, he complained about many of the same things as I have been. And because he drove for Mugen, he has an idea about how a competitive car should feel. He was able to then move our cars towards that. I don’t think the result tells the full story.”

 

For the second day, Hyman was at the wheel of his usual machine for both sessions, while Otsu drove Matsushita’s #50 car for the entire day. Otsu was 10th in the afternoon and 12th overall for the day with a slightly slower time than Matsushita managed on the first day, but with a smaller deficit of 0.618s to Yamamoto, who again set the pace.

Hyman meanwhile propped up the timesheets with a best time 1.4s off the pace - closer to the pace than he has been in any qualifying session this season so far, albeit with the usual caveats that apply to testing, such as not everyone being on fresh tyres or using the Overtake System (OTS).

B-Max boss Kumita concluded by saying “we understood that our cars are different to those of the top teams”, but whether that will translate to an improved performance in the remaining four races of the year remains to be seen. With conditions likely to be warmer when Super Formula returns to Fuji next month for round six of the season, much will depend on the team’s ability to analyse the data and feedback provided by Otsu.

While other teams have been reinforcing their engineering systems in recent years, the B-Max set-up still leaves much to be desired. A falling out between Matsushita and veteran engineer Yasuhiro Tasaka last year led to Tasaka’s departure, and his replacement Masashi Miyata, while experienced with GT machinery, lacks experience in Super Formula.

Tasuka’s departure also had the knock-on effect of requiring Hyman to effectively bring his own engineer with him to B-Max. The man chosen for the job, Tim Neff, has vast experience in IndyCar and Indy Lights, but his main commitment, running his TJ Speed Motorsports team in North America, means his time to devote to Super Formula is limited. He had to skip the most recent race at Sugo, his one-off replacement being Carlin engineer Matt Callaghan.

Matsushita spoke pre-season of his excitement of having a team-mate to compare data with after two seasons of flying solo, but the #51 car (only delivered to B-Max days before last year’s post-season test at Suzuka, allegedly in poor condition) has proven so far off the pace that its data has made little difference to Matsushita’s prospects.

 

Otsu replacing Matsushita for the entire second day of the test is also intriguing. The Honda reserve, despite slipping up at Autopolis with a qualifying crash, remains highly-valued for his technical feedback. And his replacement at Dandelion, rookie Kakunoshin Ota, struggling so badly this year has perhaps cast his difficult 2022 season with the team in a slightly different light.

It’s no secret that Otsu wants back into Super Formula, and after last week's test it’s certainly possible that B-Max has its eyes on him for the future. For now though, the team will be hoping that his time sampling both of its cars at Fuji will put it on a path to escape the doldrums.

Motorsport.tv is showing all Super Formula qualifying sessions and races live in 2023. Click here for further information and to sign up today.

Be part of Motorsport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Pacesetter Yamamoto confused by speed in Fuji test
Next article Drivers unhappy Miyata escaped yellow flag penalty at Sugo

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global