How Fuji opener unravelled for shock front row starters

Qualifying for the opening round of the new Super Formula season produced a shock front row, but both Ukyo Sasahara and Ren Sato would see their races quickly unravel.

Sasahara bagged pole position in his first race back with Mugen after a 2021 season spent mostly on the sidelines, edging out Team Goh’s star rookie and Red Bull junior Sato during Saturday morning’s Q2 shootout.

But the race was practically over before it even began for Sasahara as he stalled on the grid and was left stranded for some time before he could get his Mugen machine going again.

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That had already dropped him to the back of the field before he lost even more time with a left-rear puncture midway through the race - finally finishing two laps down.

While boosted by his performance on a day prior to which few had him tabbed as a serious contender for victory at Fuji, there was no doubt it was a big missed opportunity.

“When the lights went out, I released the clutch, and just as I thought it was going to be a good start, I lost power,” recalled Sasahara post-race. 

“I don’t know if it was my mistake, but we didn’t change anything about the start procedure. The team is investigating the cause, but anyway it’s a shame. 

“It was like being dropped from heaven to hell, but finally the race pace was good, and even while running a lap down I had a good feeling in the car, so I’ve already been able to switch my focus [ahead of Sunday’s second race at Fuji].

“I think since the time I ran as a substitute I have been able to prove my speed. So I just think we need to put everything together in the race and the results will come. I think it’s important we all reflect on what happened today and ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

“It was a bad race results-wise, but the performance has given me confidence.”


Sato meanwhile didn’t get much further before his chances of fighting for a podium finish on his Super Formula debut dissipated.

After a poor start dropped him down to sixth place from the front row, Sato was tipped into a spin by Dandelion driver Hiroki Otsu at Turn 10. 

While he didn’t lose as much time as Sasahara, and finally battled his way back inside the points for a ninth-place finish, Sato was likewise left to wonder what could have been.

"It turned into a ‘catch-up’ race, but the pace was quite good and I could get back into the points," said the Team Goh driver. "This experience will definitely be useful, but tomorrow I want to get a good position in qualifying and aim for a spot on the podium.

“I think I could have fought for the win. As a rookie it was a valuable experience so I’m looking at it positively. The race pace was good and with a few more laps I think I could have passed about two more cars, so that’s positive for tomorrow.”

Ren Sato, TEAM GOH

Ren Sato, TEAM GOH

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Otsu for his part accepted blame for the incident, picking up a drive-through penalty on his way to 16th place.

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