Fuji Super Formula: Yamamoto earns third title, Tsuboi wins

Naoki Yamamoto won his third Super Formula title with a fifth-place finish in the Fuji Speedway decider, as Sho Tsuboi rounded off the season with victory.

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With poleman Tomoki Nojiri suffering a slow pitstop and later retiring with a puncture, Yamamoto only needed to be fifth and ahead of main rival Ryo Hirakawa to win the title.

And that's exactly what the Dandelion Racing driver did after coming out on top of a thrilling duel with Impul rival Hirakawa which raged for most of the race.

Yamamoto therefore becomes the first three-time champion in Japan's premier single-seater category since Satoshi Motoyama, and the first title-winner for the Dandelion team - which he joined last year - since Richard Lyons in 2004.

He also becomes the first driver to win both the SUPER GT and Super Formula crowns in the same year for a second time, following his first 'double' in 2018.

Yamamoto ended up two points clear of Hirakawa in the final rankings, while victory put Tsuboi level with Nick Cassidy for third in the standings, 12 points down.

How the race unfolded

Nojiri lost the lead immediately as Tsuboi got a better launch off the line from second on the grid, while Nobuharu Matsushita dived up the inside at Turn 1 to grab second.

Yamamoto meanwhile settled into fourth behind fellow Honda man Nojiri, as Hirakawa moved up to sixth and then picked off Ukyo Sasahara for fifth. That's how the order out front remained until the start of the pitstop phase, as Nojiri pulled out a small lead over Matsushita.

Nojiri was first to blink at the start of the pit window on lap 10, but lost around four seconds relative to his rivals with a slow tyre change.

Hirakawa was next of the front-runners to come in on lap 14, followed by Matsushita and Yamamoto one lap later and then Tsuboi on lap 16.

Tsuboi and Matsushita rejoined comfortably ahead of the delayed Nojiri, who now had to contend with pressure from the Nakajima Racing car of Toshiki Oyu.

Yamamoto meanwhile filtered back into the pack behind Oyu, and Hirakawa was able to make use of his warmer tyres from pitting one lap earlier to pass around the outside at 100R.

But at the start of lap 17, Yamamoto was able to draft ahead of Hirakawa along the start/finish straight and complete the move exiting Turn 1.

Sasahara enjoyed a brief spell out in front before making his stop on lap 20, which promoted Cassidy - up from the very back of the grid - into the lead.

TOM'S man Cassidy at this stage had around 28s in hand over net leader Tsuboi, and managed to extend that to 31s before Nojiri stopped at the hairpin with a front-left puncture.

That prompted Cassidy to pit, although there was no safety car period as Nojiri parked up on the inside of the track and out of harm's way, and he rejoined in sixth between title protagonists Yamamoto and Hirakawa.

After briefly appearing to try and wave through Hirakawa, Cassidy went on the attack and passed Yamamoto into Turn 3 with an aggressive move that earned him a black-and-white flag.

Up front, Tsuboi was having to contend with Oyu, who managed to pass Matsushita for second place into Turn 1 at the start of lap 34.

However, Oyu could never quite get close enough to Tsuboi to attempt a move, as the Inging driver narrowly held on for a second win of the year by just 0.687s.

Matsushita held on for third place and his first Super Formula podium, while Cassidy came up only seven tenths shy of the B-Max driver after his late charge.

Hirakawa had managed to close back up on Yamamoto in the closing stages, and a pass at that stage of proceedings would have been enough for him to claim the title.

But the Impul driver was powerless to find a way past and had to settle for sixth place, suffering his second title defeat at Fuji in the space of three weeks.

Sasahara scored his first points of the season for Mugen in seventh, followed by Sacha Fenestraz (Kondo Racing), Kazuki Nakajima (TOM'S) and Kenta Yamashita (Kondo).

Hiroaki Ishiura (Inging) concluded what is expected to be his final Super Formula race 12th, a place ahead of Nakajima Racing debutant Hiroki Otsu.

Tatiana Calderon (Drago Corse) had to start from the pits after a clutch problem on the dummy grid and ended up 17th and a lap down at the finish.

Yuhi Sekiguchi (Impul) was a non-starter after his Toyota engine blew during warm-up, while Charles Milesi (B-Max) spun during the formation lap and likewise didn't start.

Race results:

Cla # Driver Team Laps Gap
1 39 Japan Sho Tsuboi JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING 40  
2 65 Japan Toshiki Oyu TCS Nakajima Racing 40 0.687
3 50 Japan Nobuharu Matsushita Buzz Racing with B-Max 40 1.522
4 1 New Zealand Nick Cassidy Vantelin Team TOM'S 40 2.268
5 5 Japan Naoki Yamamoto DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 40 6.361
6 20 Japan Ryo Hirakawa ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL 40 7.550
7 15 Japan Ukyo Sasahara Team Mugen 40 8.541
8 4 France Sacha Fenestraz Kondo Racing 40 24.737
9 36 Japan Kazuki Nakajima Vantelin Team TOM'S 40 25.360
10 3 Japan Kenta Yamashita Kondo Racing 40 25.785
11 7 Japan Kamui Kobayashi carrozzeria Team KCMG 40 29.569
12 38 Japan Hiroaki Ishiura JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING 40 30.496
13 64 Japan Hiroki Otsu TCS Nakajima Racing 40 30.966
14 14 Japan Kazuya Oshima ROOKIE Racing 40 40.493
15 18 Japan Yuji Kunimoto carrozzeria Team KCMG 40 41.319
16 6 Japan Nirei Fukuzumi DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 40 1'03.943
17 12 Colombia Tatiana Calderon ThreeBond Drago CORSE 39 1 Lap
18 16 Japan Tomoki Nojiri Team Mugen 28 12 Laps
19 51 France Charles Milesi Buzz Racing with B-Max 0  
20 19 Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL 0  
Fuji Super Formula: Nojiri grabs vital pole, Cassidy last
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