Motegi Super Formula: Tyre gamble propels Otsu to first pole
Mugen Honda driver Hiroki Otsu scored his first Super Formula pole position for this weekend's penultimate round of the season at Motegi after opting for slick tyres on a drying track.
Otsu was the only driver to use slicks for the seven-minute pole shootout, and with the conditions improving since an earlier shower, it gave him a relatively straightforward run to the top spot in the Red Bull-liveried #15 car.
Once he had his rubber up to temperature, Otsu set two laps comfortable good enough for pole, ending up 4.5 seconds quicker than nearest rival Naoki Yamamoto (Nakajima Racing) on wet tyres.
Championship leader Tomoki Nojiri came close to making it an all-Mugen front row, but narrowly missed out on beating Yamamoto to second place, albeit taking another important bonus point in third.
Nojiri had surpassed his own lap record in Q1, the only part of qualifying to take place in full dry conditions, with a time of 1m29.757s.
Like Yamamoto, Kenta Yamashita (Kondo Racing) took advantage of the conditions to make it into Q3 for the first time this season, ending up fourth and best of the Toyota contingent ahead of Sena Sakaguchi (Inging) and Yuhi Sekiguchi (Impul).
Honda-powered drivers Tadasuke Makino (Dandelion) and Toshiki Oyu (Nakajima) completed the Q3 order.
Two outside title contenders were eliminated in the second segment of qualifying, which took place in mixed conditions as the rain started to fall in earnest during the first Q2 group.
Impul's Ryo Hirakawa made a belated switch from slicks to wet tyres as the conditions worsened, but didn't give himself enough time to get out of the pits and complete his out lap before the session timed out.
He was subsequently eliminated with the fifth-best time, leaving him 10th on the grid behind Sho Tsuboi (Inging) and officially out of title contention, as he needed to score the three bonus points for pole to stay in the running.
Nirei Fukuzumi (Dandelion) opted to remain on slicks but fared even worse, ending up slowest in the group for 14th on the grid, two places behind the returning Kazuki Nakajima in the best of the TOM'S cars.
Most drivers went with wets in the second Q2 group, but Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max Racing) stuck with slicks and was knocked out, leaving him 11th on the grid behind Hirakawa.
Sacha Fenestraz was unable to escape his Q1 group on his return to action for Kondo Racing, and will take the start in 17th place, ahead of fellow returnee Tatiana Calderon (Drago Corse).
Starting at the back will be KCMG's Kamui Kobayashi, who ran wide on to the kerbs, crashed and caused a red flag in Q1 exiting the Turn 11 right-hander.
Motegi Super Formula - Q3 results:
|1||15||Hiroki Otsu||Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh||1'32.317|
|2||1||Naoki Yamamoto||TCS Nakajima Racing||1'36.847||4.530|
|3||16||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||1'37.141||4.824|
|4||3||Kenta Yamashita||Kondo Racing||1'37.270||4.953|
|6||19||Yuhi Sekiguchi||Team Impul||1'37.668||5.351|
|7||6||Tadasuke Makino||Dandelion Racing||1'38.181||5.864|
|8||64||Toshiki Oyu||TCS Nakajima Racing||1'38.228||5.911|
|View full results|
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