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Mugen finding way to keep two-car team "important" for Nojiri

Reigning Super Formula champion Tomoki Nojiri says the fact Mugen was able to maintain a two-car team in 2022 comes as a major boost to his title defence hopes.

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

After a dominant 2021 season in which he won three races out of seven, sealing the crown with a round to spare, Nojiri had initially been set to go into 2022 as Mugen’s sole driver following the team’s split with the now-independent Team Goh outfit.

However, just days prior to this week’s opening pre-season test at Suzuka, it was announced that the Honda squad would expand to a second car to be driven by Ukyo Sasahara, Nojiri's Mugen teammate in 2020.

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Nojiri, who was second-fastest at Suzuka behind surprise pacesetter Sho Tsuboi, admitted that not having a teammate to compare data with would have made it much harder to maintain the high level of performance he reached on his way to the title last year.

“In order to keep raising our potential, it was important to run two cars,” Nojiri told Motorsport.com. “Data is limited with just one car, and I personally consulted Honda and the team to find out if it was possible for us to run a second car. 

“To have a second car was not only down to Ukyo and his sponsors, but also many other people who helped us out, and this was also one of the factors that has given me even more motivation to fight this year. In that sense, it was also a good announcement for me.”

Ukyo Sasahara, TEAM GOH

Ukyo Sasahara, TEAM GOH

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

While Mugen has run a second car since 2017, it will do so entirely in-house for the first time this year as its previous partner, Servus Japan, will instead run Team Goh’s two-car effort.

However, Nojiri says he isn’t unduly concerned by the loss of Servus, even if Mugen’s own staff face a tougher task as a result.

“This year, with Team Mugen running two cars [alone], I think the workload for the mechanics and engineers will increase quite a bit,” he said. “Mugen is also doing SUPER GT, so it will be harder in that respect. 

“That said, I think everyone in the team is determined to defend our title, so I don’t think the increased workload will be a negative. The important thing is whether the whole team can fight while being focused on winning the title, and I don’t have any worries in that sense.”

Nojiri will continue to be engineered in 2022 by Toshihiro Ichise, who had worked for Servus but has now switched to being a full-time member of Mugen parent company M-TEC.

Speaking to Motorsport.com’s Japanese edition, Ichise explained that having both cars run by Mugen will make the job of sharing set-ups a great deal easier compared to the set-up that existed prior.

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN, Hiroki Otsu, Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN, Hiroki Otsu, Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Last year, the car of Nojiri's teammate Hiroki Otsu - run under the 'Mugen Team Goh' banner - was run exclusively by Servus, while M-TEC's own staff looked after Nojiri's #16 car, with the exception of Ichise.

“Up to now, I had been looking after the #16 car as a member of Servus, but I couldn’t share [set-ups] with the M-TEC engineers," said Ichise. “The performance engineers and data engineers who worked under me each built their own [set-up calculation] tools. 

“This year, [Sasahara’s engineer Tomo] Koike and other key members of the engineering team are all in-house and use the same calculation software, so it is much easier for us to discuss how to set up the car, and it makes my life a lot easier.”

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