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Nojiri still not "at 100%" at Sugo after collapsed lung

Tomoki Nojiri has admitted he is still dealing with the after-effects of the collapsed lung he suffered last month after qualifying third for this weekend's Sugo Super Formula race.

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Two-time champion Nojiri was forced to miss the most recent round at Autopolis after being hospitalised with a pneumothorax the day before opening practice and qualifying for the fourth round of the season.

Despite being sidelined, the Mugen driver was well enough to attend the race to watch his team-mate Liam Lawson score a second victory of the season and move into the lead of the drivers' standings.

On his return to the cockpit at Sugo however, Nojiri qualified a strong third behind Toshiki Oyu and Ritomo Miyata, while Lawson could only manage sixth-fastest on his first visit to the challenging Miyagi Prefecture track.

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While the Sugo race does not mark Nojiri's first race back from his illness - he contested the most recent round of the SUPER GT season at Suzuka - the 33-year-old revealed that he is still not back to peak physical shape even two weeks on from that event.

"I was in hospital for about a week after Autopolis, so I was a bit worried about whether I could drive the same as before," said Nojiri.

"I can’t say I’m at 100 percent physically, I haven’t been able to train properly yet. It may be a difficult race physically, but I’ll do my best with my sheer will."

Nojiri ended up just 0.213 seconds off the pace of his SUPER GT team-mate Oyu in the Q2 pole shootout, delivering a lap time that was almost two tenths faster than Red Bull junior Lawson.

He did so using a new chassis, having elected to replace his old monocoque that he had been using since 2019 in the run-up to the Sugo race.

"This time I was focused on increasing the downforce and using the peak grip of the car," explained Nojiri. "I think it was because we forgot about trying to make the car easy to drive and focused on the peak grip that I am here today [in the top three]."

 

Asked by Motorsport.com about the significance of beating Lawson, Nojiri replied: "By watching from the outside at Autopolis, I felt like it’s not just him who I have to fight against.

"I don’t think there’s anything yet to mark him out as my sole rival."

Lawson admits to struggles getting used to Sugo

Lawson meanwhile conceded that he was finding Sugo, with its fast corners, bumpy surface and barriers in close proximity to the track, a tougher challenge than the other Japanese circuits he has discovered in his rookie season so far.

"We had a very strong car at Autopolis, but here we don’t quite have the speed of the top two," said the New Zealander. "But for me, learning this track… I would like to do qualifying again now, looking back.

"It’s a high-commitment track, so it takes a bit more to learn this place than a more ‘normal’ track like Autopolis and Fuji. You have to commit fully, and if you are missing experience, it’s tough.

"Hopefully our long run pace will be strong, but overtaking is almost impossible, so I would have liked to have qualified better, but we’ll try and make it work."

 

Asked by Motorsport.com about Nojiri's qualifying effort, Lawson said: "I didn’t expect to be ahead of him at a place like this. Guys who have been here a lot, it makes a difference.

"I would like to have been higher up, but I am not surprised he is straight away back at the front. And I am not surprised we are missing a bit of laptime."

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