Suzuka Super Formula: Yamamoto smashes record for pole

Naoki Yamamoto scored his first pole position of the Super Formula season for the opening leg of this weekend's Suzuka double header, as points leader Ryo Hirakawa was again consigned to the back of the grid.

Suzuka Super Formula: Yamamoto smashes record for pole

Fresh off winning the SUPER GT title last weekend at Fuji Speedway, Dandelion Honda driver Yamamoto boosted his prospects of a third Super Formula crown as he topped all three qualifying segments, lowering the lap record every step of the way.

Hirakawa's Friday practice benchmark of 1m35.648s - which beat the three-year old track record - was already beaten in Q1 as Yamamoto led the way on a 1m35.153s.

But there was more drama for Hirakawa, defeated in last weekend's dramatic SUPER GT finale, as his Impul Toyota machine developed a reported transmission problem, preventing the championship leader from setting a lap and leaving him 20th and last on the grid.

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In Q2, Yamamoto lowered the benchmark marginally to a 1m35.055s, before finding another half a second in the eight-car Q3 pole shootout to end up on a 1m34.533s - which would have been good enough to qualify for last year's Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Naoki Yamamoto(DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING)

Naoki Yamamoto(DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING)

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Autopolis winner Tomoki Nojiri (Mugen) ran Yamamoto close, briefly taking provisional pole with a 1m34.648s before his rival responded, falling short by 0.115s.

Nirei Fukuzumi made it two Dandelion cars in the top three of the grid ahead of the best of the Toyota-powered runners, the TOM'S car of Kazuki Nakajima.

Yamamoto's title-winning SUPER GT teammate Tadasuke Makino was fifth-fastest for Nakajima Racing, followed by the KCMG machine of Kamui Kobayashi, the second Nakajima entry of Toshiki Oyu and Ukyo Sasahara in the Red Bull-liveried Mugen car.

Missing out on a spot in Q3 by just 0.007s was Kobayashi's teammate Yuji Kunimoto, while Yuhi Sekiguchi completed the top 10 for Impul.

Reigning champion Nick Cassidy (TOM'S) was also knocked out in Q2 and will line up only 11th, ahead of Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max Racing) and Okayama winner Sho Tsuboi (Inging).

Kondo Racing lost both of its drivers in Q1, with Sacha Fenestraz set to launch from 15th on the grid, ahead of teammate Sacha Fenestraz.

Tatiana Calderon (Drago Corse) was the ninth-fastest in her Q1 group, only ahead of the stranded Hirakawa, and will make her first Suzuka start from 18th.

Qualifying results:

Cla # Driver Team Time Gap
1 5 Japan Naoki Yamamoto DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 1'34.533  
2 16 Japan Tomoki Nojiri Team Mugen 1'34.648 0.115
3 6 Japan Nirei Fukuzumi DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing 1'34.809 0.276
4 36 Japan Kazuki Nakajima Vantelin Team TOM'S 1'34.917 0.384
5 64 Japan Tadasuke Makino TCS Nakajima Racing 1'34.935 0.402
6 7 Japan Kamui Kobayashi carrozzeria Team KCMG 1'35.082 0.549
7 65 Japan Toshiki Oyu TCS Nakajima Racing 1'35.099 0.566
8 15 Japan Ukyo Sasahara Team Mugen 1'35.764 1.231
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