Several top drivers in the Super GT series had terrific race weekends in other series on the weekend of July 17, between Super Formula and its supporting events at Fuji Speedway, as well as European Formula 3 in Zandvoort and the European Le Mans Series in Spielberg.
Super Formula Championship: Round 3 – Fuji Speedway
Joao Paulo de Oliveira prevailed in a heated race-long duel with Super GT alumni Kazuki Nakajima to win the third round of the Super Formula season at Fuji, on the weekend of the Brazilian driver’s 35th birthday.
Polesitter Stoffel Vandoorne took Honda’s first pole position in the series since 2010, but after a poor start from the front of the grid, his race unraveled – and the McLaren Honda F1 prospect’s race ended with just a handful of laps left due to a dramatic brake failure at the hairpin.
Nakajima controlled the early stages of the race, even after a safety car period for a spin involving Yuji Kunimoto’s INGING/Cerumo Toyota, in his bid to win his first race since his heartbreaking Le Mans loss. But Oliveira steadily reeled in the Vantelin TOM’s car, lap after lap, closing the gap to under a second with less than 20 laps remaining.
After a few attempts, Oliveira finally made his way past Nakajima with five laps to go, and sailed off into the distance – winning at Fuji for the second consecutive year in his Itochu Enex IMPUL Toyota.
IMPUL had a great weekend at Fuji, as Super Formula rookie Yuhi Sekiguchi claimed his first podium finish in the series after a series of brave late-race passes.
Andre Lotterer finished fourth, James Rossiter was fifth, and defending champ Hiroaki Ishiura edged out Narain Karthikeyan by 0.007 seconds in a grandstand finish for sixth place.
What looked a promising race for the Honda fleet ultimately soured; in addition to Vandoorne’s brake failure, Naoki Yamamoto retired with a drivetrain failure, and Bertrand Baguette had to stop after running third for most of the day with a suspension issue.
Before the race weekend, the Japan Race Promotion (JRP) announced a double-header weekend at Okayama International Circuit for August to replace the cancelled round at Autopolis, and to make up for the rain-shortened Round 2 at Okayama in May.
Daisuke Nakajima was very lucky to escape a hard crash at the 300R in Final Practice on Sunday, which rendered his car unable to take the start due to heavy damage. Nakajima was uninjured.
All-Japan F3: Rounds 9 and 10 – Fuji Speedway
It was the perfect weekend for B-Max Racing, and a near-perfect weekend for NDDP Super GT driver Jann Mardenborough, in the Japanese Formula 3 series races at Fuji.
Mardenborough and teammate Katsumasa Chiyo locked out the front row of both races, with Mardenborough taking pole position for the first race by a whopping 1.9 seconds. From there, he took a commanding victory in the first race, ahead of rookies Sho Tsuboi and Tadasuke Makino who finished second and third.
Race two saw Mardenborough and Chiyo lead the way for most of the race. A late safety car for a crash involving Alex Yang and Yoshiaki Katayama gave Chiyo an opportunity to seize the lead of the race and drive to his first win of the 2016 season.
Mardenborough still finished a solid second place, and with Kenta Yamashita scoring only a fourth and sixth place finish over the weekend, Mardenborough – who already leads the GT300 Drivers’ Championship with NDDP co-driver Kazuki Hoshino – now leads the F3 Drivers’ Championship by five points over Yamashita, and nine points over Tsuboi, who continues his streak of podium finishes in every race he’s started with a third in the second race.
Takamitsu Matsui won the National Class sub-category in both races in a one-off for VivaC Team Samurai.
GT Asia: Rounds 7 and 8 – Fuji Speedway
Former GT500 champion Richard Lyons swapped the keys of his Hitotsuyama Racing Audi R8 for those of the Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche 911 in the GT Asia Series race at Fuji, another support event for Super Formula, and picked up pole position and two podium finishes.
Lyons and co-driver Frank Yu finished third in both one-hour races, with the duo leading for most of race one until a late spin from Yu dropped the Craft-Bamboo Porsche to third.
Super GT alumni Carlo van Dam and co-driver Piti Birombhakdi won the first race of the weekend in the Singha Motorsport Ferrari 458. Race two was won by the FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Edoardo Liberati and Andrea Amici.
In the second-tier GTC category, Rn-sports owner/driver Masayuki Ueda also made a spot appearance for Team Naoryu Age Age Racing.
European Formula 3: Round 6 – Circuit Park Zandvoort
Lexus Team au TOM’s driver Nick Cassidy finally scored his first European Formula 3 victory in a great weekend for the Kiwi racer, who racked up three podium finishes in a row in his very first race at the Dutch cathedral of speed.
The breakthrough first win came on Saturday, in the second of three races of the Zandvoort meeting. Cassidy got a great start and sped past polesitter Callum Ilott into the Tarzanbocht corner, and led home Prema Powerteam teammate Maximillian Günther, with Ilott finishing third.
Cassidy took two more second-place finishes in races one and three, which were won by teammates Lance Stroll and Günther respectively. He also took pole position for the first race in his very first qualifying run at Zandvoort.
The results put Cassidy fourth in the championship, just one point back of Ilott in third. More importantly, for a driver who has spent many years and endured a fair share of hardship trying to make a name for himself in the European ladder, Nick Cassidy’s first European F3 victory is a huge breakthrough.
European Le Mans Series: Round 4 – Red Bull Ring Spielberg
Ryo Hirakawa and his Thiriet by TDS Racing team bounced back from early adversity, seized the lead halfway through the 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, and never looked back as the number 46 Oreca 05-Nissan won its second race of the European Le Mans Series season – bouncing back from a missed opportunity at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Co-driver Pierre Thiriet brought the car home to the victory in the LMP2 category, with a one-lap margin of victory for Thiriet, Mathias Beche, and Hirakawa ahead of the Eurasia Motorsport Oreca-Nissan and the “Mighty 38” Gibson-Nissan of G-Drive Racing.
It’s been a great first season in Europe for Hirakawa, who also sits second in the GT500 Drivers’ Championship for Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s. His ELMS campaign will be paused for one round due to the clash between the Suzuka 1000km and the next ELMS round at Circuit Paul Ricard in France.