The third time was lucky for Kenta Yamashita, who after two consecutive runner-up finishes, finally won the All-Japan Formula Three Championship for Toyota Team TOM’s on the strength of a hat trick of victories at Sportsland Sugo.
Those three wins, plus the bonuses for sweeping pole positions in every race and an additional fastest lap bonus, were enough for Yamashita to overhaul B-Max Racing’s Jann Mardenborough, erase an eight-point deficit heading into the final round, and ultimately win the championship by three points over the former Nissan GT Academy graduate.
After sweeping qualifying on Saturday, Yamashita got ahead in the first 25-lap race that afternoon, while Mardenborough was caught up in a battle with his B-Max teammate, the returning Katsumasa Chiyo.
With ten laps to go, Chiyo went off at the 110R corner, bringing out a safety car and staging a five-lap sprint to the flag. Yamashita put the hammer down and streaked away to take the win ahead of Mardenborough, and third-placed Sho Tsuboi in the other TOM’s Toyota.
It was the same exact result in both 18-lap races on Sunday, as Yamashita twice led away from pole position, and was able to manage a steady margin of victory over Mardenborough, who pressed hard enough to take one fastest lap bonus in the final race of the season, but just never had an answer for Yamashita’s pace at the front of the field.
The win in race two was enough for Yamashita to take the championship lead by a single point, and after winning the finale on Sunday afternoon, he won the championship over Mardenborough by a final score of 113 to 110.
For Yamashita, it was an incredible display of resiliency to rally back after falling behind during the summer rounds, and finally win the All-Japan F3 title after finishing second the last two years; first to Nobuharu Matsushita in 2014, then to Nick Cassidy in 2015.
The 21-year-old finishes his championship-winning campaign with a series-high seven victories, seven pole positions, and ten podiums, to become the thirty-eighth different champion in All-Japan Formula Three Series history and join a lineage of great former champions including Ronnie Quintarelli, Juichi Wakisaka, Benoit Treluyer, and Tom Kristensen.
Yamashita raced in Super GT for Excellence Porsche Team KTR last year, and entered the Suzuka 1000km this year as a third driver for VivaC Team Samurai.
For Mardenborough, who ends his season second in the standings after three straight second places in Sugo, there was a lot to be proud of on the whole in 2016. In his return to Formula 3 racing, the Welsh-born Mardenborough scored four wins, six poles, and eleven podiums, while consistently being the top performer for the entire season at B-Max Racing.
It’s his best single-seater championship result to date, and more importantly, it’s part of a resurgent year for “Jann tha Man” in Japan after a difficult 2015 season. Mardenborough will now focus his efforts on winning the GT300 Drivers’ Championship for B-Max Racing alongside Kazuki Hoshino in Super GT.
Tsuboi finished the weekend with a hat trick of third-place finishes, giving him 87 points in his rookie season and an incredible fifteen podiums on the season from sixteen starts. That consistency places the inaugural FIA F4 Japanese Champion in prime position to be a title contender in 2017.
Completing the points in Race 15 were GT500-bound Tadasuke Makino in fourth, Keishi Ishikawa in fifth, and Hiroki Otsu in sixth. Race 16 saw Ishikawa finish fourth, ahead of Sena Sakaguchi in fifth, and Ye Hongli in sixth. Ishikawa, Sakaguchi, and Otsu completed the points in Race 17.
Yoshiaki Katayama won the National Class Championship on Saturday, clinching the title after sweeping both qualifying sessions and earning enough points to put the championship out of reach. He then won on Saturday, and finished second on Sunday’s first race before crashing out in the finale that afternoon.
It was a big weekend for the 22-year-old rookie, whose #78 Petit LeMans Racing Dallara F306/Toyota also picked up title sponsorship from Autobacs for the final round of the season. Katayama ends the year with nine wins, twelve pole positions, thirteen podiums, and a final score of 139 points.
The man, the myth, the legend known as DRAGON ended the season by winning both Sunday races, and finished 2nd in the National Class championship for B-Max Racing.