The All-Japan Formula Three Championship is the most established pathway to the premier categories of Japanese motorsport, including the Autobacs Super GT Series. This past weekend, they held their first race meeting of the 2017 season – the Super F3 Race in Okayama.
It was Nissan Driver Development Program (NDDP) talent Mitsunori Takaboshi who kicked off the 2017 season by taking two victories in the three-race meeting – one in Saturday’s 25-lap opening race, and one in the second of two 18-lap races on Sunday
Former GP3 Series race winner Álex Palou gave the Drago Corse with ThreeBond team two pole positions in Saturday morning qualifying, and went on to win in just his second start in Japan.
Takaboshi pounced on a poor start from polesitter Palou in race 1, going from third to first in just one corner before checking out from the field.
Behind them, the best battle on the track would be for second place, involving the two Corolla Chukyo TOM’s cars of former Japanese F4 champions Sho Tsuboi and rookie Ritomo Miyata, with Palou dropping all the way to fourth.
Takaboshi would control the race thereafter, giving him victory to open the 2017 season, with Tsuboi in second, Miyata in third collecting his first Formula 3 podium, and Palou in fourth – the battle for second covered by just 1.5 seconds.
Hiroki Otsu finished fifth for TODA Racing, and Sena Sakaguchi of HFDP Racing held off reigning N-Class champion Yoshiaki Katayama by 0.3 seconds to finish sixth and earn the final championship point.
Come Sunday morning, Palou would once again get passed by Takaboshi in the start of race two, but this time, the 20-year-old Spaniard would hold his nerve and re-pass Takaboshi at Revolver Corner (Turn 6). From there, Palou would steadily build a gap over the field, lead by Takaboshi, Otsu, Tsuboi, Miyata, and Chinese driver Ye Hongli in sixth.
While Palou was steadily gapping Takaboshi en route to his first All-Japan F3 victory, the battle for third came down to the final lap between Tsuboi and Otsu. Tsuboi would attempt a pass in the final sector by setting up on the outside at the left-hand Redman Corner (Turn 8) to get the inside line at the right-hand corners to follow, but would be forced off track by Otsu and fail to finish with just three corners to go.
Palou took his, and the Drago Corse with ThreeBond team’s first victories from pole position – much to the delight of his team principal Ryo Michigami, and the only Spaniard to win the All-Japan F3 title, former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa.
Takaboshi was second, and after Otsu was given a 40 second time penalty for forcing another driver out of the track, Miyata took his second podium of the weekend. Ye would finish fourth, Sakaguchi fifth, and taking a surprising sixth was owner/driver Tairoku Yamaguchi.
In the third and final race later that afternoon, Takaboshi would start from pole position with the Race 1 results determining the starting order. For the third straight race, a great start would put Takaboshi in position to lead, which he did right from wire-to-wire, picking up his second win of the 2017 season.
Palou finished a respectable second, Miyata took third place once again, Otsu was fourth, ahead of Tsuboi, who started poorly from second on the grid and finished down in fifth, with Hongli completing the points scorers.
With the two wins and a second place, plus bonus points for two fastest laps, Takaboshi opens his campaign with 29 points, leading Palou by six points, and Miyata by 14 points.
Takaboshi will return to Okayama this weekend for the opening round of the Autobacs Super GT Series, and with his pre-season testing form in the #3 B-Max NDDP Nissan GT-R GT3, plus the two wins in Formula 3, 2017 is already starting off tremendously for the young rising star.
In the National Class, DRAGON replicated his B-Max Racing teammate Takaboshi’s results by winning the first and third races of the meeting, however, he’d drop out of race two with a mechanical failure.
This would give Shigetomo Shimono the victory in race two, and by taking second in the first and third races, Shimono now leads the N-Class championship by 9 points over DRAGON.