Two perfect days, two perfect races. Nissan Driver Development Program (NDDP) top star Mitsunori Takaboshi and the B-Max Racing Team were in a league of their own as the All-Japan Formula Three Championship traveled to Suzuka Circuit in support of the Super Formula Championship, for rounds 4 and 5 of the 2017 season.
Takaboshi added the third and fourth wins of his season from pole position, scoring the maximum 24 points available to put himself well ahead of Spaniard Álex Palou, who finished second in both races behind his main title rival.
Qualifying saw a fair amount of drama on Saturday morning. Takaboshi scored double pole position with two course record laps, but the drama came when reigning F4 Japanese Champion Ritomo Miyata and his Toyota-powered TOM’s car caught fire during the session. Miyata had qualified inside the top six for both races, but would ultimately be forced to miss both races as the damage was too great to repair.
Takaboshi was a man unchallenged in the first of two races, leading all twelve laps at Suzuka to take the victory over second-placed Palou, and the sole remaining Kuo Team TOM’s car of Sho Tsuboi finishing third. HFDP Racing driver Sena Sakaguchi finished fourth, putting four different engine manufacturers – Volkswagen, Tomei, Toyota, and Honda – in the top four.
In fifth place, Ai Miura made a piece of All-Japan F3 history as she became the first woman to score main category points, with a fifth-place finish. She beat her fellow B-Max Racing teammate, Ye Hongli of China, who finished sixth to complete the points-scorers.
Sunday’s 17-lap main event, held after the conclusion of the Super Formula race in the late afternoon, saw TODA Racing driver Hiroki Otsu make a dynamite start from second on the grid, powering past polesitter Takaboshi and opening up a significant margin after the opening lap – attempting to make up for an opening-lap incident in Saturday’s race.
But despite the great start, Takaboshi would quickly catch up, and spend several laps putting pressure on Otsu before going ahead on lap 7. Within a few laps, Palou in the ThreeBond with Drago Corse team car was past Otsu as well, and moved into second place – though it wasn’t enough to catch Takaboshi, who won the second race by over five seconds.
With four wins, two poles, and four fastest laps, Takaboshi has now opened up the season with 53 points in the first five races, and now leads Palou by 16 points, with Miyata still holding onto third place – but a whopping 38 points back already.
Otsu held on to finish third in the end, ahead on the road of Tsuboi. But race stewards levied a 30-second time penalty towards Tsuboi for dangerous driving in his early-lap battle with Palou for third place, dropping him to ninth place and out of the points.
That promoted Sakaguchi to fourth, the Mercedes-powered car of Yoshiaki Katayama to fifth, and Miura to sixth to complete the points-scorers.
Shigetomo Shimono took his second and third wins of the 2017 National Class Championship season, moving into a 17-point lead over Dragon for top honours.
The All-Japan Formula Three series returns on May 13 & 14 as part of the Fuji Champion Race Series, a festival of grassroots motorsport events also including the Inter Proto Series, Super FJ, Honda N-One Owner’s Cup, and even 80’s and ’90s production car racing.