As part of the Fuji Champion Race Series this past weekend at Fuji International Speedway, the All-Japan Formula Three Championship was host to Rounds 6 and 7 of the 2017 championship.
Spanish rookie Álex Palou took both pole positions and a victory in a rainy first race of the weekend, but despite a disqualification for a technical infraction in Round 6, Super GT star and NDDP protegé Mitsunori Takaboshi held onto his championship lead thanks to a win in Round 7, and both Takaboshi and Palou have now broken clear ahead of the field after 7 races.
A rainy qualifying session saw Palou qualify on pole position for both races in his ThreeBond with Drago Corse car, with GT300 Championship leader Sho Tsuboi (Kuo Team TOM’s) lining up on the front row for both races.
Saturday’s Round 6 started under wet conditions, and it was Palou who got ahead early. As the 15 lap race began to unfold, however, Tsuboi was catching up rapidly in the wet conditions, and with three laps to go, Palou and Tsuboi were within a half-second of each other for the win of the race.
On the final lap at the Hairpin Corner (Turn 1), Tsuboi ran into the back of Palou, forcing the Spaniard off course, and breaking the Japanese driver’s front wing, eventually forcing him to concede second place to Takaboshi as well.
On the road, Palou took his second All-Japan F3 victory of the 2017 season, ahead of Takaboshi in second, and Tsuboi in third. But after the race, Tsuboi was given a 30-second time penalty for avoidable contact and for forcing Palou off course, relegating him out of the points into eighth.
Takaboshi, meanwhile, would be disqualified after his B-Max Racing Dallara/Volkswagen was found to have an illegal intake system.
That resulted in a new top six with Palou winning ahead of Hiroki Otsu (TODA Racing) in second, Ye Hongli (KRC B-Max Racing) picking up his first podium in third, Sena Sakaguchi (HFDP Racing) fourth, Ritomo Miyata (Kuo Team TOM’s) in fifth, and American rookie Bruno Carniero (Albirex Racing Team) sixth, scoring his first points in All-Japan F3.
DRAGON (B-Max Racing) finished tenth overall to take the National Class victory, his third of the season.
Under drier conditions on Sunday, Round 7 kicked off with Palou leading the first few laps, but Takaboshi, determined to atone from the DQ from the day before, leapt from 5th on the grid to 2nd, then put pressure on the Spaniard until, at Dunlop Corner (Turn 13), Takaboshi went through to the lead of the 21-lap race.
Palou eventually fell behind the Kuo Team TOM’s cars of Tsuboi and Miyata, who moved into second and third respectively. Tsuboi was able to close to within 0.6 seconds of Takaboshi with just three laps to go, but Takaboshi was able to pull out the margin to 2.012 seconds as he took the chequered flag for his fifth win of 2017.
Miyata finished third, his fourth podium of the season, ahead of Palou in fourth, Otsu in fifth, and Ai Miura (Exedy B-Max Racing) scoring her third points-paying finish of the season in sixth place.
21-year-old Ryoya Hasegawa (Albirex Racing Team), a graduate of the Super FJ series, picked up his first National Class victory with an eleventh-place overall finish.
After seven out of twenty races, it’s still Takaboshi on top of the championship standings with 63 points, followed by Palou in second, eleven points behind (52 points). Tsuboi is now a distant third at 23 points, just one ahead of rookie teammate Miyata at 22 points, and Otsu fifth at 19 points.
The series returns to Okayama International Circuit on May 27-28 with a two-race weekend supporting the Japanese Super Formula Championship. Takaboshi and Palou split the victories in the first race meeting of 2017 at Okayama back on April 1 & 2.