The All-Japan Formula Three Championship traveled back to Okayama International Circuit this past weekend, supporting the Super Formula Championship with rounds 8 and 9 of the 2017 All-Japan F3 season. When the series visited Okayama for the first time on April 1 & 2, Mitsunori Takaboshi of B-Max Racing and rookie Álex Palou of ThreeBond with Drago Corse split the three-race weekend, two wins to one.
Once again, Takaboshi and Palou would split the victories, as Takaboshi won Round 8 from pole position on Saturday, and Palou won Round 9, also from pole position. But after Palou was hit with a drive-through penalty in Round 8, a non-scoring finish for the Spaniard means that the Nissan Development Driver Programme prospect Takaboshi extended his championship lead as the season approaches the halfway mark.
Takaboshi took pole position for Round 8 by just 0.09 seconds over Palou, with the two Corolla Chukyo Kuo Group TOM’s cars of Sho Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata on the second row.
But as the lights came on to countdown the start, Palou moved off his grid spot – resulting in a drive-through penalty assessed on Lap 3 of the 18-lap race. This would allow Takaboshi to get some breathing room, and promoted Miyata into second after getting past Tsuboi off the grid.
Takaboshi would come under some pressure from the reigning and defending F4 Japanese Champion Miyata as the leaders hit lapped traffic, but the B-Max Dallara/Volkswagen of Takaboshi was able to hold him off, as Takaboshi drove on to take his sixth win of the season. Miyata’s second-place finish was his best career All-Japan F3 result to date, ahead of Tsuboi in third.
Ai Miura came away with her best-ever All-Japan F3 Championship finish in fourth, after surviving a collision with TODA Racing driver Hiroki Otsu with three laps to go at the Hairpin Corner. The collision sent Otsu into the air, and also caused the Mercedes-powered car of reigning National Class champion Yoshiaki Katayama off track. Ye Hongli finished fifth for Team KRC with B-Max, and Sena Sakaguchi (HFDP Racing) finished sixth. Palou could do no better than to finish eighth after the penalty.
In the National Class, DRAGON held off fellow elder statesman Masayuki Ueda to take the win by just 1.1 seconds, similar to the margin of victory in the main championship classification.
The 25-lap race on Sunday began with the all-rookie front row of Palou and Miyata, and this time, the Spaniard was able to get a clean getaway with no major drama.
But he would have to hold off Miyata all race long, the TOM’s driver staying within a second for most of the race – and closing to within less than a second on the final lap, but it was Palou who took his third win of 2017 by just 0.936 seconds. Miyata once again finished second, and his TOM’s teammate Tsuboi once again completed the podium.
Takaboshi consolidated a fourth-place finish, just ahead of Otsu in fifth place, and Miura in sixth, scoring yet another point towards her tally on the year.
56-year-old Masayuki Ueda came out ahead of 21-year-old rookie Ryoya Hasegawa in the N-Class battle in Round 9 to take his first win of the season.
The win in Round 9 prevented a major setback for Palou following his Round 8 penalty, but nonetheless, his championship rival Takaboshi now has a 15 point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
They’re now a long way ahead of the rest of the field, 41 points ahead of Miyata in third, 45 ahead of Tsuboi in fourth, and 57 ahead of fifth-place Otsu. DRAGON still leads the National Class Championship by 14 points over Shigetomo Shimono (who has missed the last two race meetings), and 21 points over Hasegawa.