Hiroaki Ishiura has always had an affinity for Fuji International Speedway in the Autobacs Super GT Series, winning the Golden Week race, the Fuji 500km, three times – most recently this year with Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo.
But the 36-year-old veteran had never won at Fuji in the Japanese Super Formula Championship in his career. That changed on Saturday, when Ishiura drove his P.MU Cerumo/INGING Toyota to his first win of the 2017 season, becoming the fourth different winner in as many races this season – and taking the points lead with it, as he finished ahead of top rookie Felix Rosenqvist and previous championship leader André Lotterer to complete an all-Toyota podium at their home ground at Fuji.
Ishiura qualified on the front row on Saturday, lining up alongside his teammate and defending Super Formula champion, Yuji Kunimoto. From the start of the race, Kunimoto dashed out to an early advantage, and led thirty-two out of fifty-five laps.
Meanwhile, Lotterer, who had to start back in twelfth, made up five places just on the opening lap to try and maintain his championship lead, and pitted on lap 9 for a fuel-only stop to try and undercut the field. When he came back out, he eventually found himself in a battle for position with his Vantelin Team TOM’s teammate Kazuki Nakajima, and Yuhi Sekiguchi (Itochu Enex Team Impul) – with Lotterer coming out on top.
Kunimoto then came in for his pit stop at the end of lap 32 – but from there, his race quickly unraveled due to a nagging issue with the suspension shims. Eventually, he would have to come in three more times for service, before retiring after just 36 laps completed.
That opened the door for Ishiura, who himself had a comfortable margin of over 60 seconds over the rest of the field when he finally pitted from the lead on Lap 38. A perfect pit stop from the Cerumo/INGING mechanics sent Ishiura back on track with an unassailable lead up front.
Felix Rosenqvist (Sunoco Team LeMans) started in tenth, and stayed out before pitting on Lap 36 – and emerged in second place after Kunimoto retired and the rest of the field cycled through for their stops – including Kamui Kobayashi (KCMG), who was on pace for a podium before stalling in the pit lane on his stop at Lap 41.
Over the course of the final laps, no driver had an answer for Ishiura – who drove on to take his first win of 2017, and his fourth career Super Formula victory. With his victory, and Lotterer finishing in third place, Ishiura earns enough points to overhaul the former champion Lotterer to take the points lead.
The two veterans bookended Rosenqvist, who drove on to take his first career Super Formula podium in just his fourth race in the series. He becomes the first Swedish driver to finish on the podium in the series since Björn Wirdheim finished 2nd at Suzuka Circuit on July 8, 2007.
He also recorded the fastest lap of the race, and his eight points – more than Sunoco Team LeMans scored throughout all of 2016 – move him to fifth in the standings, best of the rookie class with 10.5 points. The Dallara SF14/Toyota is the sixth different car he’s driven to a racing podium since graduating from the European Formula 3 Championship in 2015.
Sekiguchi would have to withstand immense pressure from Red Bull Junior Team top star Pierre Gasly (Red Bull Team Mugen) over the final laps. Through strategic defensive use of his OTS button, Sekiguchi was able to stuff several of the Frenchman’s passing attempts – and on the final lap, the Japanese sophomore beat the French rookie to the line for fourth place by just 0.035 seconds in an incredible photo finish.
Gasly still led the way for Honda at Fuji, followed by Takuya Izawa (DoCoMo Team Dandelion) who finished sixth, the only other Honda-powered driver in the points.
Kazuki Nakajima finished seventh, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Jann Mardenborough (Itochu Enex Team Impul) who picked up the final points-paying position in eighth, by just 0.6 seconds over Koudai Tsukakoshi (Real Racing).
The podium ceremonies at Fuji that afternoon were a carbon copy of the Fuji 500km on May 4. That day, Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura celebrated together on the top step of the podium as co-drivers of the #38 ZENT Cerumo Lexus LC500.
This Sunday, however, Tachikawa and Ishiura stood together on the top step as team principal and driver respectively.
Super Formula will return to action on August 20 at Twin Ring Motegi, the first of two rounds to feature an “option” tyre selection provided by Yokohama Tyre.