Super Formula Lights OKAYAMA (Rounds 13-15): Fraga Scores First Series Pole! Podium Spot in Three Consecutive Rounds Leaves Him Wanting For More!
In Rounds 13, 14, and 15 of Super Formula Lights (SFL) at the Okayama International Circuit, Igor Omura Fraga continued his fine form on the race track, competing for the FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX team. He displayed amazing skill, starting from the practice sessions on September 6, all the way to the end, scoring a podium finish in all three races on the weekend of September 9 and 10.
The car was greatly refined in the two-month interval from the last race.
Before the race weekend at Okayama International Circuit, a two-month interval from the previous round at Fuji Speedway in early July allowed the team to make major adjustments to the suspension geometry of its formula race machine. Based on what the engineers learned at Fuji Speedway, they tweaked the positions of the suspension linkages that set tire position and chassis stance to greatly refine the car's handling for the race at Okayama.
You can jump into corners at a 110 percent and still remain in control!
The new settings also responded well to the adjustments made for Igor for the race weekend, resulting in a much improved overall feel of the car.
Fraga said about the new setup: "From the start of the season, when you jumped into a corner and braked, it felt like the rear was lifting, and you lost the feeling of being connected to the ground. When you add lateral Gs to that, it would immediately exceed the limit and slide out. Even when making adjustments, sometimes there would be little to no change, or it would go a totally different direction than expected, and it made it difficult to fix that bad feeling. But this time that had improved, and now when you apply lateral Gs to the car in cornering, the rear holds firm, and you can change direction at will, which allows you to start giving it throttle earlier. In corners that I could only go at 90 percent before, now I can jump in at 110 percent and still be in control!"
The weather was also on Fraga’s side this time. In the last four rounds, rain always fell at some point during the race week resulting in wet, slippery conditions. This kept him from adequately practicing in dry conditions, but at Okayama, the weather cooperated for the entire race week.
Fraga explained: "This time it was all dry conditions, so we were able to really check the performance under that state. I feel the car is now finally tuned just right."
Up to now, there have been 12 races across four events, and Fraga had stood on the podium twice, winning one race and placing 2nd in another. This was obviously not good enough for Fraga, and at Okayama, he went into the official qualifying on Saturday convinced he had what was needed to win three races in a row.
The official qualifying for Rounds 13 and 14, and the final race for Round 13 was held on Saturday. The final race results for Round 13 would determine the starting grid of Round 15 on Sunday.
Official Qualifying Session
The official qualifying session started at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. In the Round 13 qualifier, Fraga felt something amiss with the controllability of the car, and that affected his lap time. As a result, he finished the Round 13 qualifier in 2nd. position.
It turned out that the cause was a small change in grip due to the tire rubber left on the track from the Yaris Cup race, which was held just before the qualifiers for the SFL. That, and a change in wind direction.
"When I started driving, the direction of the wind had changed as well as the surface condition, and I almost went off on the first corner at the start. After that I regained my composure and marked my time in the next lap," Fraga said.
In Round 14's official qualifier, which started after a 10 minute interval, Fraga remained calm and collected, putting together a lightning quick lap, which turned out to be the best of the session, giving him his first pole position of the season.
The Round 13 Race
The Round 13 race took place on Saturday. The 25-lap contest was the first of three final races scheduled for the weekend. Fraga started in P2, and started the race in fine form. However, pole sitter Shun Koide was slightly faster at the start, keeping Fraga in 2nd for the approach into Turn 1.
Koide kept charging hard, and the gap with Fraga gradually increased, despite Igor's quick pace, which saw him pull away from the 3rd-place car. Fraga did all he could to catch Koide, but in the end, Fraga had to settle for a 2nd-place finish.
This was Fraga's second runner-up finish, the last one being in Round 4 at Sportsland SUGO. Feeling good about the car, the team prepared for Rounds 14 and 15 scheduled for the following day.
The Round 14 Race
For the Round 14 race on Sunday, the Okayama International Circuit was under clear skies. For the race, which commenced at 8:50 a.m., Fraga started on pole position.
The team threw on new tires for the start of this race, which meant it was going for the win.
Fraga got off to a good start, but Koide, starting in P2, got off to better one, nudging past on the inside at the entry to the first corner and taking the overall lead.
“The start was not bad at all, but Koide accelerated better, and he got ahead,” said Fraga.
The Okayama International Circuit is one of the narrower tracks on the race schedule, making every one of its 13 corners a challenging affair. Overtaking is extremely difficult here, and in a Super Formula Lights machine with sensitive aerodynamic characteristics, the car becomes unstable if you come too close to a car ahead of you. This made it difficult for Fraga to get right behind Koide.
As a result Koide remained in the lead, and Fraga ended the 18-lap race in 2nd.
The Round 15 Race
The team suspected that the reason Fraga lost the race to the first corner two races in a row might have been something to do with the car setup. So, the engineers did a thorough check up of the race car after the Round 14, and they found an issue with the clutch. So, they decided to replace it before Round 15 that was scheduled for that afternoon.
Without having the time to do a complete inspection—normally they would not install a brand new clutch and go racing immediately—the team decided to leave nothing on the table for the final race of the weekend and give Fraga every chance of winning the race.
The starting grid of Round 15 was determined by the final results of Round 13, putting Fraga in P2 to start the race. It turned out that the teams assessment of the clutch was correct because Fraga burst forward at the start of the race, and positioned himself right behind the pole sitter, Koide. Fraga entered Koide's slip stream on the back straight of the opening lap. Seeing this, Koide closed the door on the inside line going into the hairpin corner at the end of the back straight, but Fraga simply went to the outside, out-braking him and pulling ahead...temporarily. Koide kept to the inside of the hairpin, keeping Fraga on the outside and forcing him to drop one tire into the dirt.
This resulted in Koide again getting ahead in the entry into the revolver corner, keeping Fraga from grabbing the lead. The difficulty of overtaking at the Okayama International Circuit again played a role as Fraga continued to have trouble getting by Koide.
On Lap 16, the Safety Car (SC) came out, but because the race was only 18 laps, it ended without a restart. Fraga finished the race in 2nd place for the third time in a row.
Fraga completed Round 15 in 2nd place, which was his third podium finish for the race weekend. (Center, winner, Shun Koide. Right, David Vidales in 3rd)
While just missing the much anticipated win, the team gained a huge number of series points with the three consecutive 2nd-place finishes. As a result, Fraga’s ranking rose, putting him in 4th place in the series.
Most frustrating weekend of the year.
Fraga said after the final race, "This weekend was the best one all year, but it was also the most frustrating as well. I had been asking a lot from the team until now, and the team listened to me and reinforced their organization, which really allowed me to fully focus on the race. I’m just frustrated that I could not fulfill their expectations this time. In Round 15, I got ahead for a moment and tried to hold my ground, but I ran out of space, and I had to back off. There is only one more race week to go this season, but using this feeling we have, I want to make sure to produce results as a team in the next event."
Fraga’s final results were three consecutive 2nd place finishes in Rounds 13, 14, and 15. With points for securing pole position points for Round 14, he scored 22 series points, extending his season point tally to 47. This puts him in in 4th place in the current standings. Excluding competitors directly being supported by automobile manufacturers, Fraga is in the top position out of all private teams.
Next up: September 16 and 17, Super GT Round 6 at SUGO
Fraga’s next race is in the Super GT Series Round 6 will be at Sportsland Sugo in the Miyagi prefecture. Make sure you stay on top of the action because Fraga and his team is definitely on a roll.
Super Formula Lights OKAYAMA (Rounds 13-15): Highlights
You can follow all of Igor's racing in the 2023 Super Formula Lights Championships (FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX) on the "Igor Fraga Report" page.