Japanese Super Formula Lights SUZUKA (Rounds 7-9): Fraga Puts on a Good Show Despite Difficulties and Sets Fastest Lap
Igor Fraga is the inaugural Gran Turismo World Series champion and a driver who continues to compete in real motorsport competitions around the world, including the F3. This season he has moved his focus to Japan to the Super GT300 class and Super Formula Lights series. This is a report of his latest developments.
On 1-2 July, Igor Omura Fraga competed in Rounds 7, 8, and 9 of Super Formula Lights (SFL) at Suzuka Circuit in Mie prefecture with "FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX."
Fraga had already achieved his first victory of the series in Round 6 at SUGO and had previous experience racing at this round’s Suzuka circuit in Super GT. Along with his SFL test races and all his experience with the track virtually, the team headed into race week with every confidence.
Qualifying start in uncertainty as times falter
Things began on the wrong foot as the team struggled during Thursday and Friday’s practice rounds. Their times were over a whole second behind the top drivers. Fraga and his team repeatedly headed back to the pits to try new settings, but nothing seemed to improve their situation, and the team headed into Saturday’s official qualifying sessions with an uncertain future.
“The car got slightly faster each time. Then, just as we were about to run our final checks on Friday afternoon, it started to rain so we couldn’t get out on the track, and we couldn’t check anything. So, I just prayed 'Please let it rain during qualifying!' Like it had during Friday’s last practice session." Explained Fraga.
With the next day came the official qualifying sessions for rounds 7 and 8. Unlike the previous day, the track was now completely dry. The team set the car up for the time attack and sent Fraga onto the course.
While most of the drivers ran their out-lap and an additional warm-up lap before their time attack, Fraga chose to run two warm-up laps to get a bead on his tires first.
On his first attack lap, he set the 7th fastest time at 1’54”567. Continuing the time attack he was able to set a time of 1’54”184, ending the first qualifying session in 3rd place overall.
“The temperature out on Saturday was a lot cooler than the previous day. So, I decided to make sure I put enough heat in the tires, running two warm-up laps. I’m not exactly sure if that was the right thing to do, but I was able to set a good time on the attack lap, so I’m happy with the result.”
Sudden gearbox trouble
After setting his time though as he headed back to the pits, Fraga’s car experienced some transmission trouble. Rolling slowly into the pits, the team immediately started work to try to get the car ready again, with only 10 minutes to go before the Round 8 qualifying session.
Unfortunately, the team was unable to resolve the issue in the little time they had and Fraga was forced to sit the Round 8 qualifying session out. As such, his starting position for the Round 8 race was last place.
Moving into Saturday afternoon, and as the Round 7 race draws near, it began to rain. With damp conditions on the track surface, most drivers chose to run with dry tires.
Round 7 Race: False steps end in regret, but lead to the fastest lap
As he was unable to enter the Round 8 qualifying session due to mechanical troubles, Fraga had one set of new tires left. However, these will be saved for the Round 9 race. For this race, all the drivers started with the tires they used during qualifying with Fraga sitting in 3rd on the grid.
Fraga got off to a slow start and let Seita Nonaka pass him on turn 1 and was overtaken again on turn 2 by Iori Kimura. In an attempt to catch up, Fraga managed to place himself on the inside of Kimura as they entered the continuous s-bends and almost managed to regain his position but ended up pushing into Kimura’s car. Fraga lost control and crashed into Kimura a second time running both cars off the track.
“I made a mistake at the start. I tried to get back up the pack, but the track was wet and some of the drivers behind had taken rain tires. It was going to be a race for survival. I took on too big of a risk and pushed too hard, it was pointless really. I started off in a good position with 3rd, so I’m really frustrated with myself.” Said Fraga recalling the events.
After coming off the track, Fraga eventually rejoined the race with a major time loss. He returned to the pits for a change to rain tires before continuing. While he had no hopes left of regaining his position, he decided to push his cold rain tires and set the fastest lap, which would earn him a single championship point. Just as he had hoped, Fraga managed to drive the fastest lap time. Though retiring after just 6 laps, he is able to finish the race with a single yet invaluable championship point.
Round 8 Race: Despite starting last and tire troubles, Fraga moves up the pack
Sunday morning brings the Round 8 race in the morning, with Round 9 later in the afternoon. In stark contrast to the previous day’s racing, it’s clear skies all day.
Having been forced to forfeit Round 8’s qualifying session due to mechanical issues, Fraga sat in 11th place on the grid. After a skillful dash off the starting line, he quickly moved up into 10th. Fraga held back from going after the 9th place driver though, with an aim to set the race’s fastest lap before his tires completely wear out.
After three hard attack laps, Fraga’s tires had worn down considerably faster than he had predicted. Realizing the fastest lap is now out of his reach, he changed tactics and began his assault on 9th place.
“I started Round 8 in last place. I thought it would be near impossible to finish in the series points winning top six places. Once the race started, I kept an eye on the gap between me and the driver in front and set my sights on the fastest lap. However, the pack in front wasn’t moving that fast and I kept catching up, so I wasn’t able to set a time in the end. Suzuka is really hard on your tires. If you can’t set a time in the first three laps, you haven’t got much of a chance [of improving your time after that]. So straight away, I changed tactics and set about trying to improve my position.”
On turn 1 of lap 5, the middle of the race, Fraga overtook No. 10 Yuui Tsutsumi, moving into 9th place, and began to push on No. 4 Togo Suganami, the winner of Round 7. With each lap, the gap closed and on lap 8 the two are nose-to-tail.
However, as they moved closer together, Fraga realized the dirty air off of the car in front was against him and held off overtaking. He finished Round 8 in 9th place.
Round 9 Race: Pushing hard from the back of the pack, Fraga finishes 7th
Sunday afternoon brings the final event of race week, Round 9. Fraga headed to the starting grid with a new set of tires he had been saving for this. According to SFL rules, the starting grid for the last race of Sunday is determined by the result of Saturday’s race. In Round 7, Fraga had retired and so starts Round 9 in last place.
As soon as the race started, Fraga began to push, moving up two places by the end of the first lap. He overtook again on turn 1 of lap 3 and the last turn of lap 4, moving all the way up to 8th in the early stages of the race. Fraga kept up the pace and as the race drew near the end, he had caught up to the middle pack, finding himself in a scrum of five cars all fighting for 4th place.
On the final lap, one of the cars pulled out due to mechanical issues, and Fraga was able to pull ahead one position, finishing Round 9 in 7th place.
Many of the top drivers were using their already worn tires from Rounds 7 and 8, so I decided to use the performance difference from my still new tires to move up the pack and pushed hard from the start. I was racing from last place, but I didn't let any chance pass me by and overtook as much as I could, so I think I finished in a good position all things considered.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to earn myself any championship points, but I don't think it was a bad race. At the very end I caught up to the pack. In terms of pace, I was faster. That said, the front tires on my car were starting to look bad as well, and getting too close meant losing a lot of downforce on the front end, so I think it was impossible to push forward anything further. It was a tough race week, full of ups and downs.
Next up: 15-16 July SFL Rd. 10-12 at FUJI
Fraga’s familiarity with Suzuka had put him in a prime position to earn some championship points, but the weekend finished with him earning just one point for a fastest lap. After nine rounds, Fraga sits at 5th place in the overall rankings with 22 points. His next race will be in two weeks, Super Formula Lights Rd. 10-12 on 15-16 July at Fuji Speedway in the Shizuoka prefecture.