Japanese Super Formula Lights Autopolis (Rounds 1-3): Igor Omura Fraga Gains First Points of the Season for FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX!
Igor Fraga is the first Nations Cup champion of the Gran Turismo World Series and is also a driver who continues to compete in real-life motorsports. His past endeavors include the European F3 championship and other high-profile race series. This season, he has taken his talents to Japan take on the Super GT300 class of the Super GT series and Super Formula Lights. This is a report of Fraga’s performance in the opening round of Super Formula Lights.
Igor Omura Fraga competed in the opening round of the Japanese Super Formula Lights (SFL) championship series which took place on May 20 and 21 at the Autopolis International Race Course (Oita Prefecture of Japan).
The Super Formula Lights is a category just below Super Formula. Twelve teams are competing this season, with young upcoming drivers aiming to become the top of the class. Among them is Fraga, who is racing for the FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX team.
Previously, Fraga had competed mainly in Europe in the FIA-F3 with an eye on making to F1, but because of the Coronavirus pandemic, his racing activity had been interrupted in 2020. Now, two and a half years later, he was back at it again in this SFL race. Unfortunately, he was unable to get in adequate practice runs during the off season, so for the opening round in Autopolis, he was not as familiar with his car as he wished.
He said, just prior to qualifying: "I had the opportunity to drive the SFL maybe four to five times before the organization for this year was established. But because we did not have good weather for those tests, I’m entering this race week without having been able to really practice at all. The SFL is a very difficult car to overtake in, so how well you do in qualifying to get into a good position, and how well you start the final race is really 90 percent of the battle. That’s why qualifying is so important. And to get that one great time in qualifying, you need to know your car through and through. But honestly, I can’t say I’ve really mastered driving the SFL quite yet."
The SFL will consist of three rounds per event this season, with the three rounds being relatively short distance sprints. The official qualifying takes place on Saturday, with Round 1 taking place that afternoon, followed by Rounds 2 and 3 on Sunday.
Saturday’s official qualifying runs, which are 10-minute timed sessions, determine the starting grids for Rounds 1 and 2. The starting grid for Round 3 is determined by the results of Round 1.
For Fraga, the official qualifying in this opening round was his first real drive with the car in full dry conditions.
While saying that he had not yest mastered driving the car, he nevertheless put down a blistering time in the first official qualifying session, taking the number two spot out of 12 cars and registering the fourth quickest time in the qualifier for the second race. This result was better than some of the drivers who drove for the factory teams.
"I went out onto the track not quite used to the car yet, and not knowing what the dry surface of Autopolis was like, but I decided just to drive without really thinking about it too much and conjuring up an image since I just didn’t know enough. In the end, I think that actually worked better for me, and I’m very happy with this result." Fraga said.
It looked as though he had developed a good groove from qualifying, but things began to change from Round 1 on Saturday afternoon.
Plagued by clutch issues
As Fraga entered the track for the 21 laps of the Round 1 race, he felt something amiss with the clutch. He had experienced a similar thing during testing before. He waited with uncertainty for the start signal, and when he engaged the clutch at the start, he found that it did not connect properly, causing the engine to sputter and lose speed. In an instant, he fell from 2nd place to almost last.
Fraga drove furiously to regain position, but perhaps he charged too hard, for when he was readying to pass another car, he bumped it, and the contact forced him off the track, causing him to lose time.
The team called back Fraga on lap 4 to retire from this round. The team principals decided to save the tires, rather than going all out in a race where a top position finish looked all but impossible. This decision was based by the tire usage regulations of the SFL, in which every team is limited to three fresh sets of tires during the race week. If a team uses one set for qualifying, one set for Round 1, and one set for Round 2, they are required to run Round 3 on worn tries. But if the team saves its tires for Round 1, those tires could be used in Round 3.
What was worrisome, however, was that the clutch problem on Fraga’s machine was not identified; therefore, he was forced to drive the car "as is," taking special precaution every time he used the clutch.
Scoring points in Round 2 under troubled conditions
Round 2 took place in the morning hours on Sunday with 14 laps.
Fraga, who was in 4th place in official qualifying, got off the line effectively as he engaged and disengaged the clutch with extra care. In an instant, he was challenging for P3. He charged as hard as he could, but he wasn't able to make the pass, so while fighting off the cars that ran behind him, he finished the race in 4th place. The result came with three valuable series points in the opening rounds of the season, which will be critical in the fight for the SFL series title.
Round 3 took place on Sunday afternoon. For this 14-lap contest, Fraga was forced to start at the back of the grid because he registered a DNF in Round 1. (The starting grid for Round 3 is determined by the results of Round 1.)
But just prior to the race, one car was scratched and another could not run the formation lap before starting, so Fraga's actually started the race in P10.
Fraga also got off the line quickly at the start of the Round 3 race. He quickly went to work, picking off one car after another and moved up to 6th place on the opening lap.
On lap 4, as he tried to make a pass, he was successfully blocked by the car in front, which slowed him down. This gave the car running behind him the opportunity to overtake him, which eventually dropped Fraga to 7th place. He finished the race in P7, thus he failed to score points in Round 3.
Burning for revenge
After the three rounds of racing in the opening event, Fraga did not hide his disappointment. He also seems to have newfound determination for the next event.
This weekend was disappointing all around. Though I had a good flow going in qualifying, I had engine stalling problems and the race week just seemed to fall apart gradually after that. It was good that I was able to get points in Round 2, but in Round 3, I was able to come up from last place to a position aiming for 5th. I overdid it and lost position instead.
"I think it was a weekend where a lot of issues came to light. The car is still not perfect, and being away from racing for the last two years, I am not performing at my best yet. In the next race we will raise our level as a team on both sides to fight for a better position.
The next stage is back to the SUPER GT at the Suzuka Circuit
Fraga’s next race take place on June 3 and 4 for Round 3 of the SUPER GT series, which will take place at Suzuka Circuit (Mie prefecture). The second event for the Super Formula Lights happens two weeks later at Sportsland SUGO circuit (Miyagi prefecture) on June 17 and 18.