Fourth for Lawson at Suzuka
A fourth place finish at Suzuka keeps Liam Lawson in a close fight at the top of the Super Formula championship with just seven points separating the top three after three rounds.
Lawson struck back from a poor ninth in qualifying to be fighting for the lead of the race when his team-mate Tomoki Nojiri caused a crash ten laps from the end that brought out the Safety Car and neutralised the race.
When the pit window had opened on lap 10 Lawson, already up to third, was the first to peel off to take the new rubber and rejoined in an effective second place. He immediately applied the pressure to Sho Tsuboi before holding back and shadowing him for the next ten laps.
“We had a really good start, which is something we struggled with at Fuji and after the first lap I was up to fourth. When the car was hot we had a really strong car so the logical thing to do was try the undercut and it nearly worked in getting us the lead but Suzuka’s the worst place to try and follow someone through sector one when they’re on cold tyres,” said Lawson.
“So I didn’t push and saved the tyres. We were coming back again really strong when the safety car came out.”
It was Lawson’s Team Mugen team-mate and championship leader Nojiri who triggered the safety car when he ran into the back of early race leader Toshiki Oyu, who had just come out of the pits on cold tyres, taking them both out of the race.
The late safety car period from lap 20 allowed the late stoppers to pit and rejoin with fresher rubber for the final six lap dash to the chequered flag.
When the racing went green, both Lawson and race leader Sho Tsuboi were unable to hold off Ritomo Miyata, who swept through to win the race on the final lap. Also on the final lap Ryo Hirakawa made a last lap move to snatch the final podium position away from Lawson.
“I should have kept Hirakawa behind, that was a mistake. I didn’t expect him to go around the outside honestly but at the same time I didn’t want to risk crashing either so I just let him have it in the end because we’re in a good position in the championship to score some points,” he said.
Lawson was the only Honda-powered driver to finish in the top eight at the Honda-owned track, and although Oyu took pole for Honda, the race turned into a Toyota benefit.
“Honda had pole so the speed was definitely there. It was just the way the race played out, the Toyotas [powered cars] made it work with strategy. We had it over them at Fuji and they had it over us here, so we’ll have to get them back next time.”
The 22 identical Dallara SF23 cars are fitted with either Toyota or Honda engines.
The Suzuka result was Lawson’s third top-five finish in the opening three races and has him lying third in the series on 35 points behind Norjiri (42) with race winner Miyata (38).
“Before the race I would have been very happy with fourth after qualifying P9 but knowing the pace we had we could have won the race.”
The Japanese Super Formula series shifts to the Autopolis circuit in Hita in four weeks time.
Meanwhile, Lawson now jets to Azerbaijan to be on hand as the reserve driver for Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri at next weekend’s F1 Grand Prix on the streets of Baku.
Lawson’s Super Formula campaign in Japan is supported from New Zealand by Rodin Cars, Giltrap Group, Turners, cumulo9, Porter Group and the Tony Quinn Foundation.