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Lawson expects stronger challenge at Suzuka

Liam Lawson is expecting much stronger competition at Suzuka this weekend when the Super Formula teams head back to their pre-season test venue for round three of the championship.

After winning on debut and almost snatching another podium from the opening two rounds, the young Kiwi flyer knows where he needs to keep improving to stay at the front end of the field.

“Learning the qualifying format and getting used to that is going to be something, hopefully I get better with time and just learning more about the car and the tyre which is very different to what I’m used to,” said Lawson from Japan on the eve of the race weekend.

Racing in Europe for the past four years Lawson is very familiar with the Pirelli race tyres which performs very differently to the Yokohama rubber used in Super Formula.

“There’s definitely more [performance] to come but it’s going to be very tough.”

All teams entered the double-header rounds at Fuji without any pre-season testing and Lawson’s Team Mugen seemed to adapt the best as they grabbed the top two spots in the championship.

Both Lawson and his teammate Tomoki Nojiri scored a race win each at Fuji, with then defending Japanese champion bagging more points from a runner-up spot than Lawson claimed for his fifth place in the second race. Heading to Suzuka, Nojiri leads Lawson by 14 points.

All 22 drivers had two days of pre-season testing at Suzuka and Lawson expects all the teams will be much closer this weekend.

“I think the gaps will be closer, everyone will probably have quite a refined baseline set-up to go in with so I think there will be more teams fighting at the front, hopefully we’re still one them,” he said.

“Because the drivers have tested there there’ll be fewer mistakes and the times will be closer. I expect a close weekend and plenty of opportunities for a lot of guys to grab a good result.”

Of the nine races that make up Super Formula 2023 three will be held at Suzuka. They return for a double-header finale at the end of October.

“There are not as many passing opportunities as Fuji I’d say, the main straight is quite long so it makes it tough in Suzuka with the overtake system, which I’m also still getting my head around. I think it’ll be hard to overtake so qualifying is going to be very very important at Suzuka.”

The overtake system gives the driver a boost of power for 200 seconds in each race and operates similarly to IndyCar’s push-to-pass system. Once a driver has used the system it can’t be activated again for another 180 seconds, or three minutes.

“You have to be clever about when and where you use it,” said Lawson. “Quite often it causes a situation where you get one guy using it on one lap and the other guy saves it for the next lap so it’s very strategic about when to use it.”

Super Formula starts with a two-tier qualifying session with the field split evenly into two groups. Almost immediately after both groups have run the top-ten fastest drivers overall go into a final seven minute shoot-out to decide the pole position and the first half of the race grid.

The qualifying sessions start tomorrow night 6.55pm NZST with the 31 lap race starting at 6.45pm NZST on Sunday night.

“I enjoy driving the car a lot, so I’m excited to get back into it.”

Lawson’s Super Formula campaign in Japan is supported by Rodin Cars, Giltrap Group, Turners, cumulo9, Porter Group and the Tony Quinn Foundation.

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