The second round of the Asian Le Mans Series took place at Fuji Speedway, a circuit I love and a country that brings back fond memories for me in Japanese F3. I arrived in Tokyo the weekend before the event to have meetings, see friends and also make the most of the unique city life Tokyo has to offer.
I arrived at the track on Friday morning, the last time I was at Fuji Speedway it was in Japanese F3 that was the support race for Super Formula. When I first drove this track two years ago I found it very difficult to be honest, from the outside it looks relatively straight forward with lots of run off to ease the fear factor. The last section is technical and its important to be disciplined with pushing the limit through the final sequence of corners. Its easy to overdrive and put yourself under too much stress, the more flowing you are, the more reward you gain on lap time.
I spoke with a number of British drivers who said it was their first time at Fuji and each one was loving the chance to rip around this iconic track. It was really nice to hear because you don’t often have a conversation about racing in Japan with other European drivers, so many rarely come over to compete here.
The industry in Japan is filled with opportunity and a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle on top of that if you get a drive. Why wouldn’t you want to race in Super Formula alongside Super GT 500 for a living? If you engulfed yourself in the industry out in Japan and got the results you’ll most likely be rewarded. A process that may take longer in Europe. In the next few years there will be a flux of European talent racing out in Japan who will replace the current generation sat in the seats now. I’ll always have Japan in my thoughts after experiencing a small taste of it in Formula 3.
The event ran smoothly, ALMS is proving to be very useful for catching up with friends or team members you’ve worked with before in the industry. Lots of the teams head hunt engineers, mechanics or drivers from all over so you seem to keep bumping into people from the past. There were two official practice sessions before qualifying on Saturday. We as a team had no problems mechanically throughout the entire weekend which helped us maximise each session.
After the practice I ended up two tenths behind the fastest time which was set by Andrea Pizzitola which was a decent start to the weekend, I was happy with the balance of the car. Qualifying was very tight, I ended up P3, one tenth behind Gustavo Menezes and four tenths behind Pizzitola. The Algarve team that claimed pole is running the latest Ligier JSP2 Nissan and myself and Gustavo are in the older Oreca O3R.
For race day I was joined by the British Embassy who were there to film me talking about some of the British parts making up the car. I was an ambassador for a campaign the embassy launched in Japan called “Innovation is great”. The campaign is designed to foster UK-Japan relations and collaboration in the areas of research and technology. With that in mind, the Race Performance Oreca is powered by British engine design manufacturer Judd, so we used this to add more content to the campaign.
The race itself started off very nicely for our car, Georgio Maggi started it for the team and did a brilliant job at the start to go from P3 to P2 going into the first corner. From there the race was halted by a first lap incident which led to a very lengthy safety car. This dominated most of his stint until my other team-mate Fabien Schiller took over for a double stint. He also did a very solid job, out pacing both rivals in front to go from P3 to P1 and pull a nice gap on the field.
Once I took over, I pushed hard in my first stint to pull more of a gap but then in the second stint it was not necessary to push hard at all as the Oreca in P2 started to have technical problems. From there it was a relatively steady stint to bring the car home in P1. A result which I’m very pleased to have, I always wanted to finish on the podium at this track. Every team member works tirelessly and its great for everyone to be rewarded with the best possible outcome.
The DNF at Zhuhai has put us on the back foot for the Series title but the driver combination we now have is strong and together with the team it’s capable of winning the series. We’ve found some traction with a good result so I’m hoping this streak continues.
Next round will be in the new year at Buriram, Thailand for Round 3, I can’t wait!
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