Iori Kimura wins 2023 SFL season-opener with a sweeping lights-to-flag victory
Following the practice sessions in wet conditions throughout the entire two days except for a very short period at the beginning the 2023 Japanese Super Formula Lights championship finally went into qualifyings for Rd 1 and Rd 2, and season opening race on Saturday at Autopolis.
With the rain having stopped the night before and the skies gradually beginning to clear, the qualifying for Rd 1 was started at 11.30am in almost dry conditions with a few wet patches in places.
While each driver initially struggled to adapt to the first dry conditions this weekend, Iori Kimura driving HFDP WITH B-MAX RACING set 1m38.748 as early as on his fifth lap to secure pole position for Rd 1.
Igor Omura Fraga in FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX qualified second ahead of Hibiki Taira (Mobility Chukyo TOM’S 320 TGR-DC).
■Igor Omura Fraga bogs down at the start
Four hours after the qualifying for Rd 2 the 2023 season opener began with a formation lap late in the afternoon at 4pm right after a Super Formula’s qualifying.
When the lights went out Kimura got a strong start, while Omura Fraga bogged down in second place, demoting himself to the tail of the field, together with Takashi Hata (A-NeKT with B-MAX 320), who also got a tardy start from 11th.
Kimura comfortably took the holeshot to complete the opening lap at the front before setting the fastest lap of 1m40.809 on lap two to proceed to extend his lead. over Taira and Yuga Furutani (Deloitte, HTP TOM’S 320).
Behind them David Vidales (B-MAX RACING 320) moved up to fourth.
The opening laps saw the lead three each gradually multiply its buffer, and Vidales begin to get involved in a three-way battle with Shun Koide (HFDP WITH TODA RACING) and Seita Nonaka (PONOS Racing TOM’S 320 TGR-DC).
The race leaders each were lapping at 1m42 to 1m43 secs in the early stages while trying to find out how they could last their tyres for the 21 laps, the longest distance in this opening event.
As the race passed the halfway point the gap between Taira in second and Furutani in third began to reduce, but it was not enough to immediately prompt overtaking moves, with the two continuing to keep the gap of around one second.
■Nobuhiro Imada claims master class win
Maintaining his pace at 1m42 sec level Kimura ended up 4.183secs advantage at the flag, scoring full marks with a bonus point for setting the fastest lap.
The fight for the runner-up place continued to the final lap, but Taira held off Furutani by 0.845secs.
There was no position change in the three-way battle for fourth place either, that began to spread out at the halfway stage, with Vidales finishing fourth ahead of Koide and Nonaka.
In the meanwhile, Nobuhiro Imada (JMS RACING with B-MAX) was in the lead of master class early on, followed by DRAGON (TEAM DRAGON B-MAX 320) and the late-stating Hata until being hit at Turn one by Omura Fraga who was catching up, and the two went off the track.
Both drivers were able to return to the track, but Omura Fraga was left with a clutch failure and forced to pit.
Imada produced a strong recovery drive and passed DRAGON on lap 13, claiming master class win.
Shun Koide（HFDP WITH TODA RACING）
Igor Omura Fraga（FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX）
Enzo Trilli（Mobility Chukyo TOM'S 320）