Following a tepid season opener at Motegi just over two weeks ago, it has been revealed that Super Formula are altering the race format for round 2 at Okayama.
Like the Motegi round, the Okayama event will enjoy two practice sessions through Saturday (Sept 26th), with qualifying and the race both continuing on Sunday (Sept 27th).
However, the race length has been extended from 168km to just under 189km (a maximum run time of 75 minutes in a two-hour window), with the race taking in 51 laps and falling some 60km short of a full-length Super Formula race.
Refuelling is still banned for the time being; however, the additional 20km could make life interesting for the drivers should they push hard.
Tyres could also be an issue. The opening round saw a mixture of two strategies, despite the shortened race distance. With all competitors now using the soft-compound Yokohama tyres by regulation, much of the field utilised a softly-softly approach to tyre usage at Motegi, punctuated by occasional quick stints.
It was a strategy that worked well for those at the front of the pack, but those in the midfield were clearly struggling toward the end of the race, particularly given how they spent significant portions of the race in traffic scrubbing grip away.
This harmed Yuhi Sekiguchi most of all, as the 25-year-old wore his right front significantly while defending against Nirei Fukuzumi (et al), before spinning out due to a puncture picked up while defending his 5th place.
On the other hand, Ukyo Sasahara and Tatiana Calderon both pitted for fresh tyres while running outside of the points. On a non-stop strategy, neither would have scored points, but pitting for fresh rubber allowed Sasahara to get within one second of 10th, while Calderon drove a steady race to 12th, before holding the charging Naoki Yamamoto at bay in the later laps.
A slightly longer event could see more drivers opt for a mid-race tyre stop if the pace advantage is there, although they will also be mindful of losing between 20-23 seconds in the pitlane against those who non-stop.
Given that for a time Sasahara was easily running 2-3 seconds per lap quicker than those ahead of him following his stop at Motegi, then drivers may be more inclined to investigate the option at Okayama.
But… this race is being held on September 27th and as such, the temperature will be quite a bit lower at Okayama than it was at Motegi at the end of August, where track temperatures of over 46C and an air temperature of 40C made conditions tough for tyre life. Temperatures for Okayama are expected to be approximately 12-15C lower, potentially resulting in a far less aggressive tyre fall off.
Meanwhile, Sasahara will continue to sit in for Jüri Vips at Team Mugen, until the latter can join the series at a later date, while Mitsunori Takaboshi will make his Super Formula debut with B-Max by Mototpark in place of Sergio Sette Camara.
Super Formula regulars Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Kenta Yamashita will be competing at Le Mans this weekend. The trio received special dispensation to only serve a 7-day quarantine prior to Motegi and the same looks to apply post-Le Mans.
B-Max by Motopark’s other full-time racer, Charles Milesi, will also be competing at Le Mans in the Graff LMP2 Oreca-Gibson; however he will not be in a position to travel to Japan following the great race.