Frenchman Benoit Treluyer scored his second win in succession for Team Impul at Mine yesterday - and, in the process, kept alive the title battle with Japanese team-mate Satoshi Motoyama, although a collision between the two played a part.
Motoyama saw his points advantage cut from 21 points to eleven as he finished in a lowly twelfth place after being forced to pit after slight contact with the eventual race winner. With 20 points still up for grabs in the final two rounds, Treluyer is the only man who can catch Motoyama - who is looking to go one better than last season, when he was runner up to current Jordan Grand Prix driver, Ralph Firman.
Qualifying saw Motoyama secure his fourth pole of the season, from Juichi Wakisaka in the Team 22 Lola B3/51. Treluyer was third ahead of Takeshi Tsuchiya (Team Le Mans) and Takashi Kogure (Nakajima Planning). Ulster's Richard Lyons was eighth, but and newly crowned Japanese F3 champion James Courtney was only a lowly 17th.
From the start, Treluyer chicaned around both Motoyama and Wakisaka to take the lead and build a small advantage, while Wakisaka was adjudged to have made a jump start and had to serve an early drive-through penalty. Already a retirement by this stage was the unlucky Lyons, who was eliminated in an accident with Tsuchiya on the first lap.
With Wakisaka now out of the equation, Motoyama closed right up on Treluyer, but was unable to overtake the Frenchman around the twisty Mine circuit. His only real opportunity came on lap 34 when Treluyer made his pit-stop but, with Motoyama coming in on the very next lap, the Kazuyoshi Hoshino-run cars continued the stalemate once they both had refuelled.
With some cars electing not to stop until later - and some not at all - Motoyama saw a chance when Treluyer came up to overtake a gaggle of cars on lap 50. The Japanese driver dived for the inside, but his team-mate defended stoutly and contact was made, with the result that Motoyama was forced in to the pit for a new nosecone. Shortly afterwards, he was also called in to serve a ten-second penalty for causing what the stewards deemed 'an avoidable accident' with his team-mate, who continued undamaged but still with plenty of work to do.
Leading the race by dint of not stopping at all was Yuji Ide, who was leading a Nippon race for the first time ever. The Cerumo driver initially conducted a titanic battle with Toshihiro Kaneishi's Lola in the latter stages - which helped Treluyer catch the pair - before seeing the erstwhile leader pass both of them with just three laps to go. Kaneishi also eventually wrested second place from the impressive Ide, who scored his third podium position of the year.
The other points finishers at Mine were veteran Naoki Hattori in the other Dandelion Lola, Tsugio Matsuda (Cerumo) and the delayed Wakisaka, who had a strong comeback drive for the final point. Courtney came home in a creditable seventh place, despite damaging his steering after contact at the first corner.