The ninth round of the Formula Nippon Championship witnessed a first for Toshihiro Kaneishi, who won his maiden Nippon event, and a third title for series regular Satoshi Motoyama, who did enough to claim the crown by taking second place on the road.
That road was hot at Motegi as warm sunshine made the circuit a pleasant place to be, and Motoyama appeared all set to make the most of the conditions as he bolted from second on the grid to take the lead at turn one. Kaneishi, who had taken pole for Team LeMans also appeared to get off the line well, but fell victim to wheelspin as he changed up through the gears and had to settle for second.
Team-mate Takeshi Tsuchiya also gained a place, slotting into third ahead of Europeans Richard Lyons, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer (TEAM IMPUL), while Juichi Wakisaka brought up the rear of the early lead train.
Lyons survived an early moment to hold on to fourth place, and gradually eased away from his pursuers, leaving Lotterer a lonely fifth, while Treluyer and Wakisaka ran neck-and-neck for sixth. The battle raged for several laps before eventually ending in tears when, on lap five, Wakisaka came off worst after an opportunistic passing attempt on his French rival. Treluyer's car was also damaged in the incident, and forced him to make an earlier than expected pit-stop, effectively ending his title shot.
With overtaking opportunities limited by the tortuous nature of the Motegi layout, most of the change of places was expected to come during the pit-stop window, and both Kaneishi and Motoyama attempted to put as much air between themselves and those in pursuit of them. Seeking to gain any advantage that may have existed in varying their pit strategies, many drivers began to head in around lap ten, but Lyons was the first of the frontrunners to seek a change of fortune, coming in on lap 15.
Seeing the benefit of the Irish driver's stop, Motoyama decided to follow suit three laps later, but fell victim to Kaneishi's faster stop, as the Team LeMans crew turned the second placed driver around quick enough to return him to the track ahead of his main rival. Kaneishi passed Motoyama on his out-lap and, despite the points-leader's best efforts to regain top spot, managed to hold on to the advantage.
As the race unfolded, Motoyama gradually dropped away from Kaneishi's well sorted Lola, and trailed the Team LeMans car by some six seconds at the flag. Lyons followed the pair home to claim third and return to the podium after a handful of poor results.
Tsuchiya held on to take fourth place until the dying moments, when his attempt at a quick stop resulting in him running out of fuel on the final lap and dropping two places. The main beneficiary was Takashi Kogure, who claimed fourth place, ahead of PIAA Nakajima team-mate Andre Lotterer.
With Treluyer struggling home in ninth place, Team Impul team-mate Motoyama duly claimed the championship title, his third all, with next weekend's Suzuka finale still to run.