Ulsterman Richard Lyons took the lead in the Japanese Formula Nippon Championship at the weekend, having dominated the second round of the series at the undulating Sugo circuit.
Lyons started from pole position - his first via the Super Pole system - and was never headed in either of the round's two races, leading from lights-to-flag in the 28-lap sprint race which decided the grid for the second race, and then maintaining his dominance in the all-important points event over 36 laps later in the afternoon.
In race one, Lyons' DoCoMo Dandelion Lola controlled the pace with ease, to head Yuji Tachikawa and ex-Jaguar F1 tester Andre Lotterer across the line. In the feature event, he shrugged off an early race stoppage, which also damaged his front wing, to lead the field away at the restart, and held his advantage throughout ahead of Yuji Ide and Wakisaka.
"It's been a fantastic weekend all round," Lyons said afterwards, "The team have been working really hard lately and it's really paid off today.
"I managed to nail it in top ten shoot-out qualifying which was satisfying and, after that, it was a case of controlling from the front. I was always confident that I could stay ahead, and it was a case of reeling off the laps and keeping an eye on Ide - although I could see that he was really wringing his cars neck to just keep in contention.
"This sets us up nicely for the championship now. Unlike last year, there are five or six drivers who can challenge for the title this year, and I think we have a really good car for all conditions. I'm really looking forward to Motegi in five weeks' time."
Ide continued his impressive start to the 2004 season as he tailed Lyons to the flag in his Team Impul Lola B3/51, having replaced reigning champion Satoshi Motoyama at the Kazuyoshi Hoshino-led team. Completing the podium in the point-scoring sprint race was German Andre Lotterer in the first of the Nakajima Lolas.
Lyons now heads both of the top Japanese championships, having joined Takashi Kogure at the head of the Formula Nippon standings to go with his lead of the Japanese GT series.