The fourth round of the Formula Nippon series took place at Fuji Speedway yesterday with the event beginning under clears skies, but then succumbing to a thunderstorm which turned the track in to a river.
One after another, cars slid off the road before the red flag was eventually waved on lap 31. The second part of the race then took place under extremely wet, but relatively safe, conditions as cars finished the remaining 32 laps of the scheduled 65. Through it all came Benoit Treluyer, who took control of the second heat to win his first race this season.
Despite claiming a clear pole position, Richard Lyons lost out at the start to rookie Katsuyuki Hiranaka, who qualified alongside the Ulsterman on the front row. Behind Hiranaka was third placed starter Tatsuya Kataoka, but the order was to be further shuffled when Takashi Kogure and Sakon Yamamoto made contact at turn one. When drivers behind tried to swerve around the two spinning cars, the chaos returned an altered line-up, with Hiranaka and Kataoka leading Ronnie Quintarelli, Treluyer, Takeshi Tsuchiya, Yuji Ide, Lyons and Satoshi Motoyama across the line at the end of the lap.
Four tours later, however, the face of the race changed again, as the leader was hit with a drive-through penalty for a jumped start and, as he headed to the pit on lap six, Kataoka took over in the lead.
Further back, Treluyer was quickly pressuring Quintarelli, and duly overtook his fellow European for second. Lyons and Motoyama both successfully passed Ide and were now in fifth and sixth respectively, but everything was about to change again as, on lap 20, it began to rain - and rain hard.
Both Motoyama and Hiranaka headed to the pit on lap 25, with Kataoka, Matsuda and Hattori following suit on lap 26, and Treluyer, Quintarelli, Tsuchiya and Andre Lotterer doing likewise on the following lap. Lyons was the last driver to pit but, having stayed out the longest on slicks, lost control of the car as he headed in to the very wet pit-lane. The ensuing incident caused him to lose several positions, dropping him well behind the leading group, that now consisted of Kataoka, Tsuchiya, Lotterer, Motoyama, Quintarelli, Matsuda, and Treluyer.
By this time, however, the rain was monsoon-like and the leader spun heading into the hairpin on lap 30 - then again at the first corner on lap 31, which caused him to stall his engine and forced him in to retirement.
Behind Kataoka, Lotterer overtook Tsuchiya and found himself in the lead of the race. Tsuchiya almost immediately spun on the main straight during lap 31 and also retired. Even leader Lotterer was struggling to drive in a straightline, while others had no other choice but to stop their cars on the track after spinning. Under these conditions, the officials decided that racing was no longer viable and produced the red flag.
Following much deliberation, the second heat was eventually to be held over 32 laps, and restarted at 4-30 local time behind the safety car. Grid positions stayed as they had been on lap 30, but with Kataoka - who was leading at that point - and Tsuchiya - who had been second - unable to take part after crashing out of part one.