Well, at last I’ve recorded my first Super Formula podium! I came through with a strong third place at Okayama in the B-MAX Racing with Motopark Honda - but let’s first reflect on my previous races since my last column.

I was really fast in qualifying at the Motegi Super Formula race in August, setting purple first and second sectors in Q2, but then was blocked badly which forced me to abort the lap, so that was that as the ‘softs' there were only really good enough for one ‘push’ lap. I ended up P11. There was a problem with the clutch on the grid - it overheated - and the engine cut out, which meant I started the race from the back of the grid. We gambled on strategy, and unfortunately that didn’t pay off, leaving me way down the order.

After that race, I moved out of my Tokyo apartment and came back to the UK. I loved it out there, spending almost four months in total in Tokyo. I had great times with Sascha Fenestraz, Lucas Auer, Nick Cassidy and Enaam Ahmed, some really fun times with these guys as we all get on really well as we embark on racing in Japan together. It’s a completely different culture compared to Europe but such a cool place – an amazing experience.

My next race was totally unexpected, as I found myself returning to the European Le Mans Series. Coincidentally I’d got a meeting near to Silverstone on the Friday morning of the ELMS/WEC event at Silverstone, but thought I’d pop in to the circuit to see Harry Tincknell, a good friend and former driver coach of mine. He is racing for the Thunderhead Carlin Racing team along with Ben Barnicoat and Jack Manchester in ELMS. Unfortunately in Friday morning's opening practice session, something happened to the Dallara P217 with Jack at the wheel, who suffered injuries on impact. I had just been driving away from the circuit when Harry phoned me and asked if I wanted to drive, so I jumped at the chance.

Harry had only driven a couple of laps in practice and to be allowed to compete in Saturday’s four-hour race, myself and Ben, who had not driven at all, had to do complete at least a lap in qualy to be allowed to race the following day. He did two laps and I did three and that was our sum total of preparation ahead of the race. I took the start, made up a couple of places in the opening laps, but was then caught out a little in the changing weather conditions. We had completed almost 80 laps before we stopped with an alternator issue, but it was an enjoyable experience. It was gutting for the team to be sidelined with this problem as they’d worked so hard overnight building up a new car around a loaned tub. It was a shame we couldn’t reward their amazing efforts with a drive to the finish.

Then it was back to Japan and Okayama. I was extremely happy to get on to the podium. It’s taken a while as we’ve suffered some reliability issues in races where we should have at least finished in the top six. FP1 had been tough for both my teammate Lucas and I, both of us lacking pace, and generally unhappy with the car. We made changes for FP2 which marginally improved things. I qualified P12 but knew it was possible to fight for points from there. We made big changes to both cars for FP3 and I adopted some of Lucas’s setup for the race which subsequently worked perfectly, both of us enjoying mega pace.

I worked my way up through the field due to the speed of the car combined with good strategy from the team. Some cars started on Medium tyres, myself included, and others went for a Soft-Medium strategy. I changed to Softs when the pit window opening from Lap 10 and everything worked out. It was a relief to finally get onto the podium.

I came back to the UK after the race, and will return to Japan for the final Super Formula race of the season which takes place on 27 October at Suzuka. I raced there for the first time in April, for the opening Super Formula race, and I’m optimistic of another good result, having ran fifth on that occasion with a podium looking likely. It would be really good to finish my maiden SF season on a positive note, and I’ll be giving it everything.

 

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