Autopolis Super Formula: Alesi splashes to maiden pole for TOM'S
Giuliano Alesi scored his maiden pole in only his second weekend as a Super Formula driver during a wet, crash-strewn qualifying session for this weekend's Autopolis round.
In his second outing standing in for the absent Kazuki Nakajima, Alesi mastered the treacherous conditions to lead an all-TOM'S front row ahead of Ritomo Miyata in a session interrupted by no fewer than four red flags.
Persistent rain throughout the day at the Oita Prefecture track prompted organisers to abandon the knockout qualifying format and instead hold a single 40-minute session to determine the grid.
This was due to begin at 2.50pm local time, but the inclement weather forced a series of delays, with action getting underway 45 minutes behind schedule.
A crash for Rookie Racing driver Kazuya Oshima exiting the long Turn 8/9 left hander brought out the red flags after just five minutes of running, and there were further interruptions when Kondo Racing's Yuichi Nakayama spun and was unable to get going again, and then when Nirei Fukuzumi (Dandelion Racing) suffered a crash at Turn 17.
It was after that third red flag that second-generation racer Alesi set his best time of 1m38.252s to edge out teammate Miyata - who set his best time prior to Fukuzumi's crash - by just 0.085s.
Toshiki Oyu then brought proceedings to a halt for a fourth time with a crash at the same spot as Oshima, although the Nakajima Racing driver's collision was less severe and he was able to get back to the pits unaided with a heavily-damaged front-right wheel.
The session resumed with 15 minutes left on the clock, but the deteriorating weather in the interim meant there no improvements thereafter.
Giuliano Alesi, Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Behind the two TOM'S cars, Inging rookie Sena Sakaguchi was third-fastest, 0.259s off the pace, while 2019 Autopolis winner Yuhi Sekiguchi ended up fourth for Impul.
Completing an all-Toyota top six were those drivers' respective teammates, Sho Tsuboi and Ryo Hirakawa.
Points leader and defending Autopolis winner Tomoki Nojiri (Mugen) was the best of the Honda runners in seventh place, almost a second off the pace.
Tadasuke Makino (Dandelion) qualified eighth on his comeback from illness, ahead of Tatiana Calderon's stand-in at Drago Corse Koudai Tsukakoshi and Kenta Yamashita (Kondo).
Reigning champion Naoki Yamamoto had another qualifying session to forget for Nakajima Racing and will start Sunday's race down in 12th place, one place ahead of B-Max Racing's Nobuharu Matsushita.
The four drivers that caused red flags were all stripped of their times, and will fill out places 16 through 19 on the grid.
Super Formula Autopolis qualifying result:
|1||Giuliano Alesi||Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S||1'38.252|
|2||Ritomo Miyata||Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S||1'38.337||0.085|
|4||Yuhi Sekiguchi||Team Impul||1'38.651||0.399|
|6||Ryo Hirakawa||Team Impul||1'38.910||0.658|
|7||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||1'39.197||0.945|
|8||Tadasuke Makino||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||1'39.626||1.374|
|9||Koudai Tsukakoshi||ThreeBond Drago CORSE||1'39.721||1.469|
|10||Kenta Yamashita||Kondo Racing||1'40.145||1.893|
|11||Hiroki Otsu||Red Bull MUGEN Team Goh||1'40.585||2.333|
|12||Naoki Yamamoto||TCS Nakajima Racing||1'40.766||2.514|
|13||Nobuharu Matsushita||B-Max Racing Team||1'40.823||2.571|
|16||Toshiki Oyu||TCS Nakajima Racing|
|17||Nirei Fukuzumi||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing|
|18||Kazuya Oshima||NTT Communications ROOKIE|
|19||Yuichi Nakayama||Kondo Racing|
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