Super Formula Autopolis: Lawson wins to take championship lead

Red Bull protege Liam Lawson shot to the lead of the Super Formula standings with his second victory of the 2023 season at Autopolis, beating TOM’S star Ritomo Miyata.

Capitalising on the absence of Mugen team-mate and reigning champion Tomoki Nojiri, Lawson recovered from a poor start to clinch victory by 1.2 seconds in the fourth round of the season, despite a late safety car putting him at a disadvantage to his immediate rivals.

When the 41-lap race got underway, Lawson was unable to challenge polesitter Sho Tsuboi for the lead and slipped behind the other Inging car of Sena Sakaguchi, with Miyata nearly demoting Lawson to fourth on a poor opening lap for the Kiwi.

But Lawson pitted early at the end of lap 13 and then used the advantage of fresher tyres to full effect, even as a number of yet-to-stop cars cost him nearly three seconds to the leaders.

This allowed him to immediately get the jump on Sakaguchi, who pitted just one lap later, and put him in an indirect fight with Tsuboi and Miyata, both having elected to run long in the first stint.

Initially, Tsuboi remained the favourite for victory as he stretched out a lead of nearly 5s over Miyata, and put himself well over 30s clear of Lawson.

But as his tyres began to wear, Tsuboi’s advantage began to dwindle and Miyata was able to bring the gap down to under a second by lap 24, with Lawson also closing in on the Inging driver.

Aware his tyres were well past their peak, Tsuboi finally headed to the pits at the end of lap 25, but despite some quick work by the Inging crew he emerged on track behind Lawson, who assumed the net lead of the race.

However, the race wasn’t yet won for Lawson, who had to remain wary of Miyata’s TOM’S car still running at the front of the pack.

A clash between Toshiki Oyu and Sakaguchi at Turn 11 that beached the TGM driver on lap 30 brought out the safety car, giving Miyata the perfect opportunity to complete his pitstop.

But although Miyata pitted under caution, the safety car hadn’t picked up the leaders and the TOM’S driver emerged behind Lawson and Tsuboi in third place, handing Lawson a reprieve.

Liam Lawson, TEAM MUGEN

Liam Lawson, TEAM MUGEN

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

When the safety car period ended, Lawson’s tyres were much older than both Tsuboi’s and Miyata’s, but the Kiwi made a perfect restart and then set about building a gap up front, eventually taking a comfortable second win in Super Formula in four starts.

Miyata passed Tsuboi at Turn 1 with three laps to go to claim second, backing up his stunning victory drive at Suzuka from last month.

It means Lawson leads the standings by four points from Miyata, with Tsuboi 11 behind in third.

Fourth place in the race went to Kondo’s Kenta Yamashita, who was among a small group of drivers to benefit from the late-race period safety car.

Impul’s Ryo Hirakawa also stopped on lap 30 like Yamashita and passed both Tadasuke Makino - the first driver to pit on lap 10 - and Nakajima Racing’s Ren Sato to finish fifth.

Nirei Fukuzumi bagged a third consecutive points finish for the rebranded ThreeBond team, while Naoki Yamamoto was able to recover from a poor start to finish inside the points in ninth.

KCMG duo Yuji Kunimoto and Kamui Kobayashi were classified 10th and 11th respectively, the former grabbing his first points finish of the season.

Super Formula Autopolis - Race results:

 Cla   Driver   Car / Engine  Gap
1 Liam Lawson Dallara/Honda  
2 Ritomo Miyata Dallara/Toyota 1.255
3 Sho Tsuboi Dallara/Toyota 5.265
4 Kenta Yamashita Dallara/Toyota 5.569
5 Ryo Hirakawa Dallara/Toyota 6.556
6 Tadasuke Makino Dallara/Honda 12.181
7 Ren Sato Dallara/Honda 14.442
8 Nirei Fukuzumi Dallara/Honda 18.391
9 Naoki Yamamoto Dallara/Honda 20.989
10 Yuji Kunimoto Dallara/Toyota 22.023
11 Kamui Kobayashi Dallara/Toyota 22.394
12 Kazuya Oshima Dallara/Toyota 23.216
13 Giuliano Alesi Dallara/Toyota 24.780
14 Hiroki Ohtsu Dallara/Honda 25.064
15 Cem Bölükbaşi Dallara/Honda 25.496
16 Yuhi Sekiguchi Dallara/Toyota 26.222
17 Kakunoshin Ohta Dallara/Honda 29.642
18 Raoul Hyman Dallara/Honda 29.933
19 Kazuto Kotaka Dallara/Toyota 40.387
  Nobuharu Matsushita Dallara/Honda Retirement
  Sena Sakaguchi Dallara/Toyota Retirement
  Toshiki Oyu Dallara/Honda Retirement

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