Bolukbasi Super Formula plans complicated by Turkey earthquakes
Cem Bolukbasi admits that his programme in Super Formula this season was thrown into some doubt by the earthquakes that devastated his native Turkey last month.
The Turkish driver was only finally confirmed by the TGM Grand Prix team last Friday, the day before the Suzuka Fan Thanks Day event that preceded this week's two-day official test at the same track.
A deal for ex-Formula 2 racer Bolukbasi to drive for the outfit formerly known as Team Goh is believed to have been done some time ago, but the situation was complicated by the earthquakes that hit Turkey and neighbouring Syria in early February, causing over 45,000 deaths.
Bolukbasi's car ran with a 'PrayForTurkiye' message on its sidepods this week at Suzuka, and he said he hopes to use his platform racing in Japan to raise awareness of the plight facing his homeland.
"It’s been really tough times," said Bolukbasi. "It wasn’t just one earthquake, there was a second one the next day as well. I didn’t want to leave the country during this time, but I want to help as much as I can from where I am. That’s why we ran the special livery this week.
"I might not be there physically but we can help spread the word, raise awareness. Japan has been helping a lot as a country, donating and sending help. They have a lot of experience of earthquakes, and they are more prepared as a country, so their knowledge is very important."
Asked whether his programme was jeopardised by the disaster, Bolukbasi replied: "Of course it caused some doubts. It’s not the best time to ask for financial support because people’s priorities change.
"The sponsors are on board still, but we had to delay [the announcement] a bit because it was a difficult time to ask for financial help when the situation was like this. We didn’t want to announce it during that time."
Bolukbasi led a tribute to those affected by the Turkey earthquakes during the Suzuka Fan Thanks Day event
Bolukbasi concluded this week's two-day test at Suzuka at the bottom of the order in 22nd, setting a best time on Monday's first day of running just over two seconds off the pace.
Team-mate Oyu by contrast was sixth in the combined timesheets with the second-fastest time on Tuesday.
Bolukbasi's race engineer Shintaro Okajima said he was satisfied by his new charge's performance, and is hopeful that the team will be able to spring a surprise early in the new season.
"When Oyu and Cem were running with similar tyre mileage, Cem was not too far off," Okajima told Autosport. "But in Super Formula even a small difference in terms of time can mean a big difference in terms of position, because most of the field is within one second.
"We need to improve quite a lot on that side. The other key factor for Cem will be familiarising himself with the other tracks besides Suzuka.
"The beginning of the season will be important because everybody is still struggling with the set-up and finding the sweet spot for the new car, which gives the rookies a chance. So I want to try and get a good result from the beginning of the season."
Okajima took rookie Atsushi Miyake to a podium finish at Autopolis last year, and thinks a similar result can be achieved with Bolukbasi this year.
"We need to create some advantages on the set-up and also the strategy," he said. "But we were able to do that last year [with Miyake], so I think Cem is capable of getting a podium at some point."
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