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Lawson reveals safety car scare on way to Super Formula win

Red Bull junior Liam Lawson has revealed he suffered a scare with a false neutral behind the safety car on his way to a historic debut Super Formula victory at Fuji.

Liam Lawson, Tomoki Nojiri, Team Mugen

Masahide Kamio

Lawson stunned the Japanese series' establishment by becoming the first driver in the modern era of Super Formula to win first time out, after pulling off an undercut strategy to pass Mugen team-mate and two-time champion Tomoki Nojiri.

The New Zealander had pulled more than five seconds clear at the head of the field when the safety car was called following a collision between Giuliano Alesi and Nirei Fukuzumi on lap 36 of 41 at Turn 1.

Ultimately the race would finish behind the safety car as the clean-up operation could not be completed in time, allowing Lawson to close out the win unchallenged.

However, the 21-year-old admitted he was fortunate that he was able to coax his car back to life after it briefly lost drive behind the safety car.

“I had a false neutral, I was in gear but with no drive, so I nearly stopped,” Lawson told Autosport post-race. “It was really stressful! 

“The safety car was driving away from me, and luckily Nojiri-san waited as long as possible for me to sort it out.

“In the end I managed to get it going again. I don’t even know what I did. I was just pushing buttons, pulling clutch levers! We need to look into it. 

“But I would have preferred the race to finish under a green flag, I was in a nice rhythm.”

Liam Lawson, Tomoki Nojiri, Team Mugen

Liam Lawson, Tomoki Nojiri, Team Mugen

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Lawson ran second behind Nojiri for the most of the opening part of the race after dispatching Toshiki Oyu early on, and was the first of the two Mugen drivers to come in for his mandatory pitstop on lap 21.

Nojiri came in next time around, initially resuming in the lead, but was powerless to resist a charging Lawson on cold tyres and lacked the pace to threaten his new team-mate before the final safety car was called.

“The car just came to me, it felt really good,” reflected Lawson. “The balance was very even, I could keep pushing and didn’t have too much of an issue. 

“This morning [in qualifying] it’s hard to say whether the car was perfect or not, because I was still learning the track.

“There’s more laptime in the car and now I have more experience I can hopefully be a bit more comfortable tomorrow [for the second race of the Fuji double-header].

“I expect tomorrow to be extremely tough. But the strongest point was the race pace; once everything settled down the balance was very strong.”

Lawson admitted he was unaware of the gravity of his achievement, with no other driver having won on debut since the start of the ‘modern’ era of Super Formula in 1996.

“It’s not really sunk in yet, honestly!” replied the Kiwi when quizzed on the topic. “Very happy with the result, but talking about the history, it’s not something I had thought about beforehand. 

“It’s cool to have that now, but before the race you just focus on doing the best job possible. If you look at that stuff, you can get ahead of yourself."

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