Nojiri feels Super Formula's reputation at stake in Lawson battle

Tomoki Nojiri admits he feels responsibility to uphold Super Formula’s honour following his defeat to rookie team-mate Liam Lawson in the opening race of the season.

Liam Lawson, Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

The two-time champion was beaten in a straight fight by Lawson in Saturday’s curtain-raiser, although Nojiri struck back with a straightforward win from pole in the second race.

Speaking in the aftermath of finishing second in the first race, Nojiri said that Lawson’s sensational pace was no surprise, likening him to another of his former team-mates Stoffel Vandoorne - with whom he shared a garage in 2016.

The 33-year-old confessed that he feared being defeated by Lawson could lead observers to question the level of the Japanese series, and hence his own achievements.

“I knew he would be quick,” Nojiri told reporters after the first race.

“Stoffel [Vandoorne] was quick straight out of the blocks too and I thought Liam would be on the same level. 

“Until now I thought it wasn’t likely that I would be behind [a team-mate] often, but I thought this year would be more difficult. 

“If I lose this year, I think people would start to question the level in Super Formula, so I think I can’t afford to lose, although it’s quite a big burden, don’t you think?”

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Nojiri went into the Sunday Fuji race vowing to make improvements to his car to mount a fightback, in much the same way he did in 2022 after losing out to Ryo Hirakawa in the first race of the season.

Despite being passed for the lead by Toshiki Oyu, Nojiri was able to get back ahead during the pitstop phase, as an early safety car period prompted virtually the whole field to pit at the same time.

Faster pitwork from the Mugen crew put Nojiri into a lead he wouldn’t lose, although he did have to repel an assault from the TGM car of Oyu at the restart.

“As the Japanese champion, I think there would have been people saying, ‘What were you playing at losing yesterday!’” Nojiri said following his ninth career Super Formula win. “But today we were quick.

“I approached the race thinking that somehow I have to win, so it’s a relief that we did. Considering my position as champion, and what the fans would think, I knew that I couldn’t allow myself to be beaten so easily. 

“I was feeling a lot of stress preparing for today’s race, but I was able to keep my focus.

"Qualifying was perfect, we prepared a good car for the race, and the pitwork was also top-notch. Throughout the entire day, everyone in the team did a faultless job.”


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