Disaster at Motegi for Lawson
sets up close three-way battle at Suzuka
A big first lap crash at Motegi that was triggered when Liam Lawson lost control of his car and spun back onto the track has left the Kiwi driver centrestage in a close three-way title fight come the final two races at Suzuka in October.
Lawson leapt from third on the grid to challenge his Mugen team-mate and eventual race winner Tomoki Nojiri, but as they pair ran side by side through the first turn right-hander the Japanese double-champion squeezed Lawson off the racing surface.
Once off the track and with no grip on cold tyres Lawson spun uncontrollably back onto the track with two cars unable to avoid him, one going airborne after the impact. Another driver also hit the barriers trying to avoid the melee which prompted the race to be red-flagged.
“Yes, it was a huge crash,” explained Lawson. “I made a really good start and was in a position to make a move on my teammate round the outside in Turn 1. I felt like I had the overlap but was pushed wider and wider through the corner until I was all the way on the kerb and it snapped round on me.”
Lawson admitted afterwards that maybe he was too aggressive with the move but at the same time saw the opportunity to take the lead.
“Looking back, maybe I was too aggressive and I should have stayed second,” he told motorsport.com. “But I’m a racing driver, so I always go for a gap.”
“It was aggressive, I stand by [saying that I was] pushed off. It’s a long corner, and from the entry of the corner I had wheels alongside. As we went further round the corner I continued to move alongside, I was gaining and gaining.”
Najori needed to win with Lawson scoring the least amount of points to give him the best chance of a third consecutive championship title, so he was never going to make it easy.
“I have the feeling I went right to the limit. I’m sure Liam felt that I should have given him more space, but it was my intention to fight to the limit. I think the fact that I didn’t pull back is something I can use at Suzuka,” Najori told motorsport.com at the end of the race.
After the incident Lawson managed to drive his damaged car back to the pits where Team Mugen did an extraordinary job to get him back into the race after a lengthy effort to retrieve the stricken cars and clean up the track.
“It was big, cars hit me, cars went over the top but it was still driveable and I got back to the pits,” said Lawson.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, the team was incredible, they rebuilt it, it was fantastic. They got it rebuilt with 25 seconds left for the restart.”
However repairing the car presented Lawson with another handicap.
“The rules are different here though and I had to do a drive-through for repairing the car under a Red Flag. That was the race done for us as far as results go, such a shame because the guys did a fantastic job on the car.”
The Rodin-back Red Bull Junior had qualified third in what turned out to be a challenging weekend.
“They deserved more after the weekend. The track was new to me and so we were up against it in Practice. For Qualifying I was in Q1A and the track was really hot and slippery, for Q1B it was overcast and cooler so the track was a lot quicker.”
“I had a big chunk of time to make up in Q2, I managed to find most of it so P3 wasn’t a bad place to start.”
For qualifying third Lawson gained a single championship point that effectively put him in the lead of the series. He started the race tied with Ritomo Miyata on 86 points but due to Lawson having won more races he took the lead by count-back.
Miyata has retaken the Super Formula championship lead after he finished the 37 laps of Motegi in fourth from P8 and extended his tally to 94 points. Najori remains in third after the win but has closed to within two points of Lawson, 86-84 in the rookie’s favour.
“Initially I was upset because of the incident and the points situation, but after being his team-mate this long, I know he’s a good person,” said Lawson.
“I have a lot of respect for him and I know he wouldn’t intentionally push me off or cause an accident. Maybe he thought he had left me more space, but from my side I could have backed out and played it safer. We spoke and everything is ok.”
There are now ten points over three drivers with two races to go.
Lawson’s Super Formula campaign in Japan is supported by Rodin Cars, Giltrap Group, Turners, cumulo9, Porter Group and the Tony Quinn Foundation.
Super Formula, Fuji: 15-16 July, 2023
Qualifying – Top 6
1. Tomoki Norjiri (Team Mugen) 1:31.955
2. Kakunoshin Ohta (Dandelion Racing) 1:32.178
3. Liam Lawson (Team Mugen) 1:32.327
4. Toshiki Oyu (TMG Grand Prix) 1:32.238
5. Yuhi Sekiguchi (Team Impul) 1:32.293
6. Kamui Kobayashi (Team KCMG) 1:32.370
Race (37 laps) – Top 6
2. Ryo Hirakawa (Team Impul) +7.439
3. Oyu +15.456
4. Miyata +15.933
5. Sena Sakaguchi (Inging) +32.87
6. Kazuto Kotaka (Kondo) +36.302
Super Formula Championship points – Drivers Top 6
1. Miyata 94
2. Lawson 86
3. Nojiri 84
4. Hirakawa 51
5. Sho Tsuboi (Inging) 50
6. Tadasuke Makino (Dandelion Racing) 37
Super Formula Championship points – Teams Top 6
1. Team Mugen 153
2. Team TOM’S 91
3. Inging 59
4. Team Impul 51
6. Kondo Racing 40
6. Dandelion Racing 39
Calendar 2023 – Super Formula, Japan
Rds 1/2: 08-09 April, Fuji
Rd 3: 22-23 April, Suzuka
Rd 4: 20-21 May, Autopolis
Rd 5: 17-18 June, Sportsland SUGO
Rd 6: 15-16 July, Fuji
Rd 7: 19-20 August, 2023, Motegi
Rds 8/9: 28-29 October, Suzuka