Ai Miura takes first victory in Formula Regional Japan at Fuji
Japanese racer Ai Miura continued an outstanding Formula Regional Japan campaign with two podiums and her first victory in the series at the third round in Fuji.
Formula 3 Regional championships are becoming a crucial stepping stones to the world's top open wheel series and are meant to provide up and coming drivers with a national or continental platform before eventually stepping up to the FIA F3 series. Under these regulations, Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine is really standing out as one of the best talent pools in Europe, as well as competitive series in Asia and America became essential training grounds in the past couple of years. Toyota Racing Series (New Zealand) and the all-female W Series championship also fall under these regulations, albeit some of the series employ different chassis manufacturers: the most common car in this tier is surely the Tatuus chassis, used in FRECA, F3 Asia, TRS and W Series. The Ligier JS F3 chassis is used in the F.Regional Americas championship, while Japanese-based Dome produces the F111/3 car, today used in the Formula Regional Japan series. The Japanese championship, now in its second edition, features a 16 car field and a 5 triple header calendar, including all the major Japanese racing venues such as Okayama, Motegi, Fuji, Sportsland Sugo and a season finale on the home of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Among the protagonists of the 2021 season is certainly 31-year old Ai Miura, the only female racer in the field. Miura has extensive single seater experience, having raced in the national championship since 2014 and moving up the ranks until the very competitive Japanese F3 in 2019. In 2020, Miura entered selected rounds of the brand new Formula Regional Japan – and was quickly at ease with the car, as she scored her first podium at Motegi. In 2021, the Japanese racer has been combining a double program in Japan's TCR championship, as well as a full season in Formula Regional – and has started to reap the rewards after an impressive first half of the season. At the opening round in Okayama, she claimed two fourth place finishes and added another podium to her name with a P3 in Race 2 – before starting a successful streak of six consecutive podiums at Twin Ring Motegi and Fuji, where she also took an historic first win in the second race of the weekend. Miura was second in FP2 and went on to claim her first pole position of her career in Q1, valid for the starting order of Race 3. "Frankly, I'm happy because I'm fighting at the top this season and I can see the progress", she said after the career milestone. But the achievements unlocked wouldn't stop there.
Race 1 Miura started from second place in Race 1, sharing the front row with Yuga Furutani, in an overcast but dry Saturday. When the lights went out, she had a blistering start and fired into the lead, followed by Furutani and Sawa – who had taken advantage from the stalling Ogawa. A crash at the Dunlop chicane resulted in retirement for Hachiro Osaka, but the race remained green. The top four quickly pulled away from the rest of the pack, but Furutani's straight line speed proved his best weapon and passed Miura on the main straight way before the braking of Turn 1 on the second lap. Miura would drop to third in similar fashion one lap later, as Sawa moved into runner up spot. TOM'S Youth's driver and championship leader Furutani checked out and put 10 seconds between his car and his closest pursuer – followed by Ai Miura within a second gap throughout the race. Miura got significantly closer in the final laps, but Sawa defended masterfully and the Japanese lady brought home another third place. Furutani took victory with a 13 second advantage, while there was drama for overall fifth place - and Master class win – as 'Dragon' dropped to seventh on the final lap, paving the way to Nobuhiro Imada and Yuki Tanaka.
Race 2 Following another stunning start, Ai Miura moved into second place from third on the grid, then immediately chased the race leader and pole-sitter Ryunosuke Sawa. Dragon spun at Turn 6 on the first lap, but the race continued without neutralization. Similarly to the first race, Miura came under pressure from the fast Furutani on Fuji's long start-finish straight and ultimately dropped to third place on the second lap. The winner of the first race pulled away and, by lap 6, he caught up with Sawa – then engaged in a wheel to wheel battle for the lead. Sawa fought back and the two traded positions before the battle got a bit too heated on lap 7: Furutani made the move stick at Turn 1, but Sawa responded and they made contact, ending up in the run off. While Sawa quickly rejoined – just ahead of Ai Miura, who was witnessing the action at a 2.5 second distance – Furutani dropped to sixth. Miura tried to get back in contention for the victory, but had to settle for second: after 15 laps, Ryunosuke Sawa survived the accident to take his first race win, ahead of Ai Miura and Sota Ogawa, while Yuga Furutani recovered to fifth, still bagging important points for the championship. After the race, though, Sawa received a 30-second time penalty for the incident – promoting Ai Miura to the first step of the podium for her first career victory. "I have mixed feelings about winning like this, but looking back I can say I won this race." – she commented in the press conference. "It's the first time for me, so of course I'm really happy, but I would prefer to win properly on track". "I had a good meeting with the engineers and I think the work is flowing in the right direction, so I just want to push to my limits without making mistakes" – she added, as she got ready to tackle Sunday's third race from pole position.
Race 3 On a chilly Sunday morning at Fuji, Miura shared the front row with Yuga Furutani, ahead of the two Sutekina Racing teammates - Sota Ogawa and Yousuke Shiotsu – on the second row. Miura had another perfect start and held the lead at Turn 1, while Furutani suffered from too much wheelspin and dropped to fifth. Ogawa moved into second place with a deep braking with locked wheels, ahead of Sawa and Shiotsu. Positions, though, were soon freezed by the Safety Car intervention following a crash at the back of the field, involving 'Yugo' and Hachiro Osaka. When the race resumed on lap 4, Ai Miura had a slow exit from the final corner and she had to defend the lead – but Ogawa and Sawa battling wheel to wheel for second gave her some breathing space. One lap later, though, Sawa made the most use of the slipstream and took over the top of the leaderboard, after a close battle throughout the first sector. Having lost momentum, Miura dropped to fourth a few corners later, but was able to switch back and pass Ogawa for third place. By lap 8, gaps increased and the leading cars spread out – with the exception of Sutekina Racing's teammates who swapped places for fourth. A few sparse drops of rain were spotted in the second half of the race, but the weather held on. Furutani tried once last charge and caught up with Sawa in the lead, but a small mistake under braking at the Dunlop chicane denied him one last passing opportunity. Ryunosuke Sawa took victory, preceding Yuga Furutani and Ai Miura, who continued her uninterrupted streak of podium finishes, her seventh of the season. With three rounds now in the books, the series will move to Sportsland Sugo in two weeks' time. Ai Miura's brilliant season means that she enters the final two rounds second in the championship standings, 31 points behind Furutani and with a 60 point advantage over third-placed Yousuke Shiotsu.