Anna Inotsume secures double Top-5 at Formula Regional Japan debut
TCR Japan star Anna Inotsume made her debut in Formula Regional Japan at Fuji Speedway and impressed with two top-five finishes in very tricky weather conditions.
TCR Japan star Anna Inotsume made her debut in Formula Regional Japan at Fuji Speedway, in a support round to the FIA World Endurance Championship that saw the rookie finishing an outstanding fourth and fifth in her first F3 Regional racing outing.
Inotsume, who finished vice-champion in both the Saturday and Sunday's series in 2022, returned to TCR Japan in 2023 and claimed four dominant victories out of the first four races of the season and is currently leading the championship standings.
With the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Dome F111/3 Regional F3 car for the first time, Inotsume joined the grid at Fuji for the fifth round of the 2023 season, making her first outing for Bionic Jack Racing team in the #97 machine that had been driven by Yugo Iwasawa and Jiei Okuzumi in the previous race meetings.
With her career mainly focusing on touring cars and sports cars, Inotsume has also driven in popular Japanese series such as Super Taikyu Series and the Kyojo Cup, as well as a variety of endurance racing competitions. Since 2015, her single seater experience remained limited to a round in the JAF-F4 Championship in 2019, and the selection tests for the second W Series championship held in Almeria, Spain.
Her weekend in Formula Regional Japan was therefore an opportunity to collect valuable experience in a different environment - one that had already proven to be a great platform for female drivers, following the 2022 title for Toyota GR junior driver Miki Koyama, now graduated to Super GT.
A typhoon disrupted the race preparation on Friday, as heavy rain forced the cancellation of the first practice session and made Inotsume adaptation even more challenging. In the second practice, though, she was straight into the top five, setting a 1:40.523 lap which put her comfortably ahead of several full time drivers despite a red flag shortening the session.
Ryunosuke Sawa and Sota Ogawa would take pole positions after the two 15-minute qualifying sessions, which went underway in cloudy conditions on a still very damp track after the overnight rain. Several cars spun due to the changing grip conditions on track, with corners varying from wet to drying.
Ogawa led the early stages of Q1, but Sawa eventually snatched the first pole position of the weekend with a 1:51.779 on his eighth and final attempt - which resulted in a half a second margin to his closest rival.
In the tricky conditions, Anna Inotsume recorded a 1:54.903 that placed her in sixth on the grid for race 1.
A few minutes after Q1, the second 15-minute qualifying was green to determine the grid of Race 2. Sawa set the early pace this time - with a time already faster than his Race 1 pole position - but was surpassed for pole by Ogawa. The two both improved and went under the 1:50 minute mark, but it would be Sota Ogawa to come out on top in Q2.
Anna Inotsume also improved significantly and would line up in fifth place, with a new personal best almost 3 seconds faster than her Q1 benchmark.
As a support event of FIA WEC, both races were contested on Saturday: Sawa was overtaken at the start by Ogawa - who had a better start and led the pack at turn 1. The two soon pulled away from third-placed Mizuki Ishizaka but, running at almost the same pace, the two front runners remained at close distance to each other.
Inotsume was off to a good start and held sixth place, until a spin for Toshihiro Kubota just ahead promoted her to fifth. Settled in her rhythm, Inotsume continued to improve her personal best time of the weekend, closing in on the reference of the drivers ahead. By the end of the race, her best lap was tenths away from Ishizaka and Sceats', who battled for the final step of the podium.
Ahead, Ogawa and Sota's fight for the lead heated up once they caught a lapped car: Ogawa initially held on, but Sawa eventually got past at turn 3 on lap 13. Rain drops started to fall once again and Ogawa was now unable to fight back, as they crossed the finish line separated by three tenths of a second.
Mizuki Ishizaka claimed third ahead of Liam Sceats, with Anna Inotsume securing her first top five at her series debut.
Later in the day, drivers were looking to improve on their performance in Race 2. Weather remained uncertain, as fog and clouds loomed over the former home of the Japanese GP.
Pole sitter Sota Ogawa retained the lead at the start, followed by Sawa. Just as Ogawa seemed to have checked out and opened a gap, rain started to fall and caught out the race leader, who went off track on lap 3 at the first corner.
Ryunosuke Sawa had his chance to take the lead - but he also made a mistake on lap 5 and dropped to fourth.
One lap later, Ogawa hit trouble once again and, while he tried to recover, spun and eventually pitted to retire. New Zealander Liam Sceats kept his cool and moved up to first place, followed by Mizuki Ishizaka, Ryunosuke Sawa and Anna Inotsume - who climbed to fourth after Ogawa's troubles.
Sceats and Ishizaka battled for the win - and gave an opportunity to Sawa to recover, as the latter was at one point almost 2 seconds per lap faster than the front-runners. Once the rain stopped, though, Sceats controlled in the final laps and took his third win of the season.
Despite the extremely challenging conditions and on dry tyres, Anna Inotsume never made a mistake and had a superbly solid second race, always keeping a healthy margin to the cars behind and completing the weekend in a highly positive fourth place.
"There were many challenges, but a new world has opened up for me to pursue my dreams", Inotsume wrote. "I would like to thank everyone who supported me, including the team who accepted me and supported me despite my inexperience, and the sponsors who gave me their strong support."
With two top five finishes in just as many races, Inotsume's debut in Formula Regional Japan was certainly impressive and, having scored 22 points at Fuji, she slotted into P14 in the drivers' standings. The young Japanese woman will make her return to Fuji for the fourth round of the TCR Japan championship, on 7-8 October.