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Anna Inotsume secures first top five finishes of the season in Formula Regional Japan

Anna Inotsume had a productive weekend at Okayama International Circuit, claiming two top five finishes - her first of the season - and a sixth place that earned her a total of 28 points over the third round of Formula Regional Japan, a personal best for the Japanese racer in her first full season of single seaters.


Anna Inotsume, HELM Motorsports, Formula Regional Japan, 2024 Okayama
Photo credits: HELM Motorsports

Anna Inotsume had a productive weekend at Okayama International Circuit, claiming two top five finishes - her first of the season - and a sixth place that earned her a total of 28 points over the third round of Formula Regional Japan, a personal best for the Japanese racer in her first full season of single seaters.


The former multiple-time TCR champion, in fact, made the switch to formula cars in 2024, after a one-off outing in Formula Regional Japan in 2023, where she was in the top five straight away. She then scored two P6 finishes at the Suzuka season opener, adding another P6 and P7 in Sportsland Sugo, as she continued her adaptation to the car and a new form of racing.


At the same time, the Japanese racer continued to race in GT racing and made her debut in the Ferrari Challenge Japan championship with two second place finishes at Sugo in her first ever appearance in the series.


Having collected experience in a wide variety of race cars and championships, Inotsume headed to the 3.703 km Okayama International Circuit - the venue that hosted two editions of the Pacific F1 Grand Prix in 1994 and 1995 - as Formula Regional Japanese Championship resumed its campaign one month after its latest round at Sugo.


Inotsume began her weekend with a promising progression, securing the seventh fastest time in the first practice session; she then improved her pace in the second session, finishing with the sixth fastest time.


In the first qualifying, which set the grid for Race 1, Inotsume qualified in P6 with a lap time of 1:30.599, significantly closing the gap to the leaders. In the second qualifying session, despite showing further improvement in her lap time to 1:30.172, she secured P7. For Race 3, she managed to start from P6 again, trailing the pole sitter, Michael Sauter by just two seconds – marking the closest margin to the leader she achieved up to that point.


From sixth on the grid, Inotsume held position despite a tricky start, then closed back in on the top five as Nakamura. Manson and Horio battled for position just ahead. Jesse Lacey had meanwhile taken the lead, with Sauter following closely behind.

While the leading duo opened a small gap over the rest of the field, Inotsume settled in sixth place, enjoying a big margin to the cars behind.


On lap 3, though, the safety car was deployed for the stricken car of Yorikatsu Tsujiko. Action resumed on lap 6 and a dramatic restart followed: Lacey and Sauter entered the first corner side-by-side and made contact, which resulted in Lacey spinning off track and several of the front runners having to take evasive action through the gravel.


The incident promoted Yoshiaki Nakamura to the top spot, followed by Sauter – who had managed to avoid damage – and Horio; Inotsume was able to avoid the chaos and moved up one position in fifth. She kept up with the leading group and consistently improved her personal best lap in the low 1:32.


Ahead, Sauter tried to recover and, after a couple-lap battle with Nakamura, the Swiss driver found a way past on lap 10, reclaiming the lead.

Inotsume's steady pace allowed her to pull away once again from Yugo, although he eventually lost touch of the top four in the second half of the race.


Despite the fast charging Lacey, who had resumed after the spin from the lead and was making his way back up the order, Anna Inotsume's extremely consistent lap times allowed the HELM Motorsports racer to manage the gap and ultimately take the chequered flag in fifth place, securing her first top-five of the season, improving on three sixth place finishes collected at Suzuka and Sugo in the first two rounds.


Anna Inotsume, HELM Motorsports, Formula Regional Japan, 2024 Okayama
Photo credits: HELM Motorsports

On a wet track on Sunday morning, drivers found different conditions for race 2. The race went underway with the empty third grid slot, vacated by Horio who couldn't take the start due to a clutch issue.


Sauter had plenty of wheelspin at the start but retained the lead, as drivers tried to navigate the extremely challenging first lap. Initially seventh on the grid, Inotsume was up to fifth place, just behind Lacey and Manson after the opening lap around the Okayama circuit.


A duel for second place between Nakamura and Lacey allowed Michael Sauter to pull away, with Lacey eventually advancing to P2 on the second lap. Inotsume again started to open a gap on sixth-placed Tsujiko, although the latter picked up the pace and started to run on similar lap times. By lap 5, however, Inotsume had clocked her first lap under the 1:50 mark and again stretched her legs, settling on a one-second per lap faster pace than the Ponos Racing driver.


The leading four, however, were unreachable; Sauter was followed three seconds behind by Jesse Lacey, with Nakamura and Manson separated by just half a second in the battle for the podium 15 seconds adrift. Positions remained unchanged until the chequered flag, with Sauter keeping Lacey at bay and Nakamura holding off Manson.


 A 10 second penalty for a jump start, however, cost Sauter the win and Australian Jesse Lacey was promoted to the top step.


The final lap also saw a position change for fifth, as Tsujiko managed to close the gap to Inotsume and eventually passed her with a handful of seconds left on the clock; the multiple-time TCR champion therefore crossed the finish line in sixth, still collecting important points for the championship on extremely difficult track conditions.


The track had almost fully dried for the third and final race of the weekend; Sauter again shared the front row with Lacey - this time with the fourth place vacated by Nakamura who did not start for a technical issue.


Sauter hesitated at the start and Lacey took the inside line; the two ran wheel to wheel into turn 1 and 2, with the Australian eventually snatching the lead. Inotsume had a good getaway from sixth but then fell behind Tsujiko over the first lap.


It would be Lacey, this time, to be handed a 10 second penalty for jumping the start, and therefore attempted to extend his lead over Sauter. The latter, however, remained glued to the back of the #53 machine, as the top two drove away.


Inotsume resumed her consistent times, often in the 1:32 bracket, which allowed her to keep the gap to Tsujiko within one second. On lap 8, she set a new personal best and, a few tenths faster than her rival, she kept closing in.


The safety car neutralized the race on lap 12 after Fuma Horio retired from fourth place. Inotsume had meanwhile completed a pass on Tsujiko, effectively for fourth place - but the move would later be deemed to have happened already under the safety car.


The race ended under caution and, with Lacey dropping to fourth, Michael Sauter was victorious for the fourth time this year, ahead of Manson and Anna Inotsume - who had never been closer to a podium finish in Formula Regional machinery. Unfortunately, she would lose the top three following a post-race 30-second penalty for the pass under caution, which demoted her to fifth place.


Nevertheless, with two P5 and a P6, the third round of the season at Okayama was the most prolific to date for Inotsume, who scored a personal best of 28 points and now sits seventh in the championship standings, just three points behind Jiei Okuzumi.


In her very busy season that also includes outings in the Ferrari Challenge Japan as well as more national GT competitions, Anna Inotsume is making further progress in formula cars and will be eyeing more improvements at the next double header at Motegi, on 24-25 August.

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04 de jul.

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