Calderon completes SuperFormula season finale despite Troubles on the formation lap
Colombian racing star Tatiana Calderon completed her rookie season in Super Formula - one of the world's most competitive formula championships - despite an unlucky finish at the Fuji season finale, where she encountered an hydraulic leak issues on the formation lap.
Japanese premier single seater championship Super Formula made its return to Fuji Speedway - where its season started at pre-season testing back in March - to round out one of the longest racing season to date in the final weeks of December.
Colombian racing star Tatiana Calderon closed her debut campaign in one of the most competitive formula series worldwide, in a year that saw the young lady entering five different categories in three continents and 2 full-time championships.
With four races now under her belt in the #12 Dallara SF19, it was Calderon's first Super Formula race on a previously-visited circuit and the ThreeBond Drago Corse driver aimed to finish on a high with on the 4,563m racetrack, former home of the Japanese GP.
Two weeks after the Suzuka double-header - where Calderon scored a P12 and came close to scoring her first points in the series - the Colombian targeted more progress in what would have been the final international motorsport race of 2020.
“It is a bit sad to say that this will be the last race weekend of this year", she said before the race at Fuji.
"After the race at Suzuka I hope I can build on the momentum we took after racing twice in the same weekend and on the same track. I'm happy to be able to return to Fuji, the first track I met in Japan and where I first drove Super Formula in the pre-season test.
"For the first time I will have some previous experience and data so as not to start from scratch, as has been the case throughout the season, and I also believe that the car has improved a lot in terms of balance and set-up since we were in Fuji, nine months ago."
"One difference from that first time is that we will be able to use tyre warmers, due to the low temperatures, but knowing how to use them in the most effective way will be a challenge and probably a differentiator. However, I hope to confirm how much the team and I have improved during this year."
Calderon had a positive Saturday at Fuji, finishing the first practice session in a very competitive P12 in a tight classify. She was P19 in FP2, improving her best laptime by over a tenth.
"Positive Free Practice today!" - commented the 27-year old driver. "It’s going to be challenging to make the tyres work with such cold track temperatures but looking forward to Qualy and Race tomorrow, max attack!"
Sunday morning at the famous race venue at the foot of Mount Fuji saw nice weather condition - albeit very cold temperatures. Tomoki Nojiri topped the qualifying for Team Mugen and preceded Sho Tsuboi on the front row of the grid for the afternoon's race.
Naoki Yamamoto was third and shared the second row with former F2 racer Nobuharu Matsushita. The Docomo Team Dandelion driver managed to position himself ahead of his main championship rival Ryo Hirakawa, whom he shared the championship lead with coming into the final round.
Tatiana Calderon was 19th fastest in qualifying, with a time of 1:21.674 and was set for a start from the 10th row alongside title condender Nick Cassidy - but it all went wrong on the starting grid for the driver of the #12 ThreeBond Drago Corse car: a hydraulic leak issue prevented Calderon to start the formation lap and, with the engine not restarting, her car was pushed back into the pitlane to start from the back of the pack.
There were also more troubles for Yuhi Sekiguchi and Charles Milesi - the former having an engine issue on his way to the grid, while the latter parked his car at Turn 13 on the formation lap.
When the lights went out, the field had a clean run off of Turn 1, with Sho Tsuboi firing into the lead ahead of Matsushita, Nojiri and Yamamoto.
Calderon did manage to leave the pitlane, but her 90-second gap from the leaders after the opening lap effectively compromised the whole race for the Colombian.
Fukuzumi pitted after only one lap for an unscheduled stop and dropped to P18, while Nick Cassidy in the #1 Vantelin Team Tom's car started an impressive recovery from the tail-end of the grid. The New Zealander was already up to P11 by lap 9 and, when the pit window opened one lap later, he stayed out making up more positions.
Hirakawa also tried to make up lost ground and moved up to seventh as he overtook Sasahara in the opening laps. Poleman Nojiri was the first to pit as soon as the window opened, followed by Kenta Yamashita and Toshiki Oyu. It was a slow stop for Nojiri though, as his pit-crew encountered troubles with a wheel nut.
Cassidy continued his charge and, by lap 13, he had already recovered 14 places.
The championship battle further heated up on lap 15, when Hirakawa pitted - followed one lap later by Yamamoto. When the latter rejoined, the two points leaders exhanged positions in spectacular fashion for a couple of laps and it was Yamamoto to have the better hand and claim the eighth place.
Tatiana Calderon had a good first stint and pitted on lap 15 for new tyres; she rejoined the race in 18th place and lapped competitively throughout. On lap 19, she was the fastest driver on track and set a 1:22.472, which would become her best lap of the race.
Nick Cassidy kep extending his stint and - thanks to his very fast times - targeted a very late stop from the lead of the race. The New Zealander, though, had to react and change his strategy when Nojiri stopped on track at Turn 14 on lap 28 due to a left-front tyre issue. With a potential Safety Car deployment, Cassidy dived into the pitlane and rejoined fifth, in between Yamamoto and Hirakawa. Surprisingly, no Safety Car was needed to remove the stricken car of Nojiri, and Cassidy had to rely on his fresher tyres to try to regain the lead of the race.
After the final stop was performed, Sho Tsuboi retook the top of the leaderboard, less than a second clear of Matsushita.
Cassidy completed a stunning move on Yamamoto on lap 34 and quickly caught up with the top three - now in a frantic fight for both the race and championship victory.
Oyu passed Matsushita for second with five laps to go and tried to attack Tsuboi for the race lead on lap 36, targeting his second victory after his maiden win in Suzuka.
Literally a handful of points separated the top four championship rivals and, with two laps to go, Cassidy was right at the back of Matsushita, three positions away from championship glory after a start from 20th.
After 40 laps of nail-biting action, Tsuboi held on to win at Fuji, handing the title to Naoki Yamamoto for team Docomo Dandelion, who was fifth across the finish line. In the manufacturers' fight, Toyota took home the race victory, but Honda claimed the overall crown.
Tatiana Calderon was P17 at the chequered flag after a solitary race one lap behind, unfortunately compromised by the technical issue at the race start but also marked by the sixth fastest lap of the race.
It was nonetheless a positive first season for Tatiana, who built a valuable base of experience to work on, whether she'll be back in Japan next year.
With two 12th position finishes as best results and despite missing two rounds for clashing commitments with the ELMS, Calderon has made consistent progress throughout the weekends - a great sign for her 2021 plans and beyond.