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Double top-6 for Anna Inotsume in Formula Regional Japan opener at Suzuka

TCR Japan's reigning champion Anna Inotsume has kicked-off her rookie season in Formula Regional Japan with a double top-6 in a tricky damp Suzuka, collecting valuable points for the championship.


Anna Inotsume, Suzuka 2024
Photo credits: Formula Regional Japan

Double-TCR Japan reigning champion Anna Inotsume tackled the first round of the 2024 Formula Regional Japanese championship at the iconic Suzuka International Circuit, making progress over the weekend and securing a pair of top-6 finishes in mixed weather conditions.


Inotsume, 27, made a one-off appearance in the single seater series in 2023, claiming two impressive top-5s at debut at Fuji, combining a full-time TCR campaign which resulted in five victories and a dominant double title. The Japanese driver was therefore the first woman to clinch a national sprint-series TCR title and is currently the highest ranked woman in the TCR World Ranking.


The move to formula cars would nevertheless require some adaptation, but Inotsume's season started with a solid haul of points, as she battled in the midfield.


The driver of the HELM Motorsports entry sponsored by Yupiteru / Hagoromo 6 qualified in eighth place for the first race of the 2024 season. From the front row, Kizuku Hirota led the pack ahead of Jiei Okuzumi and Michael Sauter at lights out – and a safety car start due to damp conditions after a rain shower meant that positions were unchanged through the first lap.


More rain started to fall and Akita spun from sixth while still in safety car conditions. Similarly, Sebastian Manson went off and beached his G Force machine in the gravel at 130R, as well as teammate Michael Sauter went out at the exit of turn 2 – highlighting the extremely tricky condition.


The safety car continued to lead the pack and, although not a lap under green was contested yet, Anna Inotsume had moved from eighth to fifth by keeping it clean.

As the Acura pace car was about to pull into the pit lane, the top three all went off at 130R – in a chaotic restart that saw both Hirota and Nakamura spinning and most of the field unsure whether to accelerate away.


It would be Sutekina Racing's Okuzumi to claim the lead, with Anna Inotsume snatching fourth place. Unfortunately, she lost two places in the following corners, just before the action was again neutralized as two more cars went off.


The green flag waved again with 6 laps to go; Inotsume tried to put pressure on Motoki – but was then overtaken by the fast charging Akita. While Akita and Motoki battled for fifth, Inotsume had to defend from Wang Zhongwei: the two traded positions and the TCR Japan reigning champion crossed the line in eighth place.

Inotsume was then promoted to sixth after Hirota, Akita, Sauter, Manson and Zhongwei all received post race penalties for the erratic safety car restart.


The second race later in the day was another challenging one, with damp conditions making for a tricky start. Multiple cars struggled to get off the line – but the safety car was eventually deployed when Anna Inotsume unfortunately spun into the barriers at turn 4, in the series of S curves on the opening lap.


Swiss driver Michael Sauter was leading from Jiei Okuzumi and Kizuku Hirota, and the race went back underway one lap later, with positions at the top unchanged. Wang Zhongwei spun at the Triangle Chicane but rejoined, albeit down in tenth place.


While Sauter managed to pull away and open a four second gap in the lead, Hirota pressured Okuzumi for second place - and after chipping away for most of the race, he seized the opportunity presented himself on lap 9, when he was faster out of the final corner and made a move stick into turn 1, grabbing second with 3 laps to go.


Positions were restored soon after, as Hirota ran wide and opened the door again to Okuzumi. Michael Sauter took a controlled victory in race 2, crossing the line 11 seconds ahead of Okuzumi, Hirota, Akita - who won the master class - and Sebastian Manson.


Jiei Okuzumi and Michael Sauter shared the front row for the third and final race of the weekend at Suzuka on Sunday morning, while Anna Inotsume would line up in eighth place. The damp track conditions again resulted in a tricky getaway for many of the cars, including Inotsume, who had some wheelspin and dropped to tenth. An over optimistic move from Akita at the Triangle Chicane resulted in an accident that took out Jesse Lacey at the end of the first lap – and allowed Inotsume to reclaim her starting position.


The action-packed first lap saw Okuzumi leading Sebastian Manson and Michael Sauter – but the latter would fight back one lap later with a spectacular pass around the outside of 130R, while Okuzumi opened a 3 second gap. Inotsume chased Motoki and improved her personal best as the track dried up. 


On lap 3, Lacey – who had rejoined after his earlier contact – ultimately ended his race in the barriers at the Esses Curves, triggering the safety car.  


The race resumed with 5 laps to go; with the pack now back bunched up, Sauter attacked Okuzumi for the lead, but the latter shut the door into turn 1 and held off the Swiss driver. On lap 9, though, Sauter found a way through with a great pass into the final chicane, and Okuzumi couldn’t keep up the pace, although he was never under pressure from Manson, who had fallen over 5 seconds back.


Anna Inotsume kept making progress pace-wise but wasn’t quite close enough to pressure Motoki. Nevertheless, she moved up to seventh place when 51 spun in the gravel on the final lap. The driver of the #72 Yupiteru-sponsored machine crossed the finish line in P7, but was promoted again to sixth when Yoshiaki Nakamura was handed a 30 second penalty post-race for overtaking under safety car.


Despite an unfortunate DNF in race 2, Anna Inotsume's sixth place finishes are an encouraging start to her 2024 campaign, and she now sits ninth in the standings with 16 points to her name. The series will now have a long break until the second round, which will be held at Sportsland Sugo on 11-12 May.

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