Formula Regional Japan: Miki Koyama ends triumphant season with podiums in Suzuka
Already crowned champion of the 2022 Formula Regional Japanese Championship, Miki Koyama rounded out her fantastic season with two more podiums – claiming 17 top-three finishes in just as many races.
Miki Koyama's title in Formula Regional Japan will go down in history as one of the milestones for women in single-seater championships, as the Toyota junior driver became the first female champion in a FIA-sanctioned mixed-gender formula championship.
The result gained Koyama the confirmation in the Toyota Gazoo Junior program, as well as a 2 day test in SuperFormula Lights.
Three months after her historic achievement at Fuji Speedway, Koyama returned to Formula Regional Japan for the season finale at the iconic Suzuka circuit, the sixth round of the Japan-based championship. With the title already in her pockets, the former W Series driver contested a pressure-free double-header, focusing on maximising her performance at the 5,807km circuit home of the Japanese Grand Prix.
On Saturday morning, the drivers of the Formula Regional Japan championship hit the track for the two qualifying sessions that would set the grid for the two races; Kazuki Oki scored both pole positions, in an unchanged top three: the Tom's Formula's driver shared the front row with Takashi Hata (Super License), while teammate Miki Koyama was third fastest in both sessions and would line up alongside Takashi Hata in race 1 and B-Max Racing Team's Nobuhiro Imada in race 2.
Koyama had a brilliant start in Saturday's afternoon's Race 1, as she overtook teammate Hata off the line and the latter dropped to fourth place. From second, though, Sota Ogawa was able to snatch the lead at Turn 1 and completed the first lap in the lead, followed by Koyama and Oki.
There were more troubles for pole-sitter Kazuki Oki, who was off in the gravel in the Esses section on the second lap, thus triggering an early safety car that neutralized the race.
The action resumed two laps later and Ogawa held off Koyama at the restart, soon opening a small gap to the series' champion.
While positions settled in the top three, Masaru Miura and Yuki Tanaka battled for fifth place, also followed closely by Masayuki Ueda and Motoki Takami. Eventually, laps went by and positions remained unchanged; Miki Koyama remained within 2 seconds to the race leader and, albeit she closed in significantly in the second half of the race, she could not get closer enough to worry Sota Ogawa, who claimed victory in race 1.
Miki Koyama secured her 16th podium of the year out of 16 races, preceding Takashi Hata to round out the top three.
Under clear skies, the final race of the 2022 Formula Regional Japan season saw Kazuki Oki holding off race 1 winner Sota Ogawa at the start of Race 2, having defended the inside line into Turn 1 while Miki Koyama and Super License teammate Takashi Hata battled wheel to wheel into the first series of corners; the series champion came out as the winner of this battle and kept her starting position after the first lap, as Hata lost fourth to Nobuhiro Imada.
Koyama soon caught up with Ogawa, with the top three once again pulling away and opening a 5 second margin over the course of the second lap alone.
While battling for fourth, Imada and Hata engaged in a close fight at the 130R corner, then almost collided at the Triangle chicane. The driver of the B-MAX Racing Team car, though, held on, as the duo kept losing ground to the leading drivers.
Having studied his rival for a few laps, Takashi Hata attacked again on lap 8 and completed a bold move around the outside of Turn 1, finally snatching fourth place from Nobuhiro Imada. His Super License teammate Miki Koyama, though, was already over 25 seconds up the road – with Ogawa also closing in on Oki.
On lap 12, Sota Ogawa had shortened the gap to half a second and hunted down the Tom's Formula driver; Oki, though, never put a foot wrong and completed a clean run to win race 2 at Suzuka, 6 tenths clear of Ogawa and six seconds ahead of Miki Koyama.
At the end of a record-breaking season, Miki Koyama scored a total of 349 points – 69 more than the closest competitor, Sota Ogawa – and was the only driver to finish all of the 17 races on the podium. She in fact took 7 victories, eight second places and two third place finishes.
After two full seasons in the all-female W Series, Koyama returned to home soil with support from Toyota; thanks to an highly convincing season in Formula Regional Japan, 25-year-old Koyama is expected to explore her options in Japan's top racing series.