Positive Super Formula Lights debut for Miki Koyama at Fuji
Japanese W Series racer Miki Koyama made her debut in Super Formula Lights at the series season opener at Fuji claiming three top-10 finishes, as she prepares for her international campaign in the all-female F3 championship.
At the first round of the 2021 Super Formula Lights championship there was a familiar name among the 16-drivers entry list: 23-year old W Series star Miki Koyama, joining the series – so far only for the season opener – with B-Max Engineering.
Koyama was certainly among the biggest revelations of the 2019 all-female championship: at her first international adventure and with only prior experience of Japanese F4 (and a handful of starts in F3 Asia), the young Japanese driver impressed with four consecutive top-10 in the first four races, including a fourth place at Misano.
A great overtaker, Miki Koyama finished seventh in the point standings and comfortably qualified for the following W Series season – even though her character prevented her to be fully satisfied with her rookie season performances.
She wasn't as competitive in the 2020 W Series Esports Championship – likely due to the massive time zone difference – but we can surely expect Koyama to be on top of her game for the upcoming season of the women-only F3 championship.
She entered selected rounds of the 2020 Japanese Formula Regional championship – whose Dome chassis resemble the Tatuus F3 Regional cars and then started a testing program with top-team B-Max Engineering in Super Formula Lights, targeting more track time in F3 machinery as we get closer to the start of the 2021 W Series.
After her first days in the Dallara 320 car – the same used in the Euroformula Open category in Europe – Koyama was given the opportunity to compete at the season opener at Fuji Speedway. Super Formula Lights, once the Japanese F3 Championship, is in fact one of the top single seater destinations for young up-coming talents, both targeting a step up to Super Formula as well as eyeing a switch to European championship. Among its champions, it's easy to notice remarkable names that since the 1980s have then made headlines in Formula 1 and many other elite international championships.
Supporting the opening round of the 2021 Super Formula championship at Fuji, Super Formula Lights contested the first of its triple header at the former home of the Japanese F1 GP on Saturday morning.
Former FIA F3 racer Teppei Natori scored pole position on a very tricky and slippery track surface, ahead of Ren Sato in the Toda Racing machine. Miki Koyama qualified ninth for the first race, after she struggled to find grip on the mixed weather conditions.
Under sunny skies, Race 1 saw Natori taking the lead into Turn 1, ahead of Sato and Giuliano Alesi – the son of the former F1 driver making his switch from F2 to Japan. From fourth on the grid, Alesi soon advanced to third place.
Miki Koyama had a slow start off the line and then engaged in a battle with Nobuhiro Imada. She overtook her B-Max teammate with a clean move into Turn 1, re-gaining her starting place in P9.
While positions remained mostly unchanged, Seita Nonaka battled with Seiya Jin and Shunsuke Kohno, ultimately handing an opportunity to Koyama to catch up with this group.
Ren Sato closed on Natori and the leading duo managed to break away from third placed Alesi. The closest battles, though, remained in the midfield and there was drama in the later stages when Nonaka collided with Jin at Turn 10 following an extended wheel-to-wheel battle. While Jin came out with a broken rear wing, both continued. The loss of downforce inevitably saw the driver of the #5 Albirex Racing Dallara dropping down the order, and Miki Koyama made up two positions.
After 21 laps, Teppei Natori survived a late attack and took victory by 6 tenths over Ren Sato, followed by Giuliano Alesi in third place and seven seconds adrift. It was the first podium finish for the Frenchman in the series. Miki Koyama finished seventh.
"In the qualifying, I couldn't predict the track conditions" – she wrote. "There was nothing good about it, but the pace was good in the race, so I think there will be improvements in the other two races."
"I made a mistake and I was about to go off at the start. The result was also affected by some contacts, but in terms of pace, while it wasn't enough for the top, it wasn't bad".
"I have a lot of ideas, I will try to put them into practice tomorrow!" – she added on her social media pages. "I'm glad there are 3 races!"
The drivers lined up on the grid with more overcast skies and with the same three cars leading the field. Teppei Natori had another clean start and maintained the first place from Ren Sato and Giuliano Alesi, while it was a really close fight from fourth all the way down to seventh place. Miki Koyama was passed by Atsushi Miyake, having initially made it up to sixth.
When positions had seemingly settled down, Ren Sato intensified his pressure on the race leader and forced Natori to a mistake: the B-Max driver locked up at the first corner and lost the crucial position to his main rival, who fired into the lead.
The battle ahead allowed Giuliano Alesi to close in, but he was then the protagonist of a spin coming out of the final corner that dropped him in the midfield. Seita Nonaka moved up to third, followed by Seiya Jin.
Ren Sato claimed his first victory of the season, finishing ahead of Teppei Natori across the finish line by 1.9 seconds. Nonaka was third, in front of Jin, Miyake and Alesi – the French racer ending up P6 after his spin. Shunsuke Kohno was seventh and preceded Miki Koyama in eighth.
The final race on Sunday afternoon was again a challenging one for the drivers, who had to tackle the start on wet-weather tyres due to a light rain over the Japanese venue.
From second on the grid, Race 2 winner Ren Sato stalled and saw the whole field flying past before being able to leave his grid slot. Sato pitted at the end of the first lap and took a gamble, opting for slick tyres.
Miki Koyama gained two positions and completed the first lap in fifth place, but was soon passed by Atsushi Miyake into Turn 10. Seiya Jin had a better exit off the final corner and went wheel-to-wheel down the straight with Koyama, ultimately moving up to sixth into Turn 1 on the third lap. Miki tried to switch back, but had to back off.
Jin was on a charge and overtook Nonaka a few corners later.
With the rain easing, more drivers started to think about switching to slicks. While some backmarkers did opted to pit, most of the field remained on wets – a strategy that eventually paid off.
In the #10 Rounyesports entry, Atsushi Miyake cut his way through the field and jumped ahead of both Taira and Alesi. On lap 12, he caught up with the leader Natori and made it into P1 after an impressive recovery.
Jin also attempted to go around Alesi, but spun coming off of Turn 3 – ending his podium chances.
On lap 15, the rain increased again, in what was certainly the most unpredictable and action-filled race of the weekend. Natori seemed able to have the pace to respond back, but Miyake endured the pressure and crossed the line to take victory after 15 laps.
Alesi was third, securing the podium at the photofinish with Hibiki Taira by 0.006 seconds.
Miki Koyama had a more lonely race in seventh, and claimed her third top-10 in just as many races in the championship. Despite the result, though, Koyama leaves Fuji with no points to her tally, as Super Formula Lights only awards the top six finishers.
"In the race, the pace was good and there was potential", she commented after race 3.
"There were good points, shortcomings and bad points, such as a mistake at the start and different grip levels in qualifying".
"The last race was wet. I liked the rain and was looking forward to it, but I'm disappointed due to some problems. I was able to move up to 5th place at the start, so I wanted to fight to the end. I learned a lot from this race week" – she continued on her social media posts.
It is currently not clear if Koyama will be back to Super Formula Lights later in the season, but the experience will surely prove useful when she joins the W Series grid at the French GP at Paul Ricard.