SuperFormula: Tatiana Calderon P17 in Suzuka
A globetrotting Tatiana Calderon completes a challenging Super Formula round in Suzuka in P17, before flying to Spa Francorchamps for the WEC prologue.
Boosted by her strong result at the 2021 Super Formula season opener at Fuji Speedway, Colombian racing star Tatiana Calderon headed to Suzuka – one of the most iconic racetracks in the world and home of the Japanese Grand Prix since 1987.
At Fuji, Calderon was 13th after a very promising race that left her slightly disappointed: the mixed-weather conditions overturned the drivers' strategies and she found herself dropping a couple of positions in the second half of the race after having battled for the top ten, lamenting issues in getting the tyres up to temperature.
Nevertheless, the driver of the #12 ThreeBond Drago Corse car was confident coming the second round on a circuit that she knew from her first season in the series, having raced in the double header at Suzuka last December.
“My first Suzuka experience last year left me in awe and coming back to such a fast and challenging circuit, where we are so close to Formula 1 lap times, is one of the highlights of the season." – she commented before the race event, which was preceded by a two-day test that was hampered by the rain.
"We tested there last month and although the balance of the car was not very good, I think we learned a lot and hope to start with a better base for free practice."
"At Fuji we had a good pace both in qualifying and in the race and we were able to analyze many factors that we hope will help us get those first points at Suzuka. We need a different set-up due to the track conditions, but everything seems to indicate that the weather will be good, warmer compared to the tests - and that can help us with the warm-up of the tyres, something with which we had problems in testing last month and that is key. I want to go out again and put it all together to get a good result ”.
A track whose corners are known to every motoring enthusiast, Suzuka requires a great car balance in the high speed corners and direction changes. Nirei Fukuzumi posted a 1:36.449 pole lap on Saturday – less than 10 seconds slower than the F1 pole position in 2019, confirming the Dallara SF19 as the closest car to F1 in terms of performance.
Alongside the former F2 driver was Team Mugen's Tomoki Nojiri, a little over one tenth of a second adrift. On the second row were Toshiki Oyu (Nakajima Racing) and Ryo Hirakawa (Team Impul), in a Honda 1-2-3 on the manufacturer's home track.
Tatiana Calderon struggled with her setup and was P19, thus starting from the tenth row of the grid. "We found the balance we wanted late and we compromised the qualifying", she commented afterwards.
In a sunny Sunday morning, Calderon showed signs of improvements in the warm up session, as she posted the 12th fastest time, in a session topped by Red Bull-backed driver Hiroki Otsu. Tatiana had claimed her best results of the season in 2020 at Suzuka, finishing P12 and P13. Unfortunately, the 2021 edition proved to be a more challenging one.
As cars went on the grid, Sena Sakaguchi stalled on his way to the formation lap – which relegated him to the back of the field. He was set to start P15.
When the lights went out, pole sitter Fukuzumi maintained the lead, followed by Nojiri and Hirakawa. Oyu had a nightmare of a start and lost 11 positions, while rookie driver Giuliano Alesi found himself P14, having qualified in 8th place for his first ever race in the championship.
Tatiana Calderon kept her starting position, while Oyu started to make up some places after nearly stalling on the grid. He nearly made contact with F2 race winner Nobuharu Matsushita on the main straight, but the Nakajima Racing driver made the move stick entering the first corner.
There were more great battles all the way down the field, the most exciting being Sekiguchi and Alesi.
In a dramatic turn of events, the race lost its race leader on lap 11, when Fukuzumi limped back to the pitlane with a puncture that had damaged the rear-right suspension. He was forced to retire his car, leaving the leadership in the hands of Fuji winner Tomoki Nojiri.
On the same lap, the second half of the grid dived into the pitlane to perform their compulsory pit stop. Calderon pitted for new tyres and, after a good stop, was back on track ahead of Kazuya Oshima.
Nojiri rejoined just in front of Hirakawa: despite going wide into Turn 1, Nojiri held on to the top spot of the classify and never looked back.
Another race-defining moment came on lap 17, when Yuji Kunimoto went off at high speed at the mighty 130R corner, following another tyre failure. The KCMG car went hard into the barriers and rolled over, immediately triggering a Safety Car interruption. With the prompt intervention of the marshals, the driver was out under his own power.
Ritomo Miyata clinched the opportunity to pit behind the Safety Car and slotted back in sixth once all the positions settled. On lap 19, the race went back to green with Nojiri ahead of Hirakawa and Sasahara. The latter closed on Hirakawa – who had finished his seconds of extra-power – but could not find a way past.
Tatiana Calderon was 16th after the restart but then lost one place to Oshima on lap 21.
In the final stages, Sho Tsuboi battled hard with Yamamoto for seventh: Tsuboi made an outstanding pass around the outside of Turn 1 and into the Esses. Just behind them, it was Giuliano Alesi: the son of the former F1 driver had a great debut and pulled off an impressive move into the Snake section on Kenta Yamashita.
Alesi then caught up with Oyu – who was slowed down by his teammate Yamamoto, bunching up the midfield. The Frenchman overtook Oyu on the main straight and made it up to ninth place.
With a 1.4 second advantage over his closest pursuer, Tomoki Nojiri crossed the finish line to claim his second win of the season in just as many races, ahead of Hirakawa and Sasahara. Tsuboi and Yamamoto were 7th and 8th at the photofinish – 3 thousandths of a second separating them.
Tatiana Calderon had a challenging race and finished P17, a little short of 30 seconds behind the leaders. The Colombian reported issues on her car via her team's radio, which hampered her race.
"It has been a difficult and very busy day, but hey, it has also been one of learning." – she said. But the 28-year old driver already looks forward to her next commitments, as she quickly moves on and heads to the airport.
"We are running to the airport to get to Spa on Monday, to see if we can test tomorrow."
The racer will in fact join the Richard Mille Racing squad in Belgium, where she will make her World Endurance Championship debut next week in the LMP2 Oreca that she shares with Sophia Floersch and Beitske Visser.
The WEC Prologue will see the cars hitting another legendary track, Spa Francorchamps, as soon as Monday and Tuesday.