Tatiana Calderon P16 in SuperFormula return
Colombian racer Tatiana Calderon was P16 after a smooth return to the very competitive SuperFormula championship on the fast and twisty Autopolis circuit, three months after her series debut.
It was the 30th of August when Colombian racing star Tatiana Calderon made her debut in Japan's premier single seater championship Super Formula and claimed at 12th position after a very solid race at Twin Ring Motegi. Since then, Calderon hasn't returned to the series due to a series of clashing rounds with her European Le Mans Series commitments and was forced to miss two race event for the coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Almost three months later, the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 development driver made it back to Japan and could finally climb back in the ThreeBond Drago Corse Dallara SF19 - one of the closest cars to F1 in terms of performances.
“I am happy to finally be able to return to Japan and after having had to miss two races due to the circumstances forced by the pandemic." - explained Tatiana.
"However, the team has made a lot of progress since our last race, together with my replacement Kuodai Tsukakoshi, a very experienced driver, so I am really looking forward to driving the car again."
"I am sure that returning to Super Formula will not be easy, Autopolis is also a new circuit for me, but we will try to maximize every opportunity on the track after preparing as much as possible in the simulator. Due to the low temperatures that are expected, not only for this race but for the remainder of the season, I will have to learn to understand the tires as they will be very different conditions compared to my first race at Motegi in midsummer."
At the 4.673m Autopolis circuit, the 2020 SuperFormula field saw many changes among its entries as drivers are still facing travel difficulties and the compressed motorsport calendars result in conflicting dates. Former Formula 2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita replaced Sergio Sette Camara at Buzz Racing B-Max and Charles Milesi made his championship debut on the sister car. Ukyo Sasahara was back at Team Mugen to replace Juri Vips - as the Estonian announced he will not be returning to Japan. Yuichi Nakayama subbed in for ex-F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi - the latter taking the start at the WEC season finale in Bahrain.
Calderon was P18 and P19 on Saturday after the two opening session, as she acclimated back with the car.
"I think it was a really good day", she said about Saturday at Autopolis. "Of course the track is new for me, it seems like a roller coaster, there's a very beautiful landscape around. We have good weather and there's everything to play out in quali - the race is going to be about adapting myself after being back after two rounds".
The ThreeBond Drago Corse driver qualified in P18 on Sunday, as Tomoki Nojiri put his #16 Team Mugen car on pole position. Alongside him, Nirei Fukuzumi edged his Docomo teammate Naoki Yamamoto to slot into second, while Sho Tsuboi was fourth for IngIng. Matsushita qualified sixth in his remarkable return to the series.
There was early drama on the grid as Toshiki Oyu stalled on the formation lap, but then retook his grid position as the lights went off and received a drive through penalty.
The field was cleanly through the first corners except for the stalling Sasahara, forcing many drivers to take evasive action. Among them, Tatiana Calderon was down to P19 after driving around the Red Bull-sponsored Team Mugen car.
Nojiri held first place from Fukuzumi and Tsuboi, who had a good start and advanced to third. Matsushita also made up two positions and moved to fourth, while Nick Cassidy in the Toyota-powered Team Tom's was up to seventh.
Sasahara quickly caught up with the pack and passed Calderon on lap 6, after the Colombian had fought with Milesi during the opening laps of the race.
Soon after, the first Safety Car was deployed when Sacha Fenestraz stopped on track having lost the rear-left wheel.
At the restart on lap 9, Nojiri made the perfect restart and allowed no chances to Fukuzumi, while Matsushita found a way around Yamamoto for third.
Milesi pitted as soon as the pit-window opened on lap 10 and was the first driver to dive in the pitlane for fresh tyres. Tadasuke Makino and Toshiki Oyu would pit one lap later.
There was more pit action soon after, as the whole field stopped when the threat of another Safety Car emerged on lap 12 - Sho Tsuboi had in fact parked his #39 Cerumo IngIng car due to a loose wheel after his pitstop. The Safety Car did indeed come out to recover the stricken car and left Yamamoto, Cassidy and Sasahara in the top-three positions, still having to stop.
Nojiri was fourth, having reacted quickly before the race neutralization. Calderon also pitted from P14 and rejoined in P17.
The race was resumed on lap 16 and a heated battle at the back saw Milesi, Oshima, Hirakawa and Calderon fighting for 14th place.
All the eyes were on the leading trio though, who had to extend their gap to over 25 seconds in order to come out on top after their compulsory pitstop. Yamamoto and Cassidy pushed hard and left Sasahara behind, approximately 11 seconds adrift.
Kazuya Oshima received a drive through for a pit-stop infringement and dropped all the way back, promoting Calderon to P17. The Colombian lady had a good second half of the race, as she kept improving her laptimes each time around and caught up with Charles Milesi. On lap 33, she managed to trim the gap down to under a second, but was never at striking distance to attempt an attack on the Frenchman.
Sasahara pitted on lap 36 from third and rejoined in 15th position. Cassidy was in a lap later and, despite the New Zealander had clocked a series of impressive laps, he found himself down in eighth place after his tyre-change.
The race leader Yamamoto opted to stop on the last available lap and managed to retain second place thanks to his remarkable pace on used tyres. Tomoki Nojiri went on to win for Team Mugen, ahead of Domoco's Yamamoto. Makino was third and preceded Yuji Kunimoto - the best placed of the Toyota-powered drivers. Kenta Yamashita rounded out the top five and finished marginally in front of Nobuharu Matsushita. Cassidy, after chasing closely Yamamoto for most of the race, couldn't do better than seventh after his late pitstop.
Tatiana Calderon crossed the finish line in P16 after moving ahead of Yuichi Nakayama in the closing stages. Following a race-long pursue, she finished 0.925 seconds behind Milesi.
It was another solid and smooth second race in the super competitive SuperFormula championship for Calderon, who will now target more improvements as the series moves towards the final three rounds of the season at Suzuka and Fuji.
The Japanese series will in fact hold a double-header in Suzuka in three weeks time on December 5-6.