In her first outing as Toyota GR Junior driver, former W Series racer Miki Koyama scored three podiums at the Formula Regional Japan season opener in a rainy Fuji Speedway.
Formula Regional Japan - one of the two F3-regional series in Japan - brought Ai Miura under the spotlight in 2021, as the female racer finished runner up, claiming seven podiums and a race victory.
In 2022, Formula Regional Japan will see another female driver on its grid - a popular name among race fans also overseas thanks to two seasons in the all-female championship W Series: Miki Koyama will in fact contest her first full season in the series with Super License Team - in the #8 car driven last year by Ai Miura.
Koyama, 24, has been recently announced as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Junior Programme - becoming the first woman to enter the Japanese manufacturer's programme.
She topped pre-season testing at Fuji Speedway, two weeks prior to the start of the championship at the same venue - showing speed to contest for victories.
In qualifying, Koyama was third and second fastest, with Ryunosuke Sawa dominating the sessions and claiming the weekend's pole positions.
At the race start of the first race, Sota Ogawa had a very slow start from second place and dropped to the tail-end of the pack, while Yuki Tanake had a great getaway and moved in front to Koyama at the first corner - as polesitter Sawa started to pull away.
Miki Koyama managed to get back ahead at Turn 11, with Tanake losing several places and ending up in the midfield. After a few laps, positions settled and gaps spread out; only race leader Sawa and Miki Koyama were consistently under the 1:38m mark for most of the race and the battle for third place between Katayama and the recovering Ogawa allowed the two front-runners to break away.
Ryunosuke Sawa took a dominant win by a 7.3 second margin and Miki Koyama was second - claiming her best finish in the series after a fifth place in a one-off appearance in 2020.
Yoshaki Katayama won the battle for third, ultimately edging Sota Ogawa, four seconds adrift of Miki Koyama.
Race 1 would also remain the only dry race of the weekend, with heavy rain marking the second day of running at Fuji. The Safety Car preceded the pack at the start and the green flag waved on lap 3 in still very difficult conditions and low visibility: race 1 winner Sawa retained the lead despite going deep into Turn 1, while Koyama lost second to Ogawa in the hectic first stages, as Tanaka and Imada spun out.
Koyama found her rhythm and closed in on Ogawa - gaining the place back once the Bionick Jack Racing's driver served a drive through on lap 8. Koyama continued to gain in the second half of the race but couldn't quite get close enough to the race leader and Sutekina Racing's Ryunosuke Sawa won back-to-back with Miki Koyama again runner up - in an identical podium to race 1.
Despite a drive through, Sota Ogawa recovered to fourth, while master class driver Hirobon finished fifth overall, albeit over 40 seconds down the road.
Another Safety Car start marked the third and final race of the weekend, still contested under the pouring rain. The race went green on lap 4 and Sawa, Ogawa and Koyama immediately opened a gap on the rest of the competitors.
Tanaka overtook Hirobon for fourth and sixth-placed Katayama spun - but the eyes were all on the leading trio, showing a faster pace of over 5 seconds per lap.
Weekend dominator Sawa started to pull away and Koyama got menacing in Ogawa's rear view mirrors; conditions were tricky and, despite two mistakes by Ogawa into Turn 3, Miki couldn't find a way past.
Ryunosuke Sawa completed a perfect weekend with two pole positions and three race victories; third across the finish line, Miki Koyama completed her first weekend as a TGR junior driver with three podium finishes - a really solid performance by the former W Series racer.
Formula Regional Japan will return to the track on 25–26 June at Okayama International Circuit for the second out of the 6 scheduled rounds in 2022.