Sacha Fenestraz became the seventh driver in the last 25 years to take a podium on their Super Formula debut in Sunday’s season opener at Twin Ring Motegi.
He joins Ralf Schumacher, Seiji Ara, Andre Lotterer, Roberto Streit, Kazuki Nakajima and Stoffel Vandoorne in achieving the feat, as well as racing legends Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Michael Schumacher who made the podium when SF was Japan’s national championship for Formula 2 and then Formula 3000 cars.
Fenestraz qualified on the front row at Motegi, and after conceding that spot to Kondo Racing team-mate Kenta Yamashita on the opening lap of the 35-race he had a quiet run to third place.
“Wow, it’s a nice list to be on. There is Michael Schumacher, Ralf, Lotterer, very, very famous and good names. I’m pretty honoured to be part of that list,” Fenestraz said to Formula Scout after he was told of his statistical achievement.
“We were working very hard through [the weekend], all for qualifying really. We knew that qualifying was going to be the most important because we knew that Motegi is difficult to overtake on.
“Qualifying really went much better than I thought [it would], and that made it easier for the race.”
After a few laps in the race, Fenestraz was having to maintain himself and his Yokohama tyres in the high temperatures at the circuit.
“In my feeling it was more just thermal [degradation]. Surface temperature was around 47°C or 48°C on the track. So of course the surface of the tyre was very hot. It’s not easy, but it’s a bit less difficult to recover than the actual core of the tyre – the inside temperature of the tyre.
“It was difficult as well, as soon as you were sliding a lot into one corner, then the next corner you could really feel it, and then throughout late in the race you could feel it as well. You need to think very far ahead into the race, and not try to be the hero on the first couple of laps, because then you struggle a lot on the last couple of laps.”
Despite this statement, Fenestraz was in the front pack of four that quickly distanced itself from the rest of the field, which came to him as a surprise.
“When I saw the replay of the race, I was like ‘wow’. I knew they were a bit far back because I couldn’t see them in the mirrors, but didn’t know they were that far.”
The 21-year-old didn’t challenge the top two early on, opting to save his fuel-flow boost for later on, which he later admitted was “a bit of a mistake”. He didn’t lose time to them at the end though, unlike ex-Formula 1 driver Nakajima behind him.
Fenestraz also stepped up to Super GT’s primary class this year as a factory Toyota driver, and leads the points after three of eight rounds in what he described as an “incredible” and “unbelievable” start to his season.