Home Formula RegionalFRegional Japanese Championship Jiei Okuzumi starts FRegional Japan season at Suzuka with victory

Jiei Okuzumi starts FRegional Japan season at Suzuka with victory

by Ida Wood

Photo: FRJC

The 2024 Formula Regional Japanese Championship began in dramatic style at Suzuka.

Kizuki Hirota topped the weekend’s first qualifying session, setting a 1m58.902s to lead Jiei Okuzumi by 0.061 seconds. Michael Sauter was 0.27s back in third, and nobody else was within a second of pole.

Sauter lowered the pace to 1m57.747s in Q2 to earn race two pole, going fastest by 0.762s. Hirota was second, and Okuzumi was 1.163s off the pace in third as three drivers failed to lap within 110% of the pole time.

The second-best laptimes from Q1 set race three’s grid, and Okuzumi’s 1m59.217s effort earned him pole by 0.12s over Sauter. Sebastian Manson qualified third, 1.639s behind.

A slippy track meant race one started behind the safety car, and “Akita” spun down the order on lap one. Manson crashed out, and Sauter did the same on lap two.

Hirota spun from first down to seventh on lap four, which led to another driver going off, so Okuzumi led the field when racing actually began on lap five. The top three pulled away, Zhongwei Wang got into fourth then spun back down the order exiting the hairpin and the safety car returned due to Juancho Brobio crashing out.

On lap seven “Yugo” made a mistake and lost ninth place, then the next restart took place on lap eight. Hirota passed Jesse Lacey for third, and “Akita” overtook Anna Inotsume for sixth. While Okuzumi managed a gap up front, Hirota pressured Yoshiaki Nakamura for second and passed him on the last lap. However he got demoted to fifth by a 30s post-race penalty, with Nakamura and Lacey therefore completing the podium. Akita got the same penalty and dropped from fifth to eighth.

Drivers did not get in their grid spots correctly for race two, so a second formation lap was required. When the lights went out, Nakamura was one of two drivers to stall and then at turn three Inotsume crashed backwards into the barriers at speed.

The safety car appeared, and racing resumed on lap three. Sauter held the lead, and Wang had an off that left his car crabbing. Over the rest of the race a big gap formed between Sauter and the chasing Okuzumi, who passed Hirota for second on lap one. Although Hirota got back ahead on lap 10, Okuzumi reclaimed the place a lap later.

Race three also featured two formation laps, and a slow start by Sauter lost him second to Manson. There was drama at the end of lap one as “Akita” locked up entering the chicane and hit Lacey into a spin. Both eventually got moving again.

A brave move by Sauter at 130R earned him back second place on lap two, and he trailed Okuzumi by 3.4s. Hirota took fourth from Nakamura on lap three, then a big crash for Lacey on lap four brought out the safety car.

Not until lap seven did it pick up the leader, and on the lap nine restart Sauter attacked Okuzumi at turn two. Brobio spun exiting the hairpin, and Nakamura got back past Hirota. Those two traded places again on lap 10, and Sauter dived past Okuzumi for the lead at the chicane after he left the door open.

Sauter pulled away by 2.387s over the last two laps, and Nakamura reclaimed fourth when Hirota crashed out on the final lap. But Nakamura was then penalised 30s post-race, handing fourth to Wang.

Results round-up
Race 1 (11 laps)
1 Jiei Okuzumi Sutekina Racing Team 31m01.670s
2 Yoshiaki Nakamura TOM’S +2.102s
3 Jesse Lacey Bionic Jack Racing +19.710s
4 “Motoki” Rn-sports +29.665s
5 Kizuki Hirota Bionic Jack Racing +31.483s
6 Anna Inotsume Helm Motorsports +36.212s
7 Yorikatsu Tsujiko Ponos Racing +46.513s
8 “Akita” Abbey Racing +52.738s
9 Zhongwei Wang Sky Motorsports +1m01.758s
10 “Yugo” N-Speed +1 lap
Pole: Hirota, 1m58.902s
Fastest lap: Okuzumi, 2m00.322s

Race 2 (12 laps)
1 Michael Sauter Birth Racing Project 25m46.316s
2 Okuzumi +11.066s
3 Hirota +17.787s
4 “Akita” +24.688s
5 Sebastian Manson Birth Racing Project +26.072s
6 Nakamura +34.766s
7 Lacey +55.725s
8 “Motoki” +1m23.666s
9 Tsujiko +1m40.678s
10 Juancho Brobio Eagle Sports +1 lap
P: Sauter, 1m57.747s
FL: Sauter, 1m58.708s

Race 3 (12 laps)
1 Sauter 27m17.595s
2 Okuzumi +2.387s
3 Manson +11.241s
4 Wang +14.893s
5 “Motoki” +15.706s
6 Inotsume +24.040s
7 Tsujiko +26.428s
8 Nakamura +44.460s
9 “Yugo” +1m04.823s
10 Brobio +1m19.543s
P: Okuzumi, 1m59.217s
FL: Sauter, 1m58.856s

Championship standings
1 Okuzumi 61   2 Sauter 50   3 Nakamura 30   4 Motoki 26   5 Hirota 25   6 Manson 25   7 Lacey 21   8 Akita 16   9 Inotsume 16   10 Wang 14