Super Formula Lights OKAYAMA (Rounds 13-15): Fraga Scores First Series Pole! Podium Spot in 3 Consecutive Rounds Leaves Him Wanting More!
On 9-10 September, Igor Omura Fraga competed in Rounds 13, 14, and 15 of Super Formula Lights (SFL) at the Okayama International Circuit with 'FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX,' showing outstanding performance starting from the practice sessions on Wednesday, and achieving a podium finish in all three final races of the weekend.
The car was greatly refined in the two-month interval from the last race
Before this race weekend there was a two-month interval from the previous round at Fuji in early July. The team greatly adjusted the suspension geometry [The positions of the suspension linkages that sets tyre position and chassis stance.] based on the experience they acquired on the Fuji Speedway, and brought the greatly refined car to the Okayama International Circuit.
You can jump into corners at a 110% and still remain in control
The new settings also responded well to the fine adjustments made for Igor on the race weekend at the track, and the feel of the car continued to improve even further.
Fraga had this to say about the new setup:
'From the start of the season, when you jumped into a corner and braked, it felt like the rear was lifting and you lost the feeling of being connected to the ground. When you add lateral G's to that it would immediately exceed the limit and slide out. Even when making adjustments sometimes there would be little to no change, or it would go a totally different direction than expected and it made it difficult to fix that bad feeling. But this time that had improved, and now when you apply lateral G's to the car in cornering the rear holds firm and you can change direction at your will, which lets you start giving it throttle earlier. In corners that I could only go at 90% before, now I can jump in at 110% and still be in control!'
The weather was also on Fraga’s side this time. In the last four rounds there was always rain at some part of the race week causing wet conditions, which did not allow him to practice in dry conditions long enough. But at Okayama the surface was dry the entire race week.
Fraga explained: 'This time it was all dry conditions so we were able to really check the performance under that state. I feel the car is now finally tuned just right'.
Up to now, there has been 12 races across four events, and Fraga had risen to the podium twice, winning one race and placing 2nd in another. This performance was obviously not good enough for Fraga, and at Okayama he went into the official qualifying on Saturday, now convinced he had what was needed to win three races in a row.
The official qualifying for Rounds 13 and 14, and the final race for Round 13 would be held on Saturday. The Final race results for Round 13 would determine the starting grid of Round 15 on Sunday.
Official Qualifying Session
The official qualifying session started from 10:30am on Saturday. But in the Round 13 qualifier Fraga felt something different with the controllability of the car, and that feeling affected his attack lap. As a result he finished the Round 13 qualifier in 2nd.
The cause of this slight difference was a small change in grip due to the tyre rubber left on the track from the Yaris Cup race held just before the qualifiers for the SFL, and a change in wind direction.
'When I started driving, the direction of the wind had changed as well as the surface condition, and I almost went out on the first corner at the start. After that I regained my composure and marked my time in the next lap.'.
In Round 14's official qualifier that started after a 10 minute interval, Fraga was calm and collected. He put together his attack lap carefully and recorded the best time, for his first pole position of the season.
Round 13 Race
Round 13 (25 laps) was held on Saturday, 9 September: the first of the 3 Final races happening this weekend was on. Fraga starting in 2nd was off to a good start, but Shun Koide in pole position was slightly faster at the start, keeping Fraga in 2nd for the approach into turn 1.
Koide kept his pace thereafter, and the gap with Fraga gradually increased. Fraga’s pace was also very good and he continued to pull away from 3rd and below, but he could not quite match Koide’s speed and received the chequered flag in 2nd place.
This was the second 2nd place finish for Fraga, the last one being in Round 4 at Sportsland SUGO. Feeling good about the car, the team prepared for Rounds 14 and 15 of the following day.
Round 14 Race
Round 14 (18 laps) was held on Sunday, 10 September: the Okayama International Circuit saw clear skies and the Final race started at 8:50am. Fraga started on Pole position.
They got onto the starting grid with new tyres that had been saved for a shot at winning.
Fraga got off to a good start, but Koide starting in 2nd accelerated better, and Fraga let Koide get a half a car length ahead on the inside at the entry to the first corner, dropping his position to 2nd.
'The start was not bad at all, but Koide accelerated better and he got ahead.' Said Fraga.
The Okayama International Circuit has a very narrow track width, making it a technical track with 13 corners of various sizes. Overtaking is extremely difficult here, and in a Super Formula Lights machine with sensitive aerodynamic characteristics, the car becomes unstable if you come too close to a car ahead of you, making it very difficult for Fraga to approach Koide.
As a result Koide remained in the lead as in the previous day, and Fraga ended the 18-lap race in 2nd.
Round 15 Race
The team suspected that the reason they lost the start dash two races in a row to Koide might be an issue with the car, and started inspections immediately after the race. As a result they found an issue with the clutch that could have been the cause, and decided to replace it before Round 15 taking place that afternoon.
Without having the time to do thorough checks (normally they would not install a brand new clutch and go racing immediately) the team made this bold decision to try to translate Igor’s obvious speed into a full victory.
The starting grid of Round 15 (18 laps) was determined by the final results of Round 13, putting Fraga 2nd on the grid. It turned out that the teams assessment of the clutch was spot on, and Fraga was now quick off the starting line, and immediately got behind Koide in pole position. Fraga was already in Koide’s slip stream on the back straight of the opening lap.
Koide moved to close the inside line towards the hairpin corner at the end of the back straight. Fraga went to the outside and lined up parallel to Koide, getting just ahead of him in braking.
However Koide took a line to approach the left revolver corner from the inside of the hairpin. Fraga on the outside of the corner lost his line and dropped one tyre into the dirt.
This resulted in Koide again getting ahead in the entry into the revolver corner, and did not allow Fraga to take the lead. After this, the same difficulty of overtaking at the Okayama International Circuit haunted Fraga as in Rounds 13 and 14, continuing to make it difficult to get by Koide.
Then on lap 16, there was a Safety Car (SC) intervention which would be the last chance for Fraga; but of course the race was only 18 laps, and the race ended there without a restart. Fraga finished the race in 2nd place for his third race in a row.
Fraga after completing Round 15 in 2nd place. His third podium finish this race weekend. (Centre: winner, Shun Koide, Right: David Vidales in 3rd)
While just missing the much anticipated win, the team gained a huge number of series points with the three consecutive 2nd place finishes. As a result Fraga’s ranking rose, making him 4th in the series
Most frustrating weekend of the year
Fraga had the following comment on this race week:
'This weekend was the best one all year, but it was also the most frustrating as well. I had been asking a lot from the team until now, but the team listened to me and reinforced their organisation, which really allowed me to fully focus on the race. I’m just frustrated that I could not fulfill their expectation this time. In Round 15 I got ahead for a moment and tried to hold my ground, but I ran out of space and I had to back off. There is only one more race week to go in this season, but using this feeling we have I want to make sure to produce results as a team in the next event.'
Fraga’s final results were three consecutive 2nd place finishes in Rounds 13, 14, and 15. With the Pole Position points from Round 14, he secured 22 series points, extending his total point score of the season to 47 points. This places Igor in 4th place in the current standings. Excluding competitors directly being supported by automobile manufacturers, Fraga is in the top position out of all private teams.
Next up: 16-17 September SUPER GT Rd.6 at SUGO
Fraga’s next race is in the Super GT Series Round 6, being held at the Sportsland Sugo of the Miyagi prefecture. You can expect to see more exciting races carrying over the momentum from the first podium finish at Suzuka in the previous round.
Super Formula Lights OKAYAMA (Rounds 13-15): Highlights
You can follow all of Igor's racing in the 2023 Super Formula Lights Championships (FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX) on the 'Igor Fraga Report' page.