Super Formula Lights FUJI (Rounds 10-12): An Upset in Round 11 Leads Fraga to 4th Place, Preserving His 5th Place Series Ranking
Igor Fraga is the inaugural Gran Turismo World Series champion and a driver who continues to compete in real motorsport competitions around the world, including the F3. This season he has moved his focus to Japan to the Super GT300 class and Super Formula Lights series. This is a report of his latest developments.
On 15-16 July, Igor Omura Fraga competed in Rounds 10, 11, and 12 of Super Formula Lights (SFL) at Fuji Speedway with 'FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX.'
First SFL outing at the Fuji Speedway
The Fuji Speedway is one of Japan’s most well-known circuits, famous for its high-speed corners and its 1.5 km long main straight. The team had focused on downforce when they set up the car for Suzuka in the previous round, so major changes would be required for this circuit. They arrive at Fuji with the car tuned for maximum top speed.
Fraga had previous experience racing at Fuji in the Super GT championship, but this would be his first time to properly attempt the circuit in the SFL car. He also has virtual experience on the track in Gran Turismo, but the real world brings its own unique challenges as Fraga must figure out how best to utilise the delicate nature of the SFL car as he reacts to the conditions on track.
Stability troubles in mid-low speed corners lead to 9th place in qualifying
Fraga runs the tracks in Thursday and Friday’s practice sessions, but fails to improve his times. The car is struggling to maintain stability, and it becomes clear that Fraga is losing time in the consecutive mid-low speed corners of Fuji’s 3rd sector because of it.
Fraga commented on the situation:
“It was becoming quite difficult to get traction on the rear tyres, and this is actually something I had been worried about since the start of the season. But on the opener at Autopolis, then Sports Land SUGO and Suzuka Circuit after that, I was just about able to rein in the car’s tendency to oversteer thanks to the nature of those tracks. On Fuji Sector 3 though it was impossible to work with.”
(Oversteering is the phenomenon where the car continues to turn beyond the driver’s input.)
After some discussion with the team, they are able to set up the car more to Fraga’s satisfaction in preparation for Saturday’s qualifiers.
However, Fraga’s machine still fails to improve any further in the official qualifying sessions on Saturday morning. He finishes both the Round 10 and 11 qualifying sessions with the 9th place time. These would be some of the furthest back positions he had started from this season.
As the car moves from Suzuka to Fuji, major setup changes are made to focus on maximum top speed
Fraga’s times fail to improve in Fuji’s 3rd sector (mid-low speed corners) as his rear end slips away
Round 10 Race
The afternoon of Saturday, 16 July brought the Round 10 race. The weather was fair with sparse clouds in the sky. Starting from 9th place, Fraga immediately overtook another driver who was slow off the line, moving into 8th. In the first half of the race, he pushed for 7th place, but the race moved on into its final stages without an overtake for Fraga.
In the final stages of the race Fraga’s pace worsens and he is eventually overtaken from behind on the last lap. He finishes Round 10 in 9th place. “As the car kept sliding around in sector 3, in the late stages the tyres just got too hot, and I couldn’t push my pace up any further” commented Fraga.
Looking toward the next day’s Round 11 and 12 races, Fraga and the team analyzed the race data and tried to retune the car to work their way out of this slump.
Round 11 Race
Sunday, 17 July brought the same fair weather as the previous day. Fraga started the Round 11 race in 9th position.
He was able to overtake on the opening lap, moving up to 8th position. He passes again on lap 3, moving up to 7th. On lap 7, one of the cars in front is forced to retire after a collision, allowing Fraga to move up into the all-important points winning top 6 and finishes in 6th place.
Post-race penalties in the top positions improve Fraga’s position even further, pushing him up to 4th place in the official race results. This earns him 3 vital championship points.
Round 12 Race
After the weekend’s main event, the Super Formula Championship Round 6, the SFL series Round 12 begins on Sunday evening. The starting grid is determined by the results of the Round 10 race, with Fraga starting in 9th place.
Fraga overtook on the opening lap and is immediately put on the defensive as cars from behind attempt to take 8th place from him.
On lap 4, two cars from behind desperately tried to push up the grid, briefly pulling ahead of Fraga. He successfully defended his position though, and slowly closed the gap between him and the 7th place driver.
However, in the final stages Fraga’s pace drops as his tyres wear down. The hunter becomes the hunted as drivers in the rear begin to push up again. He manages to fend off his attackers until the last though and passes the chequered flag in 8th place.
Team director Kosuke Matsuura commends Fraga’s speed
Looking back over the events, FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX team director Kosuke Matsuura said “Up to the end of A corners, 100R and hairpin that make up Sector 2, Fraga was running the top times of almost all the drivers here.” He commended Fraga on his driving commenting “Fraga is still as fast as ever on Fuji”.
“The low-speed corners of sector 3 are what will affect your lap time most on Fuji. This is where Fraga’s rear tyres were slipping and making him lurch, which really dragged his times down. We made drastic setup changes to try to solve the problem, but we never managed to reach a eureka moment before we went into Saturday’s official qualifying sessions.”
He further commented “The SFL shows some very unique and special properties. You have to be very careful to avoid pitching it. And even before that, tuning the car to feel better won’t necessarily improve times. Sometimes the car is actually faster when it feels worse. We may have had some problems with our setup this time, but I think there’s also the fact that the way you have to drive an SFL car doesn’t quite match with how Fraga likes the car to feel, which lead to a tough weekend. That said though, I’m certain that Fraga can find his own ideal way to drive and use the SFL to the best of its abilities.”
After his first outings on Fuji Speedway with the SFL and earning some valuable championship points, Fraga had the following to say of the race week.
“This weekend was just so tough. I managed to show some speed in the qualifiers at Suzuka last time, but I just wasn’t able to pull it off this week. There were a lot of corners that needed traction at mid-low speeds and I lost a lot of time there. Next up we have Okayama International Circuit, then Mobility Resort Motegi so it’s all very similar courses leading up to the end of the season. I really have a lot to think about. The one good thing that happened this weekend was Round 11. I got myself up a few positions and finished in 4th which gave me some championship points.”
With the three points from Round 11, Fraga’s current SFL season points total stands at 25 points. He remains at 5th in the Series Points Ranking.
Next up: 5-6 August SUPER GT Rd. 4 at Fuji
Fraga’s next race will be three weeks from now for the Round 4 of the Super GT series on 5-6 August where he will again be racing at Fuji Speedway.