Super Formula Lights AUTOPOLIS (Rounds 1-3): Igor Omura Fraga Gains First Points of the Season with 'FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX'!
Igor Fraga is the first world champion of the Gran Turismo World Series, and is also a driver who continues to challenge real motorsports in the European F3 and other races around the world. This season he has moved his stage to Japan in the Super GT300 class and the Super Formula Lights. This is a report of Fraga’s challenge in the opening round of Super Formula Lights.
On 20 and 21 May, Igor Omura Fraga competed in the opening round of the Japanese Super Formula Lights (SFL) championship series, hosted at the Autopolis International Race Course in the Oita Prefecture of Japan.
The Super Formula Lights is a category just below the top 'Super Formula' one. 12 teams compete this season, with young upcoming drivers aiming to become the top, and Fraga is competing in the 'FANATEC-GRAN TURISMO with B-MAX' car.
Until 2020 Fraga had been competing mainly in Europe in the FIA-F3 with an aim to enter F1 racing, but with the Coronavirus pandemic, his racing activity had been interrupted for two and a half years. This would be his first comeback race, but unable to get in adequate practice runs off season, the opening round of SFL in Autopolis would be an off-the-cuff race week for him. He had this to say just prior to qualifying:
"I had the opportunity to drive the SFL maybe 4-5 times before the organisation for this year was established. But because we did not have good weather for those tests, I’m entering this race week without having been able to really practice at all. The SFL is a very difficult car to overtake in, so how well you do in qualifying to get into a good position, and how well you start the final race is really 90% of the battle. That’s why qualifying is so important. And to get that one great time in qualifying, you need to know your car through and through. But honestly, I can’t say I’ve really mastered driving the SFL quite yet."
The SFL this season is three rounds per event, with those three rounds being relatively short distance sprint races hosted during the race week. The official qualifying takes place on Saturday, with Round 1 happening that afternoon, then Rounds 2 and 3 on Sunday.
10 minute timed sessions are held in Saturday’s official qualifying, which determine the starting grids for Rounds 1 and 2. The starting grid for Round 3 is determined by the final results of Round 1.
For Fraga, the official qualifying in this opening round was pretty much his first drive with the car in full dry conditions.
While he had said that "I can’t say I’ve really mastered driving the SFL quite yet," he still had a good attack run in the short qualifying session, finishing 2nd in the first official qualifying out of 12 cars, and 4th place in the qualifier for the 2nd race. This result was better than some of the drivers backed by automotive manufacturers. "I went out onto the track not quite used to the car yet, and not knowing what the dry surface of Autopolis is like, but I decided just to drive without really thinking about it too much and conjuring up an image since I just didn’t know enough. In the end I think that actually worked better for me and I’m very happy with this result." Fraga has commented.
It looked as though he was in a good groove from qualifying, but the situation started to change from Round 1 on Saturday afternoon.
Plagued by clutch issues
Fraga tried to enter the track for the 21 laps of Round 1, but he felt something wrong with the clutch. He had also experienced this same issue during testing before. He waited with uncertainty for the start signal, and engaged the clutch at the start - but found that the clutch did not connect properly causing the engine to sputter and lose speed. As a result, he fell from a 2nd place start to almost last place.
Fraga pushed to regain position, but as a result came into contact with a car he was about to pass and overran the track, losing even more time.
The team called back Fraga on lap 4 to retire out of this round. They decided on a strategy to save the tyres, rather than over pushing in a condition where a top position finish looked difficult. This decision was affected by the tyre usage rules of the SFL: in the SFL, teams are limited to three fresh tyre sets during a race week. If a team uses one set for qualifying, one set for Round 1, and one set for Round 2, they are forced to run Round 3 with worn tyres. On the other hand if tyres are saved in Round 1, those tyres could be used in Round 3 to get an advantage over rivals.
On the other hand the clutch problem on Fraga’s machine still could not be identified, and there was no way to handle the situation but try to avoid the problem with careful clutch operations of the driver.
Gaining first points in Round 2 under troubled conditions
Round 2 took place in the morning hours on Sunday, with 14 laps.
Fraga, who was in 4th place in the official qualifying, took off to a good start accelerating successfully by carefully babying the clutch, and immediately vying for 3rd place. However he was not able to raise his position from 4th place. While cars from the rear chased him hard, he took some good lines to hold them down, and finished Round 2 in 4th. With this result he gained three valuable series points in the opening rounds of the season, points critical for fighting for the SFL series champion title.
Round 3 hosted on Sunday afternoon was also 14 laps. Because the starting grid of Round 3 is determined by the results of Round 1, Fraga started at the very back of the grid since he retired out of Round 1.
But in Round 3, one car retired, and another car was not able to run the formation lap before starting, so Fraga's actual starting position was moved up to 10th place.
Fraga also got a good start in Round 3. He quickly outpaced the cars in front of him, and raised his position to 6th in the opening lap. Then he went to work on 5th place, who seemed to have trouble raising their pace.
However on lap 4 as he tried to make his pass, he was successfully blocked by the car in front and lost speed, and a car behind him took the opportunity to overtake him. This dropped Fraga to 7th place, and he finished the race there, which did not grant him any series points for Round 3.
Burning for revenge
After the three rounds of racing in the opening event, Fraga was not hiding his disappointment. He also seemed to have newfound determination for the next event.
This weekend was disappointing all around. Though I had a good flow going in qualifying, I had engine stalling problems and the race week just seemed to fall apart gradually after that. It was good that I was able to get points in Round 2, but in Round 3 though I was able to come up from last place to a position aiming for 5th, I overdid it and lost position instead.
"I think it was a weekend where a lot of issues came to light. The car is still not perfect, and myself being away from racing for the last two years, am not performing at my best yet. In the next race we will raise our level as a team on both sides, to fight for a better position.
The next stage is back to the SUPER GT at the Suzuka Circuit
Fraga’s next race is Round 3 of the SUPER GT series hosted at the Suzuka Circuit of the Mie prefecture, on 3-4 June. The second event for the Super Formula Lights is just after that at the Sportsland SUGO circuit of the Miyagi prefecture, on 17-18 June.