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Category: Formula 3 Japan

Gary ThompsonGary Thompson helped officially open Taiwan’s all-new Penbay International Circuit in spectacular style last weekend when he got behind the wheel of a two-seater Formula 1 car.

The 19-year-old Dubliner, who has spent this season contesting the Japanese Formula 3 Championship, became the youngest Irishman in history to drive a modern grand prix car, as well as the first from any nation to pilot one in Taiwan, after accepting an invitation to offer distinguished guests passenger rides at the 3.5km circuit’s opening.

It was also an opportunity for Thompson to catch up with team personnel from KCMG who, having overseen his 2011 single-seater campaign, were now sampling their first taste of running Formula 1 machinery. It was also a new experience for the thousands of fans in attendance, many of whom had never witnessed a grand prix car in the flesh before.

Of course this was just another day at the office for Thompson who, despite the wet conditions, enjoyed his time behind the wheel of the Minardi F1x2 which produces in excess of 700bhp thanks to its race-derived 3-litre Cosworth V10 engine.

Gary Thompson: “The car has a lot of power which can be difficult to exploit in the wet, but I know the circuit and KCMG CEOs enjoyed the wheelspin regardless! I’ve been racing in Asia for the past three seasons so to be the first person to drive a Formula 1 car in Taiwan is personally extremely rewarding. Penbay International Circuit is a great venue with a lot of potential in a part of the world that is really beginning to embrace motor sport. Everyone at the track did a fantastic job to get it up to standard in time for the event. You never know, I might be back here one day putting my local knowledge to good use!”

Follow Gary Thompson on:
Twitter: @GThompsonRacing

Alexandre Imperatori completed a strong week-end in Motegi with two second places, and secured big points for the Japan Championship as he catches up in the standings.

The sixth round of the Japanese Formula 3 championship was held at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi prefecture, 140km north of Tokyo.

For this round, tyre supplier Hankook had developed a new compound of tyre to cope with the very hot conditions found in Japan during the summer. The competitors sampled this tyres for the first time during practice on friday and were very surprised with the behavior.

Alexandre Imperatori: “The new tyre seems to be much harder because we lost a lot of adherence compare to the old one. It is much trickier to drive and we have to work hard to find the proper setup to make these tyres work. It’s actually a shame because we had put the finger on an excellent setting with the previous tyres so everything must be done again.”

To make this challenge even harder, rain disrupted the practice sessions so deciding setup of the cars for saturday’s qualifying was indeed a bit of a gamble.

During the qualifying 1, Alexandre could set a time of 1.49.0 and secured a front row starting position beside Honda’s Yamamoto who managed to go a tenth quicker than the Shanghai-based swiss.

In an attempt to solve some overall grip issues, minor changes were made to the car for the second qualifying. Unfortunately these didn’t pay off as Alexandre could just manage 1.49.2 and with the level of competition in the championship this year, the two tenths missing meant the swiss from KCMG would start race 2 from the fourth place.

In race 1, Alexandre attempted to jump into the lead at the start but suffered slightly too much wheel spin and couldn’t mount an attack. Still struggling with grip, Alexandre pushed to stay with leader Yamamoto and in front of ex-GP2 racer Sekiguchi. With overtaking difficult in Motegi the 14-laps race was rather uneventful and the top three finished in the order they started: Yamamoto from Imperatori from Sekiguchi.

Alexandre Imperatori: “If you can’t pass at the start, it is hard to do it later in Motegi but I have to consider the championship and second is not a bad operation. Tomorrow we start 4th so it will be harder for sure but with a good start everything is possible!”

Indeed, when start of race 2 was given at 12.45 local time, Alexandre got off the line well to slot in second place of the 20 laps race. “start was OK but I still had issues with wheel-spin which I believe are related with the new compound of tyre. Otherwise I believe we could even have gotten the lead, but it was already a good effort.”

Overnight, the team changed a major component on the car to try to find the lacking grip with these new tyre specification and while it worked rather well in the early stages of the race, it became worse as the tyres wore off and leader Yamamoto slowly edged away. Nonetheless, Alexandre secured his second runner-up finish of the week-end, without having been threatened during a race that involved physical fitness and mental focus as well. Indeed, the weather was extremely hot and humid and Alexandre was glad he could count on a recent strong training session with his trainer in Shanghai!

Alexandre Imperatori: “For the championship it was very important to have a strong and consistent week-end and score points in both races. We have achieved this target and we came back into 3rd place in the standing, closing on 2nd place. But it will be very important to find a way to make the car work better with these new tyres, like we managed to do with the first specification of tyres.”

Just two weeks after the last round in Fuji, The Japan F3 competitors met again in Suzuka for round 5 of the championship.

On this extremely technical circuit, the target was to put in some solid points for the championship.

As usual, friday was put to good use by the teams to fine tune the setup of the cars during the two practice sessions of one hour each. In the KCMG team, a lot of focus was put on race work with major tyre degradation anticipated in the very hot and humid weather.

Alexandre didn’t opt to use his new set of tyre and times on old tyres were encouraging but the field definitely seemed to be extremely tight, especially at the front.

For saturday morning’s two qualification sessions, the window of optimal tyre performance was known to be of just a single lap: no room for mistake. On his first and only attempt, “Alex” did a good lap but fell just short of second place and secured third on the grid. For the second qualifying segment, Alexandre modified the tyre management strategy, adding one more warmup lap. He subsequently improved his mark by 2 tenths, with an overall good and mistake-free lap but that was only good enough for 4th. The gap covering 2nd place to 6th place being just a tenth and a half. In the meantime, Honda driver Yamamoto had been using home ground advantage to secure pole positions.

Alexandre: “This qualifying is probably one of the most closely fought I have ever taken part in. I think my lap was already really good but we were playing with hundredth out there… Race will be close but we have prepared for this and with a good start everything is possible. Let’s wait and see”

In the afternoon, Imperatori lined up third on the grid and when the lights went off, immediately jumped into second before pulling a move around the outside of Yamamoto in the quick firstsecond corners to take the lead. The KCMG driver pushed hard to open a gap but Yamamoto could keep up with the Swiss thanks to the slipstream. Ensued a close fight for many laps with the Honda driver trying his very best to take back his position but Alexandre could respond to everything he threw at him, in a good display of race craft. Finally, with three laps to go, Yamamoto spun out of second place in his attempt to stay close to Imperatori. This effectively eased the pressure and gave the number 20 racer a clear path to victory as the two men had pulled a gap over Honda’s Kobayashi and Nissan’s Sato.

Imperatori: “The start was the key and I took just the necessary amount of risks. Then I had to fight real hard to keep the lead because every lap I had to defend into the chicane. I could pull away in the first two third of the lap to see this advantage reduced in the back straight. Probably one of my best race to date, if not in performance, at least in race craft.”

On sunday, Alexandre again took an amazing start from 4th to take 3rd immediately. He then shadowed Sato and closed to within 2 tenths of the Nissan protege in preparation for a move. Unfortunately, he tripped as he lost his downforce following Sato into the fast S-corners and had a scary moment before he could rejoin albeit three positions down. Glued with slower cars and struggling with some aerodynamic damages, the young swiss managed to secure the 2 points for 5th place.

Ryuji Doi, Team manager: “It’s a pity Alexandre had a small mistake in race 2 in an otherwise excellent week-end. We could fight for 2nd place today. But we are hopeful for the next races and overall we can’t complain about our week-end: we beat favorite Honda yesterday, and our sights are set on the championship.”

The Japan F3 finale was set to be at Sugo, a few hours north of Tokyo: the track featured important level changes, a very twisty first sector and very high speed second part so that it would prove quite a challenge for the drivers.

On thursday, Alexandre concentrated on learning this new track and was experiencing difficulties with the handling of the car and focused on solving these issues. “We are lacking general grip and the circuit is very particular so we need to find the right adjustments that will suit the car best. We are not quite there yet so we need to keep working hard in tomorrow’s practices” Alexandre said on thursday evening.

After further improvements on friday, Alexandre felt more confident for the rest of the week end: on new tyres he could manage to set the second fastest time and knew were to improve on the last couple tenths.

For saturday’s qualifying, Alexandre had to secure two good lap times for each of the last two round’s grids. On his first set of tyres, he set a good time of 1.17.2 that put him in second place on the timing boards. With his second set, he managed his very first lap in 1.17.1 and was on a flyer the next lap when the session was red-flagged. Right before the redflag, team-mate Ali had had time to put in his lap (1.17.08) that pushed back Alex in 3rd place for race 2 while Alexandre was 2nd for the first race’s start. The session was not to be restarted.

At the start of race 1, the young swiss again did one of his now customary great starts to take the lead from second and was leading when an unfortunate mistake allowed the three competitors behind him to pass: “I went a bit wide on a curb as I was pushing hard to make a gap but the curb pulled me on the grass and I had to lift while the others passed me down the straight.” Alexandre bemoaned afterwards. Indeed, Sugo is a track that provide very little overtaking opportunities and Alexandre crossed the finish line in 4th.

On sunday, the weather conditions turned rainy and nobody knew what to expect. Imperatori went from 3rd to second at the start and was putting pressure on the leader for the first 8 laps and the two were clearing from the rest of the field. But as the conditions worsened, the other drivers behind managed to plug the gap and Alexandre fell back to 4th but quickly reclaimed 3rd place by overtaking the early leader of the race. In the later stages of the 25 laps race, Alexandre posted fast laps to close-in on 2nd-placed Matsushita but lacked a few laps to find a way past. Still Alexandre was crowned vice-champion with a last podium of a successful season.

Alexandre Imperatori: “The season was really good, I feel we progressed well and I learned much. Becoming vice-champion with a last podium was important even though I would have preferred to win. I wish to congratulate and thank my whole team for this successful year!”

“Becoming vice champion of such a strong championship means a lot but I look forward to more racing here and stepping on the top step in the near future.”

After setting his print in the japanese racing world, Alexandre now hopes to continue his successful streak in the far-east in 2009. Stay tuned for more information!

Carlo van DamDutch racing driver Carlo van Dam today clinched second place at Fuji in the second round of the 2008 Japanese Formula 3 Championship. Yesterday, Carlo also finished second in his Toyota Team TOM’s Dallara and he is now placed second in the championship standings.

“I had a good start. I was able to gain a position and ended up in second place. After that there was not much drama, for I was quicker than the ones behind me, but I could not really attack my team mate Iguchi. I lost quite a lot of time in the track’s third section this weekend. It is a series of tight corners where you have to go through very slowly, because as soon as you push a little there, you lose speed instantly. In the end I went wide once and that created a gap. I am quite happy with my debut here, however. I guess my car and I sort of belonged in second place here this weekend and we have scored valuable points.

“Particularly at Fuji we are still looking for some extra speed and a better setup, as was clear already during testing. In any case we did well in terms of championship points here and now it is a matter of making more progress. This Tuesday we are testing again, at Motegi, and I look forward to the next races, which will be held at Autopolis during the final weekend of April.”