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Category: Formula Nippon

Gary ThompsonGary Thompson capped his 2011 season perfectly this week with a successful maiden test in premier Asian single-seater series Formula Nippon.

The 19-year-old has spent this year competing in Japanese F3 for the SGC by KCMG team, recording a breakthrough win and scooping an additional five podium finishes. He remained with the squad for his first taste of Formula Nippon, enjoying two days of running at the Fuji International Speedway on Monday and Tuesday (November 28/29).

Although at the controls of a significantly faster machine than he is used to, Thompson quickly settled down to business in the 3.4-litre Toyota V8-powered car, delivering competitive times within a few laps of hitting the circuit. Growing in confidence throughout, he was able to outpace his experienced team-mate by a considerable margin whilst also putting a clutch of series regulars and a former DTM and GP2 campaigner in the shade.

Formula Nippon is notoriously tough for rookies to get to grips with thanks to the technical nature of its Swift FN09 chassis and the presence of several world-class drivers amongst its ranks.

Despite this Thompson made a strong impression on his team, who handed him extra time behind the wheel after his impressive performance on Monday. This level of trust bodes well for the Irishman as he seeks to take the next step up the motor racing ladder.

Gary Thompson: “Firstly, I’d like to thank Toyota, KCMG and SG Changi for giving me the chance to take part in this test. Their support has been invaluable and I’m truly grateful for it.

“The car is really fun to drive: it’s seriously quick, but at the same time you can grab it by the scruff of the neck and really attack it.

“I was able to settle in to a rhythm quickly, which was great. Initially the high-speed corners were a challenge but by the end I feel I was very strong in them. I think I stood up to the increased physical demands of the car too, so that’s very positive.

“Though the test went well we still aren’t making Nippon our priority for 2012 as this was more of a learning experience. That said, if the right offer of a seat came along I certainly wouldn’t rule it out as I’m very keen to get the opportunity to go racing in one of these cars. Formula Nippon remains one of my long-term goals and I’m thrilled to have made a positive first impression.”

Thompson’s focus will now switch to firming up his plans for next season as he bids to build on the momentum his career has gained during the past 12 months. With a maiden Japanese F3 win to his name and now a successful Formula Nippon test under his belt the Dubliner will be looking to go from strength to strength in 2012.

Follow Gary Thompson on:
Twitter: @GThompsonRacing

Andrea Caldarelli successfully completed his 2011 Formula Nippon season today at Fuji. After suffering from an unlucky break at Motegi last weekend, the Pescara-based Team Kondo racer rounded out a solid and highly-competitive weekend that brought him to a double 9th place in qualifying and at the end of the race. The final round of the season, named the Fuji Sprint Cup featured an unique qualifying format as well as a shortened race distance. Drivers run just a single qualifying lip in Super Pole style, then their position was determined by pairing their laptime with their top speed. While a third-row spot was definitely in his frame, Andrea settled for 9th and en-route to providing a really positive performance on Race Day. After being forced to lift the throttle at the first corner thus lifting three spots in avoidance of a contact, he made up all the ground lost finishing in the 9th position.

Andrea Caldarelli:
“I spent an incredibly beautiful year in Japan. I landed here in May, discovering a completely new reality for me, and it really became part of myself and my personality. Team Kondo have been really close to me and we truly helped each other to accomplish our common goals. At the start of the year, we were really far away from the top guys but with hard work now we’re battling in the middle of the pack.

“With wet weather I proved how fast can be both at Autopolis and Fuji. A lot of really important people in Japanese racing praised me and that’s been great. Now I’m set to be back in Europe to take part in the selections of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy where I hope not to suffer too much from the jet-lag and the huge physical effort of the last couple of weeks.”

Andrea CaldarelliThe 5th round of the 2011 Formula Nippon, scheduled for this weekend at Suzuka, was canceled due to the adverse weather that plagued the Japanese venue. As a consequence, Andrea Caldarelli was forced to step off the cockpit, relinquishing what would have been a valuable chance to increase his experience in the series. The arrival of Cyclone Talas forced to reschedule all the racing activities before the races was eventually called off for good on Sunday. The promoter is now weighing the possibilities available to recover the round lost. The most likely scenario would see the Formula Nippon cars race in next November’s Sprint Cup at Fuji for points rather than just for exhibition purposes.

Andrea Caldarelli
“Losing the race at Suzuka has been a pity. First, I think it’s one of the best tracks in the World. Then, my season started there last May and it would have been great to check my progress on a circuit I already know in order to reduce my experience gap to the others. Despite this issue, the promoters did a fantastic job in creating a media event that established a great connection between drivers and fans. We were able to meet the fans and spend the day with them. The people here is great, so passionate. When the decision to cancel the weekend came, everybody was still on the grandstands under pouring rain just to wait if we would have started… they’ve been incredible. Now we’re already focusing on next round, set for September 25 at Sugo.”

Alexandre ImperatoriAlexandre Imperatori produced a gutsy comeback drive at Autopolis on Sunday to record the first points’ finish of his maiden Formula Nippon campaign.

The Swiss star, fresh off the back of another Porsche Carrera Cup Asia double victory the previous weekend, turned his attention to Japan’s powerful one-make single seater series with the intention of scoring points in just his second outing following a top ten finish on debut at Suzuka.

After knocking out a number of experienced drivers to reach the second stage of Saturday’s qualifying for the second consecutive round, a slight team miscalculation ultimately left the SGC by KCMG Toyota lining up 12th for Sunday’s 54-lap race, which began in damp but drying conditions. Like most of the field Imperatori started on wet tyres, maintaining position in the opening laps before swapping to slicks.

Having initially struggled with the car’s balance in wet conditions, a change of rubber proved the catalyst for Imperatori’s impressive fight back as he picked off those ahead one by one over the remaining 51 laps while also managing to preserve his tyres over the long stint. Seventh place, two points and leading rookie were his reward at the chequered flag.

Imperatori: “I came here this weekend determined to score points after a decent start to my Nippon career at Suzuka. While I was pleased to make it through to Q2 again, it’s true I was disappointed with 12th. Because of a timing error I didn’t have enough laps to complete the optimal tyre warming sequence which compromised my subsequent flying lap.

“I’m so pleased we turned that around on Sunday. With dry settings the first three laps on wet weather tyres proved very challenging. The grip levels just weren’t there and if I’m honest we probably pitted a lap later than we should. That cost us time but fortunately the car came alive and I was able to push hard straight away which made catching and passing those ahead a bit easier. On new tyres it’s tempting to use all the available grip straight away so I’m delighted that we managed to nurse the tyres for over 50 laps while still pushing hard. All in all it’s been an extremely satisfying weekend. The team performed brilliantly and to come away as top rookie with two points shows we’re heading in the right direction.”

Imperatori travels to Ordos, China on July 8-10 where he will attempt to maintain the perfect start to his Porsche Carrera Cup Asia championship. A week later he steps back into single seaters for round three of Formula Nippon at Fuji.

Björn Wirdheim

Björn’s comments on Day 3:

“The weather conditions during the race were even worse than at the previous race at Suzuka. We started in wet conditions but had to switch to dry tyres as soon as we possibly could. We ran the remainder of the race on dry tyres but half way through it started raining again. It was probably the most difficult race I’ve ever driven due to the weather, we had to stay out on slicks in the rain hoping that it would stop before it became impossible to continue. Some drivers switched back to rain tyres again and when the circuit was at its worst they were lapping 2-3 seconds quicker than us. But it eventually stopped raining and started drying and we were at an advantage again,”

“Unfortunately I lost out on a podium finish with two laps remaining. I didn’t realize Motoyama was closing as fast on us as he did and when I started pushing again I made a small mistake and ran wide. I managed to hang on to third but unfortunately I was on the wet part of the circuit braking into turn three. Motoyama got by as I skipped through the gravel and after that there wasn’t much I could do”

“Still, we scored points, we were the best Honda powered car and out of three races so far in the season we’ve never finished worse than fourth. So it’s looking pretty good and I’m pleased with our progress. The team did a very good job, once again we had a trouble free weekend and our pit stop was once of the quickest.”

Björn WirdheimBjörn’s comments:

“I got a fantastic start and went from my 11th starting position into 3rd before the first corner. We weren’t quick enough to keep up with the leaders during the first couple of laps and I was struggling with the car early on. But throughout the stint the balance improved and when Benoit got his drive through penalty I was able to take the lead and comfortably maintain it throughout the first stint,”

“It turned into a difficult race as our radio system failed just before the start of the race so my engineer wasn’t able to give me any information. Therefore it took some time before I realized that it was Loic, the driver in front of me during the last stint, that was the actual leader. But I had no idea whether he’d been in for his pit stop or not,”

“Towards the end it started raining on and off and at one point it was clearly time for rain tyres. However, that was with less than 5 laps remaining so we had no choice but to stay out and try to complete the race distance. Drivers were spinning off left and right and it got a little bit too exciting. But we managed to keep it on the track and finish our first race on the podium in 2nd position,”

“DoCoMo Team Dandelion made a good job this weekend and helped me get something very good out of a weekend that due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t start out that well. Our pit stop was one of the quickest during the race. Everybody in the team are now highly motivated for the next race at Motegi.”