The ‘Land of the rising sun’ played host to round three of the Invictus Racing League this week, as Suzuka in Japan was the next stop on the 12 round calendar.
Bahrain and Spain had already produced so scintillating action, and with the prospect of the fast figure eight circuit highlighted by the iconic 130r, which sees the cars take the fast left hand turn at well over 190mph.
Japan has a tricky first sector, and only with one corner taken at less than 62mph, it is a fast and circuit that requires the upmost concentration for the whole duration of the 27 lap distance.
BoyBetterKnowSB (Scott) had taken the first two wins of the season and led the driver’s standings by eight points to Scopefielder with the Swede having taken consecutive podiums behind the Englishman.
Qualifying saw a battle between team-mates as Delange93 and Scopefielder traded fastest lap times in the Red Bull. It was the Swede who would win out, but the two lock out the front row for Red Bull. Whilst behind the returning Philip_mcfc set a sparkling lap on the harder soft compound to qualify third ahead of Canadian Force India driver RickWR88.
The race started without a hitch for the majority of the field, and with Scopefielder building a two second lead over the first lap it seemed ominous for the rest of the grid to catch him.
The second lap saw a disaster for Delange as contact from Rick put the Red Bull into the wall and out of the race, Rick’s Force India then spun into Dunlop curve at collected the Renault of Nismax7. That seemed to unsight the second of the Renaults, as Gavpig and Stifler1980 came into contact and narrowly missed the stricken Force India.
Scopefielder stretched a lead out over the field, but without the rear gunner of Delange, it had allowed Phil, Scott and Speed_Queen to fight over the podium positions. They continued their battle throughout the pit-window, but much to their surprise the Williams of Samuthepito came up from 11th place and used the reverse strategy to move into second and well in striking distance of Scopefielder.
Moving onto the soft tyres Sam had optimal pace versus the mediums of Scopefielder as he quickly reeled in and passed the leader. He would then control the race from the front and gap a lead in excess of ten seconds over Scope who seemed to settle for second.
Scott had been fighting with Phil and Speed_Queen over what was now third to fifth, however a late mechanical failure saw the Mercedes hit the wall on the exit of 130r and retire in a damning blow to his early championship aspirations.
Sam would come across the line and take a dominant first victory within Invictus Racing League; he did superbly well to move up from eleventh, whilst Scopefielder and Speed_Queen made up the final places on the podium, with Speed_Queen using a late penalty for Phil to jump the impressive McLaren onto the podium.
In a race that saw six retirements, it was a masterful display from the Spanish driver. Sam has shown great speed since joining the league and the win seemed almost inevitable, but with Scott non scoring it blows the championship wide open as we head back to Europe and the Austrian Grand Prix.
Racing AaronStiff had shared both wins in the first two rounds of the season, but Craig8728 led the championship after a strong start to the season. The potential for a race to remember was definitely on the cards for the Performance 1 league, and with a number of drivers capable to win the race, it was a guessing game early on to decide who would be on the podium by the end of Tuesday night.
Using another excellent lap in qualifying, Aaron made it consecutive pole positions as he topped the timing sheets in his Force India. The team were delighted with his pace, but with the likes of BoyBetterKnowSB (Scott) alongside him in row one, and with SJD in third on the soft compound they looked to be a real threat to the pole-sitter.
The race began well for Aaron and Scott who get away well off the line, but a bad line into turn one disastrously dropped SJD back down to 12th position as the majority of the field streamed by the Renault. Scott made a move for the lead early on, and after getting his Toro Rosso to the front of the pack would stretch a two and half second lead early into the race.
Current driver’s leader Craig had started on the back row after a fault in qualifying, and after a group of cars ahead all caused chaos into the final chicane, Betrayer46 had come away with wing damage and as he tried to enter the pit-lane he collided with the tyre wall and with no-where to go, both Craig and Captain_Stiff careened into the rear end of the Haas with all three retiring abruptly on lap four.
xMIKexSI had made his way towards the front in the Ferrari, but contact with SirSpud early into the race had ended the Red Bull’s evening early at the final chicane. Mike shook off the initial remorseful reaction and got back on the pace and through the mid-point of the race made a move on Aaron for second position into turn one, and after contact with the Force India he muscled his way through.
Scott had a commanding lead at the front, and would come home unchallenged for his first win in Performance 1; the Toro Rosso didn’t put a foot wrong all night and made up for his disaster in No-Assists one night previous to take all 15 points.
Mike picked up a first podium of the season in the Ferrari ahead of SJD who will be happy with his third place after his disappointing start to the race.
Scott takes the lead in the championship after Craig and Stiff both retired, Aaron sits in second four points off the leader. Whilst in the constructors, it’s as you were with Know Nothing Racing leading Racing AaronStiff, but the pack is starting to catch up to the early leaders.
A small grid on Tuesday would only intensify the talent that was still on show. Scopefielder had set the early pace as he looks to retain his Performance 2 title, however it was Megglugpy who won last week in Spain, and the Brit would look at continuing that form after a poor round one saw him pick up only three points.
Qualifying saw a return to form for Nitrogash after what seems like months of bad luck, the experienced British driver dropped his Mercedes on pole alongside Scopefielder.
Megglugpy had been the only driver to start of the medium compound, and with drivers around him struggling for tyre wear late into the first stint, he was able to keep up and eventually take the lead after the round of stops.
He would eventually break a three second lead over F1_MrP80 who had a superb session in the Haas to pick up a debut podium, whilst Nitrogash finally celebrated a podium which has long eluded him. It was well received by all and the ten championship points are a huge boost in the championship.
Scopefielder could only manage fourth in the Williams, but the result still maintains his lead in the race for the title, but with the gap back to Megg now only at two points. The grid will start to notice possible cracks in the armour of the Swedish driver.
Mdoran09 was leading after the first two races in the championship, but with Scopefielder having picked up the victory in Spain last week, the Swedish driver was high on confidence, and after a good performance in the Performance league the night before, Scope would go into round three with his sights firmly set on a second win.
However qualifying was set alight by A_Singh99 in the Williams after a fascinating battle with the lightning fast VSR_Odemz in the Haas, the two traded fastest laps but with time running out on the session it was Singh who was able to take pole position by five hundredths of a second.
Bright blue skies in qualifying were replaced by a damp and drizzly circuit for the race, the pack knew that they would need to be incredibly careful into the first sector and that grip would be at a minimum.
Odemz blasted past Singh off the line, the pole sitter had a shocker as he spun the wheels on the greasy surface, he then ran wide into turn one and by the end of the first sector had already dropped to fourth.
The leader began to stream away from the field, and by lap six had already accumulated a nine second lead over Scopefielder in second. Whilst behind a superb battle ensued over sixth as a number of cars including WaveIntel, Betrayer and mdoran09 fought over the position.
Looking almost unbeatable, the Haas driver of Odemz made a very early stop on the intermediate tyres, but immediately started making up lost ground as he passed Megglugpy for fourth and with the move done before 130r he looked in fine shape to chase down the top three, but in the blink of an eye around 130R he touched the run off area and speared into the wall and out of the race.
The track had started to dry up and on lap ten WaveIntel was the first one to brave a dry tyre choice, this turned out to be a poor decision for the Scot, with no traction available into turn ten he ran his Toro Rosso into the wall and out of the race, this seemed to spark a mad minute in F1 as both Tombombtank and Singh retired along with Betrayer and Samuthepito all hitting different walls, as the cars struggled on the worn intermediate tyres.
Scopefielder had driven a perfectly executed race, and moving onto the medium tyres at the right time, he would come home and take another victory in F1 and a statement making result in the championship. He would come ahead of Foxyred and Megglugpy who fought hard over the final stages on the race, but it would be the McLaren of Foxy who would win out ahead of the Toro Rosso on time penalties.
Scope assumes the championship lead as we head to Austria, but if Odemz is able to make a regular showing in the season then we the field may have a real battle to keep the championship competitive to round twelves. That isn’t understating Scope’s win, and after two on the bounce for the Renault driver, he looks well placed early on to be a front-runner in the F1 title race.
Invictus rookie F2 runner GoodStuff had won the first race in Bahrain, but a late problem in Spain dropped him off the podium and made the gap between him and the field much smaller as we came to Japan. The likes to NickLJThomson, Humbostone and mj_coop would all be on high alert in Suzuka, with all of them aware that a win could propel them into top spot in the standings.
Qualifying was contested under an overcast and dreary day in Suzuka, and with the ever present threat of rain, the paddock knew that laps on the board early would be important.
Time was counting down in the session, and although GP1_Alex and Humbostone looked well placed to battle over pole position, they would be surpassed by an excellent lap from Craig8728 in the Toro Rosso. It proved to be unbeatable as time expired in the session, as Craig took a fantastic pole position ahead of Humbostone and GP1_Alex. Whilst title leader GooDStuff was in sixth on the harder soft compound tyre compared to the drivers ahead.
It was a superb launch off the line for the McLaren of Humbostone in P2 as he thundered past a helpless Craig into turn one as the rest of the field made their way through cleanly.
NeverMiss00 had seen a superb start and moved up from fourteenth into ninth in the second McLaren, whilst it was a frustrating start for Nismax who picked up damage on lap one and had to stop on lap one and dropped to the back of the pack.
Craig started to struggle on the older supersoft tyres, and by lap seven had already dropped to fourth behind Nick and Alex, whilst GooDStuff and mj_coop were certainly starting to swarm the rear end of the Scot’s gearbox.
We saw a brief flurry of retirements and incidents early in the race, with Vintinho coming into contact with Jamie6328, whilst Steen retired abruptly on lap seven with NeverMiss having also dropped way down the order.
Last week’s race winner White-Fountain wasn’t fairing as well in Japan, and whilst fighting in the midfield, a clash of wheels at 130r with Humbostone put the Renault into the wall and then the unfortunate Tinuss would be a passenger as the White-Fountains cars rebounded back on track ultimately ending both drivers’ races on lap 12 in a disappointing end for both drivers.
Disaster for the pole-sitter Craig on lap 18, a spin into turn one would drop him way down the order, and with his race going from bad to worse, he would find himself last of the runners in eleventh place with less than ten laps to go.
At the head of the field NickLJThomson made a move for the lead on Humbostone, and with three laps remaining he pushed hard to stretch a three second lead to negate a penalty, but it wasn’t to be for the Ferrari who although crossing the line first would drop behind Humbostone in the race classification. GP1 Alex equally found the stewards at his detriment as penalties would relegate him off the podium and promoted a relieved mj_coop who after a zero point score last week needed a return to form.
Pending a steward’s enquiry after the incident with white-fountain, Humbostone closes the gap to GooDStuff, but it’s NickLJThomson who sits behind the leader by one point. However, he will move into first if Humbostone is awarded a penalty for his part in the incident. F2 is going to be close this season, and mistakes could prove costly by the time we go to Monza for round twelve. Who can keep their nerve?
After taking 27 from a possible 30 points early in the season, Captain_Stiff was F3’s unlikely leader and with an eleven point margin back to team-mate Tejuarr, both Williams drivers would be looking at maintaining their good starts early in the season.
However qualifying didn’t go to plan for either, and with Stiff not posting a competitive lap and Tejuarr only able to make it into fifth both would have work to do. It was a much more productive session for the_willo97 in the Haas who scored a brilliant pole position ahead of pre-season title favourite FerociousDan.
The race started well for willo off the line and leading the pack away he was able to keep both McLarens and last week’s second place man Briggsy500 at bay. In contrast at the back, the trio of Stiff, Booje and Fascone were all caught out by a spinning Steelbl66 and with severe wing damage to all three, it would require very early stops and effectively rule them out of contention.
Booje had gone into the season along with Dan and Richard as the favourites for the F3 title, but after a poor showing in Spain in the wet the Renault was looking at clawing back some points in the title race, he certainly wasn’t expecting to be retiring early on in Japan, but unfortunately that’s exactly how it transpired, and with Fascone equally retiring after his pit-stop both will see themselves as incredible unlucky so early into the season.
Throughout the early part of the race, willo did very well as the McLaren of Dan added relentless pressure, whilst the Woking based outfit were delighted as Richard sat in third ahead of SnoopMarky in fourth. The pit-stops saw the top three mimic each other and go for the ultra-aggressive supersoft-soft tyre strategy, and it would see them having to really take care across the bumpy circuit.
A slow exit from the final chicane on lap 18 from Willo would line up Dan perfectly, and the McLaren who never needs a second invitation soared down the inside into turn one into the lead. The two would continue to battle, but with tyres fading and willo knowing that he was due a time penalty, it became a race of preservation as he slowly started dropping back from the McLaren.
Dan crossed the line and took McLaren’s first race win of the season, and with the constructor behind Williams in the title race, it was a much needed and celebrated win. Willo held on for second, whilst SnoopMarky celebrated a second career F3 podium in third after overhauling F1Richard.
It was a sublime battle between Dan and Willo who both deserved the applause of the fans, but more importantly for Dan, he recovers a huge amount of ground in both the drivers and constructors. The Williams suffered all race long, with Tejuarr unable to make up ground in sixth and Stiff recovering from his early contact into eighth, Williams and McLaren now sit joint top on 51 points after three races.
The title race has been blown wide open now after Dan outscored Stiff by 12 points, and he now sits only two points off Stiff, but with Austria next, a track which promotes close racing and overtaking, we look to be instore for another high quality F3 race.
Join us in Austria for another round of superb F1 action, we will be at 25% distance in the calendar and will start to see who can put themselves into contention for a championship run. Check out @InvictusRL for all stream links and details on next week’s racing