Nojiri apologises for Oyu clash in Suzuka finale

Newly-crowned Super Formula champion Tomoki Nojiri has apologised for the clash that removed Toshiki Oyu from contention from Sunday’s Suzuka finale.

Mugen driver Nojiri, who sealed the title with a round to spare in the previous race at Motegi, and Nakajima Racing man Oyu came to blows while fighting over second place on the second lap of the 30-lap contest at the Esses.

Oyu had maintained his grid slot of second behind Nobuharu Matsushita on the opening lap, but came under attack from Nojiri - who jumped from fifth to third with a strong getaway - at the start of the following tour.

Nojiri went to the inside at Turn 1, but Oyu braved it out on the outside and the pair ran side-by-side exiting Turn 2, with Oyu on the inside for the first left of the Esses.

But Nojiri had the inside line for the following right-hander, and as Oyu attempted to hang on around the outside again, the pair touched, sending the Nakajima driver into the gravel and tumbling down the order.

Nojiri was given a five-second penalty for the contact, but this did not end up affecting his finishing position of third.

Reflecting on the incident, Nojiri struck an apologetic tone, saying: “I want to apologise to Oyu, whom I made contact with, Nakajima Racing and the fans supporting Oyu. 

“In that situation there was no way I was backing down, so it was a case of willpower colliding with willpower. But I think I was at fault. I always want to try and avoid making contact, so I have to improve myself in situations where I’m on the limit in a side-by-side battle.”

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN, Toshiki Oyu, TCS NAKAJIMA RACING

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN, Toshiki Oyu, TCS NAKAJIMA RACING

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

For his part, Oyu said post-race: “It wasn’t my lucky day. I don't think Nojiri had any bad intentions, and I don't blame him at all. That's part of racing.

“I think Nojiri just had more understeer than he expected. But he couldn’t just slam on the brakes, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go. That said, I should have been leading and it wasn’t good to be in a situation where I could be overtaken.”

Nojiri led the race for a spell after the contact with Oyu, after early leader Matsushita was penalised for jumping the start, but was overhauled during the pitstop phase by both Nirei Fukuzumi and Ryo Hirakawa.

It meant the 2021 champion rounded off the season with a third-place finish, his fourth podium in seven races, but “with a lot of things to work on”.

He elaborated: “From fifth on the grid for a while I was leading, so there were some good points, but some things didn’t go well like the pit timing and the out lap, and I allowed Fukuzumi and Hirakawa to get ahead. 

“The fact I couldn’t win a race that I might have been able to win is something I regret. From next season onwards, together with the team I want to improve myself and get stronger.”

Additional reporting by Kenichiro Ebii

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

Tomoki Nojiri, TEAM MUGEN

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

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