Lee Thompson Suzuka Review
After joining the team decision to skip Sebring earlier in the season to join in the the WCS practice as Suzuka, I felt pretty confident with our setup to start my week. Alex had already shown us what it was capable of with his blistering qualifying netting him 6th on the grid in the WCS race! Decided to run a couple more qualifying sessions then normal to try to force my way as close to the front of the grid as possible and was ecstatic when I nailed a 29.463 (lost a tenth at the final chicane, typical that you always want more!) which put me 3 and a half tenths clear of the nearest A-Class time (Oomishima) and right in the mix with the WCS/Pro drivers!
After testing I hadn’t really felt comfortable with a no stop strategy and the heavy fuel at the start even though the numbers suggested this should be the quicker journey through the race. As a result I had to rely on my 1 stop strategy helping me get the jump on any no stoppers at the start and try to break clear!
Good start with the above plan, started on the front row along side Yuho Abe and got a great launch off the line. Had to defend slightly into turn 1 from a faster starting Kazuki Oomishima behind and just tried to concentrate on getting a safe first lap in before trying to start to push to give my strategy a chance. End of lap one and I was 1.5 seconds clear of Oomishima and knew he must be on a no stop strategy. By the end of lap 8 I had built 6 seconds to Teemu Iivonen who had jumped the 3 A-Class drivers behind (Tali, Oomishima and de la Fuente). Coming through the esses on lap 9 and I managed to get too far up on the inside kerb through the final left hander half spinning into the grass and just managing to gather it back up and pointing back towards the track.
Lost 5 seconds on that lap and then ran pretty much faultlessly until I pitted at the end of lap 26. Exiting brought me out just behind Oomishima in 7th (without the half spin I would have surely been ahead) and it was then just a matter of waiting to see who else if anyone would be pitting. One by one they started to pit until the end of lap 30 when I was surprised at de la Fuente pitting for fuel! Now just the no stopping Iivonen and Oomishima ahead I was happy with my 3rd position until Oomishima in 2nd spun at almost the same place as me earlier handing me 2nd position and it was just a matter of bringing the car home. Very happy for the first race of the weekend, good points and just one mistake all race.
This time I lined up on the grid in 3rd position behind Alex and fellow pro driver Michele Mancusi and with Teemu Iivonen (WCS) alongside. I got a great start again managing to leap ahead of Alex as he spun the rears off the line and pulled alongside Mancusi but unfortunately on the outside for the run into turn 1. I was a bit cautious into turn 2 as I was trying to hang on to the unfamiliar outside line allowing Iivonen to slot ahead into 2nd. This was worst case scenario really for myself and Alex on our lighter fuel strategy with the 2 cars ahead we knew would be running to the end. What followed was the most action packed iGPS race I have been involved in!!
I could instantly feel how much faster I was then the cars ahead with the difference in fuel load and instantly tried to line up Iivonen for a move, I managed to follow very closely on the approach to 130R and almost got caught out with the difference in apex speed between the two cars. I just managed to dive to the left on the exit to position myself on the outside for the final chicance, my lighter car managed to brake later but I just overshot the apex slightly meaning that Iivonen got a much better exit onto the front straight. I managed to hold the inside line into turn 1 but was again to cautious into turn 2 keen to make sure I did not run wide and take us both out. Iivonen was back ahead again.
I was extremely close through the next 5 laps, generally quicker through the first 2 sectors but not able to exit Spoon Curve or the final chicane well enough to have a chance at a run down the 2 main straights. As I was trying to pressure as much as I could to try to force an opportunity I got caught out again with difference in apex speed this time through the essess. The slightest of touches front wing to rear wing unfortunately damaged Iivonen’s rear wing leaving me with no damage. Took me another 2 laps to just squeeze by around the outside of turn 1 so I could start chasing after Mancusi who had now built a 4 second gap or so.
Cut to lap 19 and I had been unable to find a way past despite closing up very quickly and made a small error exiting the final chicane running out on to the astro turf which allowed Alex who had been patiently waiting behind to finally get past! End of lap 20 and Alex and Mancusi were side by side entering the final chicane until contact damaged both their cars allowing me to slot into first place and finally have some clear air. Of course this only gave me 5 laps to make the most of my light fuel before I had to pit and when I completed my stop I found myself 12 seconds behind the no stopping Marcus Caton (WCS). I was still very happy with my second position and my best points haul of the week!
This was the broadcast SoF race and I was still feeling the effects of the extremely intense previous race and perhaps that showed. Started again in 3rd on the grid this time behind Martti Pietila and Michele Mancusi with Iivonen again alongside. Another great start meant I jumped Mancusi into turn 1, slotting in behind Pietila and within half a lap I knew that as in the previous races I needed to get past the heavier no stopping car ahead.
First 9 laps were pretty scruffy, I think just my concentration was shot after the previous race and got numerous off tracks and was fairly fortunate I hadn’t put it in the wall. Finally managed to squeeze up the inside on lap 9 into 130R and then needed to get my head down and put in some decent laps. Managed to make it just 2 laps before I ran wide on the exit of Degner 1 and was unable to slow it down enough into Degner 2. Handed the place straight back to Pietella 🙁
Then disaster, as I followed into the hairpin, lag contact between us spun Pietilla round damaging his rear wing and my front wing. It was a real shame as it had been such fun up to that point. A trip into the pits and then a frustrated outlap put me into the wall and out of the race at Degner 2. Not the way I wanted to finish the weekend and running into the back of two WCS drivers in two races (lag or not) was a real shame.
Anyway, got great points for the weekend (though handed others great points as well by taking out WCS drivers) and I am now very much looking forward to nailing qualifying at Silverstone as I did here at Suzuka!!!