Formula Nippon : Round 1

Benoit Tréluyer back with a victory

This weekend’s first round of the Formula Nippon championship at Fuji brought a first 2009 victory for reigning Super GT champion Benoit Treluyer. The win was an important one for the Frenchman as it was his first in the prestigious Japanese single-seater series since 2007.

“It was very important for me to be ready for this first race after we suffered a difficult 2008 season where we had a lot of problems with the car’s bodywork,” said the Lawson-Impul driver on Sunday evening, “and also because Formula Nippon, like its big sister F1, has undergone a large technical revolution over the winter.”

With the championship switching to the new Swift chassis and increasing engine size from 3 to 3.4 litres, it was crucial for Benoit not to miss the return of Japan’s most popular single seater series, whose list of former winners includes the likes of Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and many others.

A star of the championship which he won in 2006, Benoit used all his experience to help the Lawson-Impul squad at the opening round of the new season. All the teams took a jump into the unknown at Fuji after restricted testing in winter which was also unsettled by difficult weather conditions. After a laborious, hard working free practice, Benoit was plunged straight into a qualifying session which follows the F1 model with Q1, Q2 and Q3.

“Everything was going well in Q2, but then I decided to try out a slight adjustment which made me lose four tenths of a second. As the times are so tight, I nearly didn’t make it into Q3,” explained Benoit.

Having squeezed through into the final qualifying shootout, and not wishing to take any further risks, Benoit reverted to his initial set-up and set the third fastest time.

“I had to limit the damage with the intention of using Sunday morning’s warm-up to refine and specify our set-up. We filled the tanks up with petrol and fitted new tyres with the intention of getting in as many kilometres as possible to assess what the tyre degradation would be like. With the extra weight due to the full tanks, the car didn’t react well. The balance wasn’t good and I stopped in the pits to make changes which unfortunately didn’t really work. By chance, after assessing the data, we ended up finding a better race set-up.”

After a good start, Benoit held third place at the first corner and then played a waiting game, matching the pace of his rivals.

“When I realised that I was fuelled heavier than the leaders and that, despite everything, my tyres were still fairly fresh, I closed in on the leader Takuya Izawa. I pitted one lap before him and put in a great out lap to found myself right on his gearbox as he came out of the pits. On cold tyres he had no chance and I passed without any problems in turn 1. Once in front I managed to escape.”

Tréluyer crossed the line first and, after a difficult 2008 season, re-affirmed his status as a potential favourite for the 2009 championship. The next round takes place on 16-17 May at Suzuka

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