Sacha Fenestraz has revealed he ignored his Kondo Racing team’s pit instructions en route to his best-ever Super Formula finish at Autopolis.
Fenestraz finished second at the Kyushu track, taking advantage of an overcut strategy that left him behind only race winner Ryo Hirakawa at the chequered flag.
However, it could have been a different story had the Franco-Argentine driver heeded his Kondo crew’s request for him to pit at the start of the window on lap 10 of 42.
Fenestraz instead decided to stay out until lap 28, enjoying a spell in the lead of the race, and when he returned to the track he emerged ahead of several cars he had been running behind in the early stages, including poleman Tomoki Nojiri.
By contrast, Kondo teammate Kenta Yamashita finished 11th and out of the points after stopping on lap 11, despite qualifying one place behind Fenestraz in seventh.
“I didn’t follow what the team said, so they were not too happy, but it paid off in the end,” Fenestraz told Motorsport.com. “So I’m happy about that decision.
“I saw the two cars in front [Tadasuke Makino and Ukyo Sasahara] pit in, and then I was like, screw it, I’m not pitting! I had a clean track, and I felt before the stops I was faster than them. Behind the safety car, I was telling the team, ‘guys, I think we can go a bit longer’.
“When the guys ahead came in I was able to take advantage [of the clean air] and increase the pace. It was my decision at the last minute not to come in, and it was the right call.”
With Hirakawa stopping on lap 20, overcutting title rival Nojiri in the process, Fenestraz had the advantage of fresher tyres for the latter part of the race and initially closed the gap to his Toyota stablemate.
However, after several laps the Kondo driver had to turn his attention towards defending second from rookie sensation Atsushi Miyake, who stopped even later on lap 32 on his way to third.
“I knew that the first three, four laps on these tyres are good, and you need to try to make the difference on those first laps, but there were still a lot of laps left so I didn’t want to kill the tyres,” explained Fenestraz.
“Miyake was coming like crazy in the last five laps… I asked on the radio, ‘who is this guy, is he a lap down or what?’
“Unfortunately we lost about two or three seconds in the pitstop, so with a normal pitstop maybe we could have battled with Ryo. But of course I am happy with second.
“The team was struggling like crazy last year, so after what happened last year, [team owner Masahiko] Kondo-san said, ‘this is like a win for me’, so the boss is happy!”
Contrasting fortunes for Goh rookies
Miyake meanwhile was delighted to score his first podium in Super Formula in just his fourth start in the category, having been a surprise pick for the second Team Goh seat alongside Red Bull junior Ren Sato.
The Super Formula Lights graduate, who now sits seventh in the standings, credited his team, including Goh advisor Takuya Izawa, for helping him manage his tyres for a monster 32-lap stint.
“Originally we planned to change tyres early, but we were able to look after the tyres better than the cars around me, and the long-run pace was good, so we switched to a strategy of extending the first stint,” said Miyake, who was the last driver to pit.
“Towards the end [of the stint] it was tough with the tyres, but with the advice I had from the engineers and Izawa-san, I kept calm and managed things well.”
Sato finished a lowly 18th after a late gearbox problem, although he was running outside the points following his pitstop on lap 31 - the legacy of a poor start and off-track excursion on Lap 1.