New Zealander Liam Lawson has taken the lead in the Super Formula standings after coming home victorious at Autopolis in Japan this weekend.
A late Safety Car made Lawson have to work for his spoils on much older tyres, the Red Bull reserve driver doing just that to take the chequered flag over Ritomo Miyata by 1.2 seconds.
Sho Tsuboi rounded out the podium places, at one point having looked likely for top spot when the Safety Car was called for on Lap 30 for a stranded Toshiki Oyu, who had run into the gravel following contact with another car.
A strong restart was ultimately the difference for Lawson, the Kiwi quickly pulling clear and leaving the then-second-placed Tsuboi to fight with Miyata for the minor placings. Tsuboi eventually found a way through, but it was too late to overturn the 3-second gap to the leader.
While Lawson’s drive will turn heads worldwide, given Nyck De Vries’s struggles in Formula 1, Team Mugen must also be credited for a bold move to box the Kiwi early. He had started on the front row for the race but found himself quickly boxed in and dropping back from the front-runners, hence the early stop decision.
When returning, the clear air worked wonders for the Kiwi; Lawson able to quickly make up time until approaching slower cars ahead who had not yet stopped. He held the net lead until the Lap 29 Safety Car was called for, which appeared to be at a great time for those who hadn’t stopped.
Timing, however, was on the side of the Team Mugen driver, who caught the Safety Car first as the drivers who hadn’t stopped began to emerge out of the lane.
From there, the rest is history, Lawson taking a deserving race win and the championship lead along with it. Previous leader, teammate and defending champion Tomoki Nojiri failed to make the start of the race, a collapsed lung before the round putting his title defence in jeopardy.
Super Formula next returns to Sportsland Sugo over the weekend of 16-18 June, where the Kiwi will aim to extend his championship lead.