2021 has been a great year for Team Mugen in Super Formula, having not only won the opening round in Fuji speedway but doubling up on their success by taking victory in Suzuka as well. We caught up with freshly appointed team manager Hirokatsu Tanaka, who looks back at two successful weekends!
Congratulations on the victory in both Fuji Speedway and Suzuka. Could you explain to people in Europe and the US what makes Super Formula so unique?
Nojiri won the first race after a pole and repeated with a win in the second race. I am so excited to start the 2021 season on a high note. Super Formula is the top category of formula cars in Japan and in the same position as FIA F2, which is the second-highest category after F1 on a global scale. The Super Formula chassis is made by Dallara and is used by every team on the grid. All teams also use a spec-tyre made by Yokohama. The engines, however, are built by Toyota or Honda (Team Mugen and Team Red Bull Gho run the Honda engine). There are many things that make Super Formula so unique. Firstly, Super Formula cars have extremely high cornering speeds, mostly because of a combination of the track surface of Japanese racetracks, as well as the performance of the Yokohama tyre. All the drivers from overseas (who have experience in F2) are surprised at the cornering speed and lateral G-force and show a lot of interest in Super Formula. On top of that, Honda and Toyota engines fitted to SF cars are putting out over 536hp from a two-litre direct-injection turbocharged engine with a limiting fuel flow rate (90kg/h). Another feature unique to our sport is the overtake system/OTS. The OTS temporarily increases fuel flow creating an output surge. The output increases around 54hp when OTS is engaged. Drivers can only use it for 200 seconds during every race. This system has created more exciting races with a big increase in overtakes.
Talk us through the first race weekend and how it led to the first victory of the season?
To sum it up, the victory was a result of the accumulated effort of our entire team. When setting up the car for this race we encountered two issues we hadn’t come across in previous sessions. We managed to solve this by carefully analysing the data we collected in the last few seasons and managed to improve on top of these issues. I think this improved the precision of the car set-up, which led to our pole-to-win success.
Tomoki Nojiri and Mugen seem like a perfect pairing, what’s the secret to their strength?
This year is the third season we’re having Tomoki Nojiri on board. Nojiri is currently our fastest driver. It was instrumental we have him in a car that is set up in such a way that he has faith in the machine and has a team around him that he can trust. This is why I have not changed any of the team’s primary staff responsibilities and roles to this day, because I wanted them to understand each other and build a trusting relationship. This third season together, the organisational structure is getting to a point where I’m satisfied with it and Nojiri shares this sentiment as well.
As new team manager to the team, what challenges do you face, and what do you bring to the team?
This is my first real experience as the team manager. Frankly, I’m still anxious about my new role. Before this, I was engaged in engine-related tasks rather than the overall management of a team. However, I know each person’s character as we work together within the same company for a very long time. Since I have clear communication with them through my former position, I think I have an advantage in putting a team together. Because I worked in engine development for many years, I fully understand the importance of data measurement and analysis. From this point of view, I feel that all the Japanese teams are far behind the European teams in terms of simulation analysis based on the data. I strongly believe that we can improve a lot, and I will make it my mission to do so along with our team of engineers.
Mugen is a big name with a lot of heritage in motorsport. How much pressure does this add to the team to perform well? People always have great expectations from Mugen.
Of course, I have a lot of pressure. I have to show better results than my predecessors. On top of that, I have to make Team Mugen evolve further and become stronger as well. To be honest, I still feel anxious and sometimes cannot sleep, but I take solace that I have a team by my side who understands me. I’m confident I can make the team stronger by having faith in the staff and myself.
Motul and Mugen have a longstanding relationship. What are the strengths and benefits of this bond?
Our relationship with Motul started in the 1980s from motocross. Since then, Motul has supported us in most categories, including Gr-A, JGTC, Le Mans, etc. Thank you for the long-term support! Firstly, I understand that engine oil is a vital component of the engine that directly relates to output, durability, and performance. We always require engine oils to improve output performance and durability. Motul has often made suggestions to us based on continuously conducting oil analysis. By analysing the used engine oil Motul can learn a lot about engine wear, viscosity changes and oil degradation. I think this development process is a crucial advantage to both partners. The key behind this partnership, and why it has been successful for such a long time, is a strong mutual trust. I believe that our brand values will be enhanced further by winning the races continuously together as partners!