Naoki Yamamoto “lost focus” in Hirakawa crash


Yamamoto and Hirakawa were two of three drivers eliminated in a Turn 3 incident on lap 21 of the 35-lap race, with Sho Tsuboi provoking the third and final safety car in a hectic race.

TV footage did not show how the incident unfolded, only Yamamoto’s Nakajima Racing car losing control on the grass inside before coming to rest on the runoff tarmac, and the Impul machine of Hirakawa in the gravel trap.

However, subsequent onboard footage released by Red Bull Japan made it clear that Yamamoto and Hirakawa made contact after running side-by-side out of Turn 2, with Tsuboi already left unassisted.

Speaking to reporters after the race, Yamamoto took full responsibility for the incident, saying Tsuboi’s departure in front of him distracted his focus.

“I knew Hirakawa was there [alongside] and I thought I would make room for it, “Yamamoto said.” But in front of me was a car slowing down, and one of the Cerumo cars [Tsuboi] spun.

“It looked like he had left on his own, but from that position I couldn’t understand what was going on and thought there had been contact. I intended to leave a margin. because of the confusion, but I was concentrating on what was happening in front of me, and I lost my focus on Hirakawa.

“The stewards’ decision was that we were both at fault, but I ruined his race and mine, so I’m sorry for him.”

Hirakawa told his side of the story, expressing surprise at being knocked out by a driver with Yamamoto’s experience.

“I didn’t expect Yamamoto to leave me no room,” said the Impuls rider. “I expected him to move a bit [to the right] but leave me enough space. He just pushed me out even though I was on the outside for turn 3.

“Because of the crash in front of him, he wasn’t looking at me. He had a bad exit from Turn 2, but then he saw the crash ahead of him, and he was distracted.

“However, it was an unnecessary accident. He’s not a rookie, he’s last year’s champion. So something strange happened to him.”

The televised footage that was shown appeared to involve Yamamoto’s teammate in Nakajima, Toshiki Oyu, who was one lap behind and slowed down to allow the peloton to pass downhill to Turn 3 – making Yamamoto appear to have derailed trying to avoid a slowdown. Oyu.

However, although Oyu was assessed a passing penalty afterwards, he was found to be completely faultless in the incident, with the penalty being issued for overtaking under the safety car earlier in the day. race.

Yamamoto ignored the team’s instruction to get to the booth

Yamamoto and Hirakawa were vying for 13th, both pulling over for slick tires on a dry track after the initial period of the safety car.

Most of the riders chose to stop during this warning period, with Yamamoto coming in second behind eventual winner Hiroki Otsu at this point, to decide to stay on track with Hirakawa and Nirei Fukuzumi.

With the top three enjoying a brief advantage as the race resumed, the slick riders were able to quickly keep pace, leading Yamamoto, Hirakawa and Fukuzumi to all the green flag dry tire pits ahead of the second period. safety car that followed. shortly after.

Explaining his decision to stay out, Yamamoto said he canceled his team’s call to enter because he felt the track was still too wet.

“The team told me to box,” Yamamoto admitted. “They knew the plan was to do the same as the leader, but the track was wetter than I thought, so I did the opposite and braved the test.

“In this situation, if the slick tire racers weren’t able to warm up their tires, I think I could have won by staying in the wet, but the safety car was unavailable much longer than expected and slick tire racers were able to heat up their tires. “

For his part, Hirakawa revealed that he ran without a working radio, although he admitted that he also took a calculated risk to stay out of the wet tires in an effort to improve his position.

“If the radio had worked we could have made a different decision, but I had to stay out to have a chance to score big points,” he said. “I saw the track and it wasn’t dry yet and I thought I could stay outside, so I took a bet. But then during the safety car the sun came out, so it there was no chance.

“The guys who were on slick tires had a hard time, I couldn’t see them in my mirrors. I didn’t know the gap because I didn’t have a radio, but I thought it might work. there had been a safety car [at that point], That would have been perfect. “

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