Impul driver Hirakawa came out on top in two entertaining tussles on his way to the top step of the podium, seeing off Sacha Fenestraz early on before passing reigning champion Nojiri late in the race.
After being passed by Hirakawa, Nojiri was able to hold off Fenestraz in the battle for second despite his early-stopping strategy leaving him exposed in the closing stages.
Hirakawa vaulted into an early lead at the start when both front-row starters, Ukyo Sasahara and Ren Sato, suffered disastrous opening laps.
Mugen driver Sasahara stalled from pole position, dropping him to the rear of the field, while Sato made a sluggish getaway and was tipped into a spin later on the opening lap by Hiroki Otsu.
That left Hirakawa leading Fenestraz, Ritomo Miyata, Yuhi Sekiguchi and Nojiri, who was first of the leaders to stop on lap 10 of 41.
Fenestraz passed Hirakawa for the lead on lap six, moving ahead along the start/finish straight, but once out in front the Kondo Racing driver couldn’t get away from Hirakawa.
On lap 14, Hirakawa repassed Fenestraz for the lead at Turn 1, and maintained the advantage until he peeled into the pits on lap 25.
Hirakawa emerged a few seconds behind Nojiri after his stop, but had the advantage of being on fresher rubber and was quickly able to close the gap and challenge the leader.
The decisive move of the race arrived on lap 30 as Hirakawa, after being thwarted at Turn 1 and on the run down to Turn 3, managed to line up Nojiri exiting the Turn 10-11-12 complex and make the move around the outside of the right-hand Turn 13 sweeper.
From there it was plain sailing to the chequered flag, as Hirakawa secured his third career win and his first at a track other than Motegi by a final margin of 5.6s.
Fenestraz was unable to pass Nojiri in the closing stages but still ended up with his first podium since his Super Formula debut at Motegi in 2020, incidentally the scene of Hirakawa’s previous win.
Sekiguchi was fourth in the second Impul car after an entertaining race-long battle with TOM’S driver Miyata, followed by Tadasuke Makino in the best of the Dandelion cars.
Toshiki Oyu (Nakajima Racing) made an impressive recovery from 21st and last to take seventh ahead of Sho Tsuboi (Inging) and Team Goh’s rookie pairing Sato and Atsushi Miyake.
Otsu was handed a drive-through penalty for tipping Sato into a spin on the opening lap, relegating him to 16th at the finish ahead of two others to be punished by the stewards.
Giuliano Alesi (TOM’S) picked up a penalty for opening lap contact with Nirei Fukuzumi, which caused the latter to retire, while Kamui Kobayashi (KCMG) was pinged for a start infraction.
Sasahara and Nobuharu Matsushita (B-Max), who likewise stalled on the grid, were the final finishers.
Fuji Super Formula – Race results:
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