With three victories in the first five races of the year, including the first Motegi race in August, Nojiri enters the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign with a lead of 45 points and a strong chance of becoming the first driver since Loïc Duval in 2009 to win. the championship one round earlier.
The Mugen rider boosted his chances by qualifying third under difficult conditions, while his closest title rivals Yuhi Sekiguchi and Toshiki Oyu could only place sixth and eighth on the grid, respectively.
But Nojiri says he won’t be content to simply bring home the points he needs to put the title out of reach.
“Because I’m going to leave from [third] position, I plan to win the title, so if we are able to clinch it, I want to have a strong race, a race that will make people think that I am a worthy champion, “said Nojiri.
“[On Sunday] conditions can be tough as well so I’m going to focus on doing my best performance and just think about being first when the checkered flag rolls out. “
It was Nojiri’s Mugen team-mate Hiroki Otsu who stole the show in the final segment of qualifying, winning his first career pole as the only rider to opt for slicks on a dry track.
Explaining his decision to stick with wet tires, Nojiri said his strategy was to do the same as Oyu and Sekiguchi, so that he wouldn’t be sidelined from his main title rivals if things went wrong.
“In Q3, luckily due to the layout of the garages, we were able to keep an eye on what Oyu and Sekiguchi were doing and change our strategy after the lap. [if necessary], “he explained.
“No one knew how the conditions were going to change, but we decided to base our strategy on what the other two did, so that even if it turned out badly, it would go badly for all of us. They started their turns. ‘attack with wet tires, so we did the same and the possibility of using slicks disappeared.
“But I made a mistake in my turn, so I asked [the team], ‘Is it time to take one more lap with a new set of wet tires?’ They said yes, so we decided to put on new rain tires.
“I think it was a tough session for the teams as well, but each time they sent me to the track in great shape so I want to thank the team.”
How Nojiri can win the title on Sunday
Super Formula’s discontinued scoring system and bonus qualifying points make calculating championship permutations extremely complex, but no matter what, Nojiri will win the title if he at least finishes in the position where he starts.
He would also win the title with a fourth place, because in such a scenario he would end up with an effective score of 82 points, equal to the highest number Sekiguchi can yet reach but comfortably leading the countdown.
For Sekiguchi to maintain his title hopes in the Suzuka final, he needs to win on Sunday and hope Nojiri comes in fifth or less. He can also afford to finish second, assuming Nojiri finishes ninth or worse.
As for Oyu – nominally ahead of Sekiguchi in the standings but with more points to lose – nothing less than a win will suffice, and in such a scenario, he should be hopeful that Nojiri can’t do better than sixth.
Nirei Fukuzumi is the only other driver still in the race for the championship at this point, but has to score an unlikely victory from 14th place on the grid while praying that Nojiri does not move past ninth place under the checkered flag.