From Autosport 6th November 1977

by Kunihiko Akai


Taking place only two weeks after the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix at Mount Fuji, the Formula 2 JAF Grand Prix at Suzuka provided Italian Riccardo Patrese with his first race victory of 1977, and the first F2 win of his career. Driving his regular Chevron-BMW B40, Patrese won the race easily, but only after the retirement of Didier Pironi’s locally entered March 742, which the Frenchman had driven into a strong lead in wet conditions. With only six laps to go, Pironi’s engine blew in the most expensive manner, for it cost him the 2 million yen first prize – almost £4,500. Japanese drivers filled the next five places, led by Kazuyoshi Hoshino (Nova 512B) and Kunimitsu Takahashi (Kojima 008), both of whom had taken part in the Grand Prix in Fuji. In his first F2 event, Vandervell F3 Champion Stephen South finished seventh with a March 752, but the other three European-based drivers – Danny Sullivan, Keijo Rosberg and Jose Dolhem – were all out of luck.

The annual JAF Grand Prix at Suzuka was the final round of the Japanese Drivers Championship, which before the race was contested by two drivers, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Kunimitsu Takahashi. They were the only men still able to take the national title, so for the rest of the 14 Japanese drivers the main interest in the event was the chance to compare their abilities with those of the European-based visitors, of whom there were six.

Hoshino’s BMW-powered Nova 512B had new bodywork for this race, looking very similar to the styling used on last year’s Ligier F1 car, with a nose-mounted radiator. In the second practice session on the Saturday afternoon, the Heros Racing entered car lapped in 1m 57.42s, which was just good enough for pole position. Sharing the front row with his team leader was the talented young Satoru Nakajima, driving the Heros team’s Nova 522, who was just two-hundredths slower.

Two European drivers shared the second row. Keijo Rosberg and Riccardo Patrese. ‘Keke’ was not driving one of the Fred Opert Chevrons on this occasion, but one of the Kausen-Renault F2 cars, with which the Finn recorded 1:57.83. However, the Shadow F1 driver did have his regualar Strebel-backed Chevron B40, shipped to Japan especially for this race, and managed an identical time to his F2 sparring partner.

Masami Kuwashima was disappointed with the performance of his black Nova 522 in qualifying, an engine misfire slowing him in both sessions, but he recorded 1:57.95 to start on the inside of the third row, alongside Naohiro Fujita with his older Nova 512B (1:58.57). Noritake Takahara, whose Kojima F1 drive in the GP had ended after only one and a half laps, could not break his jinx and found himself qualifying seventh fastest with his Nova 512B at 1:58.97, which was 0.09s faster than Kenji Takahashi (March 742). Also driving a locally entered 742-BMW was Didier Pironi, whose car handled badly in the first session. In the afternoon he changed the rear dampers to Japanese-made Kayaba units (as used on the Kojima F1 cars), and the little Frenchman got down to 1:59.43 late in the session despite the fact that his engine would only run to 9000rpm.

Kunimitsu Takahashi, who had his first taste of F1 racing with the Tyrrell 007 two weeks before, had high hopes with his Speedstar Wheels entered Kojima 008, but after recording 1:59.58 he crashed Maso Ono’s latest F2 design; the Kojima mechanics worked all night and the car was ready on race day to take up a position on the fifth row alongside Pironi.

Frenchman Jose Dolhem, who has had only one European F2 race this season in Willi Kaushen’s team, arranged to drive a Japanese-owned March 742 at Suzuka, and qualified on the sixth row at 2:01.76, alongside Keiji Matsumoto (Chevron B40), who lapped in 2:00.09. Driving the same March 752 used by Alex Ribero in this event last year, Stephen South qualified at 2:02.31, while Danny Sullivan, driving a new Ralt RT1 for Tom Hanawa’s Le Mans Company team, had transmission problems in qualifying, and could manage a best of only 2:02.37.

There were several Formula Pacific (1.6 litre) cars in the 20-car field, and the fastest of them was Masahiro Hasemi’s Datsun-powered Chevron B40 at 2:03.79, which was 15th fastest. Behind Hasemi – the man who proved so quick in the Kojima 007 car in the 1976 Grand Prix – came the old Surtees TS15 of amateur driver Jiro Yoneyama (2:04.90) and then Tetsu Ikuzawa, the leader of the Fuji 2-litre sports car series, who was worried by engine troubles in both sessions. The remaining three grid places were taken up by the Formula Pacific cars of Takao Wada, Kenji Tohira and Funiyasu Satoh, the last-named using a Toyota 2TG engine in his Chevron as opposed to the Datsun units employed in the other Pacific cars..


Race day dawned very cloudy, and as the first race in the supporting programme got underway the rain drops began to fall. Three minutes before the start of the main race, it began to rain heavily, and the start was delayed while most of the teams changed to wet-weather Bridgestone tyres. The only drivers not to change were Hasemi and Yoneyama.

As the starting light flashed to green, Patrese made a superb start from the second row, and went by Hoshino and Nakajima on the way down to the first corner. They completed the first of the 35 laps in the order Patrese, Hoshino, Rosberg, Kuwashima, Nakajima and the rest, but at the end of the second lap Rosberg was heading for the pits and retirement with a camshaft problem on his Kaushen. Nakajima passed Kuwashima to take up a Heros Racing second-third formation, and then Pironi also went past Kuwashima, taking over fourth place after only six laps. Pironi was going very fast, and in the next few laps he picked off all three of the drivers in front of him. The rain stopped after ten laps, but the track was still very wet, and once in the lead Pironi went away.

At half-distance, Pironi had a lead of 20secs over Patrese, and a victory for the works Martini-Renault driver looked a certainty. Hoshino in third place had been passed by Kuwashima, but the latter then spun at the hairpin and gave Hoshino back the position, while Kunimitsu Takahashi was up to fourth place with the Kojima.

When 29 laps had been completed, the white March of Pironi suddenly headed for the pits, oil pouring out of the blown engine. Patrese inherited the lead once more, with Hoshino and Takahashi chasing him for all they were worth, but they could not catch the Italian, who won with over 15secs in hand.

Hoshino successfully held off Takahashi for second place, and thus clinched the Japanese national title for a second time. After driving consistently fast following his spin, Kuwashima managed to finish fourth just ahead of Nakajima and Kenji Takahashi, who crossed the line 0.6sec apart. South, in seventh place, was the last driver to complete the distance unlapped.

Both Sullivan and Dolhem had pitstops, the American finishing 16th after a long delay caused by a fuel pressure problem, and the Frenchman coming home 11th. In the Formula Pacific class, Hasemi passed Wada with two laps to go as the track dried, having spent the whole race on slicks.

© Autosport magazine – Reproduced with permission