Never one to want to be out of his car for long, Ayumu Iwasa believes he made the most of the summer break, not to rest but to reset ahead of a critical fortnight of racing. Returning to Japan for the three-week gap, the DAMS driver took advantage of the chance to push himself and prepare for the task ahead – conquering the tight and twisty challenges of Zandvoort.
Trading the longest circuit on the calendar at Spa-Francorchamps for one of the shortest, the Dutch track has suited Iwasa well in the past. Achieving podiums in both Formula 3 in 2021 and in the Formula 2 Feature Race last year, he says he raring to begin the weekend on a positive note.
“Honestly, my target was not to leave my racing mode completely because I don’t find it so good to switch on and off again between the races. I was trying to stay focused on the racing mindset, so that’s why I was pushing hard in training as well. For me, the three weeks were the best time to stay focused.
“I’m feeling quite good about being back at Zandvoort. I’ve had some good results here in the past, so I’m quite confident. Also, I was able to have a quite good preparation with the team for this weekend, so I’m feeling happy with what we’ve done.”
Despite its short 4.259km layout, Zandvoort’s physically demanding 14 turns are not to be underestimated as several drivers learnt the hard way during the Championship’s debut there last year. Having already faced the likes of Jeddah and Baku this season, Iwasa recognises that the taxing circuit will be another test of his endurance, particularly given the break in between Rounds 11 and 12.
Nevertheless, the Red Bull junior says he’s excited to take on the track, particularly the run from Turn 6 all the way down to Turn 11.
“I think Sector 2 suits me because it’s quite technical, so it’s really difficult to put it all together, but I think that’s part of the fun of this track. Also, the banked corners are quite fun to drive, they’re really special corners on the calendar.”
He added: “Of course, it was quite hard, especially with the hard tyre last year because we were pushing quite a lot. I think it was quite a tough race physically, but that’s part of racing. Still with it being a hard, physical track, you need to manage the tyre as well so it’s quite a difficult situation. For me, it’s quite fun to see the difference between the cars and the drivers. Especially after a three-week break, you need to keep working on it because it’s a hard track to be back on straight away.”
Comparing the track to his recent visit to Budapest’s Hungaroring, Iwasa admits that making moves stick won’t be the easiest affair, with little room for error around the tight track. However, three changes from last year could open up more opportunities for the Japanese racer.
Firstly, changes to the second DRS detection and activation zones mean that the field will now be able to utilise DRS in between the penultimate and final corner, rather than on the exit of Turn 14. This along with longer gear ratios should enable drivers to carry more speed on the lead up to the main straight and through to Turn 1.
Additionally, Pirelli have opted to go one step softer with their compounds, trading out the hard tyres to partner the mediums with the softs. An increased focus on tyre management opens the door for late comebacks in the Feature Race and Iwasa says that utilising their track time in Practice will provide valuable information for how they decide to go with their strategy.
“I think Zandvoort’s more like Hungary as overtaking is very difficult, so our Qualifying position will be so important,” he noted. “We’re in a bit of a better situation this year because we can change the gear ratio compared to last year. We were hitting the limiter at the end of the straight, so that was one of the big reasons why we couldn’t overtake. If I have better pace than the car in front of me, I’m sure there will be some opportunities to overtake, but I still think it’ll be really difficult. In the Feature Race, the strategy and the pit stop timing will be quite important.
“Tyre degradation is a bit of a question mark because we didn’t use the mediums here last year, but normally the medium tyres haven’t been too bad on every track. I’m expecting it to be okay, but for sure it will be more difficult. I will see, especially in Free Practice which will be good for our information and then we will try to prepare as much as we can for the race.”
Sitting third in the Drivers' Championship, Iwasa recognises that building momentum over the double header in Zandvoort and Monza will be critical given that they are the final two European rounds before the season finale at Yas Marina.
Eyeing up the 34-point gap to leader Théo Pourchaire, Iwasa knows he can’t afford to put a foot wrong at the tail end of his second season, particularly as the fast-charging Jack Doohan has closed in to within four points of the #11 DAMS driver.
“My target is to be P1 in every session, but I think the priority is to do my best on track. I need to show the maximum performance of the car and I think if I can do that, then for sure we will be in a good position. Anyways, I have a five-place grid penalty for the Sprint Race, but I still think it will be important to see the potential and improvements for the Feature Race.
“This weekend will be quite important to have good results, even for next weekend. I shouldn’t over-push or make mistakes, I just need to put it all together throughout the weekend. If I do it like that, I’ll be able to get results with the team and try to carry it on for the next race. I think that will be the key point over these two events.”