Last season, Nogiri was eighth in Super Formula, when all-wheel drive Mugen was selected, winning three of the seven races to become the first driver in more than a decade to conclude the title with an anticipated Tour.
This year has undoubtedly been tougher for Nogiri, who has only added one win to his tally so far against a tougher opposition. But his unparalleled persistence, especially in qualifying, means he already has one hand on the second crown with a pair of races at Suzuka.
With 46 points, Nogiri is 32 points ahead of nearest rival Sacha Finisteraz, which means that 15 points – the equivalent of second place – will be enough over the weekend to make him the first driver to successfully defend the title at the top of Japan. Single-seat series since Tsujio Matsuda in 2008.
Looking at Nogiri’s recent form, it’s easy to forget that for most of his career he’s been quick at times but wildly inconsistent. In fact, 2021 was the second year he managed to score more than one podium in the same season.
He made his Dandelion Racing debut back in 2014, and his victory in Sugo (his only points that year) meant he beat out more experienced teammate Hideki Mutoh.
A more consistent season for Nogiri followed in 2015, and he easily had the Naren Karthikeyan scale. But in 2016, he faced a teammate of a completely different caliber as McLaren-backed Vandoorne was parachuted into the #41 Dandelion.
Vandoorne was a much bigger challenge than any other fellow Nogiri had faced before
Vandoorne arrived in the Super Formula as GP2 champion and clearly ready to race in F1 full-time, an opportunity he will have in 2017 with McLaren after an impressive season with a pair of race victories and fourth in points, the best of Honda’s drivers. That was despite the language barrier and not racing any of the tracks beforehand.
On the other hand, Nojiri couldn’t build on the relative promise of 2015, managing only one podium finish all year at Sugo. He finished ninth year overall, having accumulated a shadow of more than half of his rookie teammate’s points.
“Honestly, I had never outgrown a teammate before that season,” Nogiri said in an interview with the Japanese version of Motorsport.com.
“Of course there were times that I would lose sometimes in certain sessions, but I never felt like there was a gap that was impossible to bridge. It was a tough time for me, but I learned a lot about how to lead and how to work within the team.”
Nojiri scored a starting point in 2016 in Okayama but missed out on a big score with a penalty kick
Nojiri is now considered one of the toughest drivers on the track, and is known for his attention to detail and meticulous setup.
But he admits that in 2016, Vandoorne’s thirst for results was much greater than his thirst for results, conditioned on his relative lack of success in Super Formula until that point, and that seeing the Belgian’s efforts made him realize he wasn’t working hard. Enough.
“[Vandoorne] “You weren’t satisfied with a few good results,” Nougiri said. “For me, it’s been a while since I’ve won anything, so I was happy if I could get on the podium. But if he wins a race, he immediately starts working on what he has to do to get the next win.
“I had the impression that he was very serious and I felt he was giving her absolutely everything to get into Formula One. I thought I should learn from him and I was glad I saw it up close. I knew I wasn’t serious enough.
“In terms of driving, I would draw lines in my mind like, ‘This feels right,’ or ‘This is about the limit.’ But because it was there, I was able to see a new standard in my mind.”
Nojiri, pictured with engineer Noremitsu Yoshida, learned a lot from seeing Vandoorne working up close
After Vandoorne left Super Formula, Nogiri had a rough season in 2017, finishing just one point and being defeated by teammate Takuya Aizawa, albeit in a year when most Honda-backed drivers struggled.
But in his final season at Dandelion in 2018, he had a bit of rookie Nobuharu Matsushita before moving on to the Mugen lineup he already made.
The move proved to be made by Nojiri, who ended a five-year wait for a second win in 2019, became an outside contender for the title in 2020, and finally sealed his authority over the championship last year, capturing Naoki Yamamoto as Honda’s best dog. .
Meanwhile, Vandoorne has found a haven in Formula E after his two-year F1 spell with McLaren didn’t go as planned, and he eventually became the all-electric series world champion with Mercedes earlier this year.
It seems unlikely that the drivers’ paths will cross again, but Nogiri says he will be keen to rematch against Vandoorne to gauge the progress he has made in the past six years.
“Ideally, I’d like another chance to fight it,” Nogiri said. “Not on a different team, but on the same team.
“Maybe he doesn’t see it that way! But I was on the losing side, so I would really like to know how far you have come against him since then.”
It seems unlikely that we’ll see Nojiri and Vandoorne share the path again anytime soon