Why wait until the 45th International Suzuka 1000km to see many of Super GT’s top stars in action? They’ll be at Twin Ring Motegi for the fourth round of the Japanese Super Formula Championship, which also features the sixth race meeting of the All-Japan Formula Three Championship.
This is expected to be the race that will truly solidify the picture in the Super Formula drivers’ championship – at a critical race that will see the introduction of an “option” tyre for the races from this round onward in the 2016 season.
Yokohama Tyre will bring two compounds of rubber for this race: A medium “prime” tyre, and a soft “option” tyre with bright red sidewalls – and both compounds must be used in the race. This could play into the hands of a driver like rookie Stoffel Vandoorne – who has said that the races in Super Formula aren’t as exciting with a lack of tyre wear.
Things are looking good for championship leader Naoki Yamamoto of Team Mugen. Earlier this month, he married his long-time girlfriend Eri Kano, a former presenter for TV Tokyo’s Super GT+ show. He also enters this Super Formula round at Honda’s other “home track” with a narrow points lead – this despite a retirement at the last round in Fuji Speedway. Trouble is, Honda hasn’t won a race at Motegi since 2010 – it looks to be another uphill battle against Toyota.
Team Impul’s Joao Paulo de Oliveira, the most recent Super Formula race winner and second place man in the championship, has four career wins at Motegi, and finished third last year in a race won by the defending series champion, Hiroaki Ishiura of Cerumo/INGING. They’ll be among the favorites, as will be Oliveira’s teammate Yuhi Sekiguchi, coming off his first Super Formula podium, and the Vantelin Team TOM’s duo of Andre Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima, both former winners at this track.
We’ll also see a new look for a familiar team, as Nakajima Racing have signed a new title sponsor deal with human resources company Green Tec for the rest of 2016. Green Tec are also heavily involved with apr Racing and their two Toyota Prius in Super GT.
All-Japan F3 returns to support Super Formula, and with just seven races left over three rounds, the championship battle is intensifying – with Jann Mardenborough taking the championship lead at Fuji.
Mardenborough now leads TOM’s driver Kenta Yamashita by five points, the latter having led the championship for much of this season, but now at risk to finish runner-up for a third consecutive season. In fact, rookie teammate Sho Tsuboi is only four points behind him in third place. Things are looking good for Jann tha Man at the moment – especially with the power of the B-Max Racing team’s new Volkswagen engines.
Not in action due to a back injury is his teammate Katsumasa Chiyo, who won the most recent F3 race at Fuji. Chiyo will be deputized by Mitsunori Takaboshi, who will also be with S Road MOLA International in the Suzuka 1000km. Takaboshi won his last two starts, sweeping the weekend at Suzuka Circuit.
In total, 18 drivers competing at Motegi this weekend will also be driving in this year’s running of the great race at Suzuka next weekend.