Featuring the stars of the Autobacs Super GT Series, the Super Formula Japanese Championship is heading to Sportsland Sugo for its penultimate race weekend, a 68-lap championship race that will solidify the championship picture heading into the JAF Grand Prix finale at Suzuka.
Sugo is a tight, technical circuit where overtaking may be at a premium, where qualifying position and the race start will be extremely crucial to success. But don’t think this will be an ordinary procession – Sugo’s reputation as an “action track” in Super GT also applies in Super Formula, where in 2013, Loïc Duval defeated Andre Lotterer at the line in the closest finish in series history – 0.041 seconds.
Lotterer, the defending race winner at Sugo for Vantelin Team TOM’s, is one of six drivers within reach of the championship leader, Yuji Kunimoto of p.MU/Cerumo-INGING.
Kunimoto left the last double-header round at Okayama International Championship with a 4.5 point lead over his teammate, defending Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura, after winning his first career race in the second leg of the weekend.
From second-placed Ishiura, it’s another point back to Lotterer, who won here last year, and in his 2011 championship season. Rookie Yuhi Sekiguchi, the winner at Twin Ring Motegi, is another point behind Lotterer in fourth after failing to score in Okayama, and fellow rookie, Stoffel Vandoorne, is another point back in fifth – Vandoorne celebrated his appointment to a full-time Formula 1 drive for McLaren with his first career victory in the series at Okayama.
Team Mugen ace Naoki Yamamoto, who finished second in Sugo last year, is sixth, a half-point ahead of TOM’s driver Kazuki Nakajima in seventh. And they’re all covered by 8.5 points.
But there are wildcards in this field too, such as Tomoki Nojiri, the shock winner of this race two years ago.
Tyre wear won’t be as much of a factor here in this 68-lap race, but each driver will need a stop for fuel before the end of the 250 kilometer feature race – leaving the possibility of two-tyre or fuel-only stops well and truly viable.