For the first time since September 2015, the Japanese Super Formula Championship will return to Kyushu island and the undulating, high-altitude Autopolis circuit for the fifth round of the 2017 season.
Back for the first time since the Kumamoto earthquakes of April 2016 cancelled last year’s running of the event, Autopolis will be the stage for the championship contenders to all keep pace with points leader Hiroaki Ishiura, who leads the field in pursuit of his second Japanese top formula championship with just three rounds left this season.
Not only will this be the first race at Autopolis since 2015, it’ll be the first race with Super Formula’s new tyre supplier, Yokohama, who are also bringing their soft-compound “option” tyre and medium-compound “prime” tyre for the second time this year. As was the case at Twin Ring Motegi, both compounds will be compulsory – which should add to the on-track action on display, if Motegi was an indicator.
Championship leader Hiroaki Ishiura, who finished second the last time the series visited Autopolis in 2015, has a 5.5 point lead over André Lotterer, who won this race in 2010, 2013, and 2014 – the most victories for any driver at the circuit.
Together with Kazuki Nakajima, who won in 2011 and 2015 – and who also won at Autopolis in the Super GT in Kyushu 300km this May – Vantelin Team TOM’s two ace drivers have a great track record of success at Autopolis, and are poised to seize the opportunity to make up ground in the championship fight.
But there’s a youth movement rising to the forefront in the championship hunt, especially after Pierre Gasly took his first Super Formula victory last round at Twin Ring Motegi for Red Bull Team Mugen.
Gasly and Felix Rosenqvist (Sunoco Team LeMans) are the two leading rookies in the championship, and both are within striking distance of Ishiura’s lead at Autopolis. Only one other first-year driver, Ralf Schumacher in 1996, ever won the Japanese top formula championship in their first season – but another stellar result from Gasly or Rosenqvist could put either young man in prime position to contend.
It will also be the first Super Formula run at Autopolis for super sophomore Yuhi Sekiguchi (Itochu Enex Team Impul), who is also in the title hunt, and for Kenta Yamashita (Kondo Racing), another rookie, and the young man who won in GT300 at Autopolis this May.