One of the greatest drivers in the history of auto racing has announced his retirement from the Japanese Super Formula Championship.
André Lotterer, the 2011 series champion, announced Thursday that he would no longer race in Super Formula after fifteen seasons in the series – a career that made him the most successful foreign driver in Japanese Top Formula racing history, and also laid the groundwork for one of the most successful endurance racing careers of all time.
The decision comes as Lotterer takes on new challenges in racing in 2018, and with his career at a crossroads at 36 years of age, the German racing legend opted to call time on his single-seater career.
“It will be sad to call time on something I’ve been doing since 2003,” Lotterer said in an interview with Autosport‘s Gary Watkins.
“I think I took the most out of my time there, but sometimes you have to go where the opportunities take you and my other programmes this year won’t allow me to do Super Formula. There are too many clashes and just arriving at the last moment and jumping in the car would mean I couldn’t do a proper job. I’m 36 and it might be time to move aside and let some younger talent come in.”
In 2018, Lotterer will drive for Rebellion Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 class, and is taking part in his first FIA Formula E Championship campaign with Techeetah Formula E Team – on top of additional GT endurance racing work with Porsche, for whom he drove in LMP1 last year.
But Lotterer will miss racing in Japan, as he’s done every year for the past fifteen years.
“It wasn’t something that I did for the money at the end; I did it for fun,” he said. “It was awesome racing and nothing came close for me to driving those cars through somewhere like the esses at Suzuka.”
In 2003, Lotterer joined Nakajima Racing to drive in what was then known as the Formula Nippon Championship. Having been turned down by Formula 1 and IndyCar, Lotterer immediately made the most of his new-found opportunity when he won 4 races over his first 3 seasons, and finished 2nd in the 2004 championship – with as many points as series champion Richard Lyons.
In 2006, Lotterer switched from Nakajima Racing to TOM’s Racing, from Honda to Toyota, and in 2011, he had his career-best season in Super Formula, as he won the championship with 5 wins from 6 races entered.
That was also the year that Lotterer won the first of his three overall titles at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Audi Sport Team Joest, co-drivers Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler, and engineer Leena Gade.
After that success, Lotterer was set to leave Japan behind entirely from 2012, but with the blessing of Audi motorsport head Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, he was allowed to continue his career, adding another 10 wins, and another close call with the title in 2013 – where he finished level with Naoki Yamamoto in points despite running only 4 of 7 races, but lost the tiebreaker due to not running all the rounds.
“I spent a month preparing to leave,” he recalled. “I thought it wasn’t going to work, because I would miss it too much. I called Dr. Ullrich and told him that there were no clashes with Super Formula and explained that from a personal and sporting point of view it would be a benefit for me to continue racing in Japan. He is a very human person and understood that it would work for everyone.”
Lotterer will also be remembered in Japan for his stellar nine-year career in the GT500 class of the Autobacs Super GT Series, where he won the 2006 and 2009 series championships driving for TOM’s alongside co-driver Juichi Wakisaka, as well as the 2007 Suzuka 1000km.
Over the course of his stellar Super Formula career, Lotterer won 24 races – good enough for third-most in the history of Japanese Top Formula racing, behind only Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Satoshi Motoyama. He had 11 pole positions, his last coming at the rained-out JAF Grand Prix Suzuka this past October, and 56 career podiums – with at least two in every season. He is the most successful non-Japanese driver of all-time.
Lotterer was also a model of consistency, finishing in the top five of the championship in 14 of his 15 seasons, and 10 of those seasons were inside the top three. 2017 was the only season in which Lotterer failed to finish inside the top five in the championship table.
In Super GT, Lotterer won 5 races, 19 podiums, 2 GT500 Drivers’ Championships, and had a whopping 60 top-ten finishes from 70 starts – a points-scoring record of 85.71 percent. And of course, Lotterer has three wins at Le Mans (2011, 2012, 2014) and was crowned the inaugural champion of the rebooted World Endurance Championship with Audi in 2012. He is one of only three drivers who has raced in the series since its inception – and will continue to race in 2018-19.
On behalf of the entire Super Formula and Super GT fanbase, including the author of this piece, we wish André Lotterer a happy, safe, and prosperous career in his future endeavours – and we give our utmost thanks for an amazing 15 years.