Japanese racing fans are counting down the days before ‘the month of single-seater season openers’ begins. The 2022 Formula Regional Japanese Championship season will hit the ground running this weekend, whereas both Super Formula and Super Formula Lights start next week. In its first Japanese racing season preview, F1 Feeder Series scrutinises the FRJ field.
By René Oudman
The entry list is anything but overflowing for the season opener of the Formula Regional Japanese (FRJ) Championship. Only nine drivers have been officially announced for the first three races of the 2022 season, which will take place at the legendary Fuji Speedway in five days’ time. Of those nine, five are part of the Masters’ Class (or veteran’s category). Only four drivers are aged under 30 and only one is younger than Japan’s active Formula One driver: Ryunosuke Sawa was born two years after Yuki Tsunoda.
Nevertheless, the term ‘feeder series’ applies to the FRJ. In the past two seasons of its existence, FRJ has acted as the steppingstone for several great talents. Sena Sakaguchi made mincemeat of his competitors in 2020 by winning eleven times in eleven races and winning the title despite missing an entire three-race weekend. He was directly promoted to the Super Formula series. Yura Furutani, last years’ champion, moved up to Super Formula Lights.
In normal circumstances, the Formula Regional Japanese Championship champion is awarded no less than eighteen super licence points, just like in the European Championship (FRECA). Reigning title holder Furutani, however, has not yet been awarded any points. Small starting fields meant that FRJ was unable to meet the FIA’s requirements for minimum grid size in 2021 and although the FRJ organisation officially hasn’t yet stated whether any points have actually been awarded, it seems pretty hard for Furutani and colleagues to claim some.
FRJ believes that the lack of applications to participate is due to the world situation and conflicting race calendars, although the latter is doubtful. SF Lights – a series not short of participants – never coincided with FRJ last year. It seems like Honda and Toyota prefer to breed their own youngsters in the Super Formula Lights, leaving FRJ to fade into the background.
Four-way battle between the younger drivers
The four ‘younger‘ talents currently registered for the first three races of the year are the aforementioned Sawa (just turned 20), single race winner Sota Ogawa (22) and Yoshiaki Katayama (28), who won every of the three races in which he participated last year. The three men will be accompanied by a lady: Miki Koyama (24), ex-W Series, has returned to her motherland in a bid to compete at the highest level. Koyama is looking for Super GT and Super Formula seats and will have to fight her way through the ranks of the Japanese feeder series to get there.
Koyama’s chances are actually looking pretty good. Last year’s number fourteen in the W Series championship has joined the Super Licence squad, which took another female driver, Ai Miura, to a second place finish in last year’s championship. Koyama has also become part of Toyota’s training programme (TGR-DC). Furthermore, the Japanese lady recorded the fastest lap time in the collective test session which took place a fortnight ago at the very same circuit where the season will get started this weekend – Fuji. Koyama was seven hundredths of a second faster than Ogawa.
Ogawa will be driving for Shinichi Takagi’s Bionic Jack Racing, which has started a FRJ trajectory next to its F4 bid. Sawa, who is tied to Porsche Japan as one of their official junior drivers, has joined the renowned Sutekina Racing Team.
The prestigious Team LeMans will also be present in this year’s FRJ. LeMans has set up a partnership with the Okayama circuit’s training centre (OIRC) and the first order of service was to appoint Katayama, who only completed on a part-time basis last season. This winter, Katayama competed in the Tasman Series of the S5000 class, albeit without any success.
Veteran masters and (too) young talents
It seems obvious that Koyama, Ogawa, Sawa and Katayama will fight in a four-way battle for the title, as the rest of the field competes in the so-called Masters’ Class. Among those masters are well-known veterans such as Nobuhiro Imada (57), who narrowly missed out on the Masters’ Class crown in 2021. 40 year old Hirobon is also present, as are the fifty-somethings Masaru Miura, Yorikatsu Tsujiko and Yuki Tanaka.
Young talent Ayato Iwasaki, who made his motor racing debut last winter, is missing out on the party. Iwasaki is currently seventeen years old, which is too young for the FRJ. The series has a strict age limit of eighteen years – only to be raised if the driver in question has won certain karting titles. As Iwasaki will celebrate his eighteenth birthday between the first and second rounds of the 2022 FRJ season, he’ll be able to compete from Okayama on.
Riki Okusa, who won twice and finished second five times in seven events last year, didn’t secure a seat for the opening weekend. As Irishman Lucca Allen is waiting in the wings to get his budget done, there will be no international drivers on the grid. FRJ will use the Dome for another year, again equipped with a standard engine supplied by Alfa Romeo.
Formula Regional Japanese Championship calendar 2022
Races 1-2-3: Fuji Speedway, April 2-3
Races 4-5-6: Okayama, June 25-26
Races 7-8-9: Motegi, July 2-3
Races 10-11-12: Sugo, 23-24 July
Races 13-14-15: Fuji, 9-11 September
Races 16-17: Suzuka, 10-11 December
Header photo credit: Formula Regional Japanese Championship
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