The champion seemed to be on his way to Formula 2, his three main title rivals have already been promoted to Super Formula. The breeding ground of Japanese motor racing talent, or Super Formula Lights, did not disappoint in 2021. Can Super Formula Lights produce another great batch of young guns in 2022? The new season kicks off this weekend at Fuji Speedway and F1 Feeder Series previews.
By René Oudman
Whereas Super Formula Lights has been subject to dominant performances on several occasions in the recent past – think Sho Tsuboi in 2018 and Ritomo Miyata in 2020 – the 2021 season was a three way battle: Teppei Natori, Giuliano Alesi and Ren Sato shared the vast majority of victories. In the end, Natori’s rock-solid season start proved good enough to lay the foundation for a title win. Despite two wins in the final weekend, debutant Alesi just came up short, with Sato finishing a distant third.
While Alesi (TOM’S), Sato and last year’s number four Atsushi Miyake (Goh) can all be seen in Super Formula this weekend, champion Natori is left empty-handed. The 21-year-old, who already bivouacked in Europe for a year in 2019 to drive in the FIA Formula 3 Championship and Euroformula Open, decided to return home at the eleventh hour after striking a deal with Formula 2 team Trident. With the Super Formula teams filling their seats in the meantime, Natori has no option but to wait in the wings.
In recent years, the Super Formula Lights field has been shrinking, which is obviously due to the pandemic. Whereas in the Japanese Formula 3 days there were almost always more than twenty drivers at the start, the number of sixteen participants is quite a lot these days. As is the case in the Formula Regional Japanese Championship, veterans are also part of the lot. Old warriors like Nobuhiro Imada and Ryuji Kumita, better known under his alias Dragon, share the starting grid with young talents.
Where Sato and Miyake, on behalf of teams Toda and Looney, cleverly kept up with the two dominating top teams last year, the expectation remains that TOM’S or B-Max will run away with the titles. After all, the biggest Toyota talents will be housed by the former team, and the best Honda pupils will join the latter.
Russian-Japanese driver Iori Kimura will be B-Max’s eye-catching driver this year. Kimura, 22, finished third in the 2021 Japanese F4 Championship and is poised to lead B-Max’s four way team. Besides his participation in Super Formula Lights, the youngster will also compete in the Super GT300 class. Veterans Imada and Dragon are his teammates, while 26-year-old Super GT regular Togo Suganami occupies the fourth seat.
TOM’S has a four-man attack in 2022, with Kazuto Kotaka as its best known driver. Kotaka drove in almost the entire 2021 Super Formula season as Kamui Kobayashi’s replacement at KCMG. His performance was not particularly strong, Kotaka failed to score a single point in six races.
Two reigning champions join Kotaka at TOM’S, namely Yuga Furutani, the reigning Formula Regional Japanese champion, and Seita Nonaka, the overall winner of last year’s Japanese F4 Championship. The quartet is completed by Hibiki Taira, the number five of the previous Super Formula Lights season. With Natori, Alesi, Sato and Miyake all gone, Taira is the best-ranked competitor from last year’s championship appearing on this year’s entry list.
After Sato’s left for Super Formula, Toda will field Kakunoshin Ota, the number five of the F4 championship that was won by Nonaka. Ota is also finally stepping up after years in F4. Rn-Sports will line up with Kota Kawaai, who has not driven in the single seaters for a while, and 61-year-old Masayuki Ueda. Helmet Motorsports is betting on Yuya and Reiji Hiraki, of whom no miracles are expected.
Full 2022 calendar
|1-3||Fuji Speedway||8-10 April|
Header photo credit: Super Formula Lights
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