Haven’t heard of the Super Formula racing series? Don’t worry, up until very recently neither had I. That’s what I love about living in Japan, every day is a new learning day and knowing about Japan’s domestic top-tier racing series is just one of the many new things I’ve learnt here.
Think of Super Formula as being more similar to America’s Indy Car series than Formula 1. It’s the top tier single-seater racing series in Japan. Super Formula can trace its roots back to 1973 as Formula 2000. Over the years it’s taken various names such as Formula Two and Formula 3000.
When Japan Race Promotion Inc. (JRP) was created, they changed the series into Formula Nippon. In 2013 the name was once again changed to Japanese Championship Super Formula to coincide with plans to upgrade the cars and increase the awareness of the series. From 2016, it is simply known as Super Formula Championship.
Super Formula has grown since its inception to become one of the premier single-seater race series in the world, after Formula One and Indy Car. It is considered by name to be the pinnacle of motorsport in Japan and Asia.
All Super Formula cars are built by Dallara. Cars are using the SF14 chassis first introduced in the 2014 season. The engines are supplied by Toyota and Honda and are 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-4 units. Yokohama are the sole suppliers for tyres.
Speaking with Russ Jost, Head of International Affairs at JRP, Jost says the cars are on par if not “faster around corners” than F1 cars. The photo below illustrates the sector times of Nico Rosberg’s 2014 F1 car and Andre Lotterer’s Super Formula car around Suzuka.
For the 2017 season there will be a total of 11 teams and 19 cars on the grid. While most drivers are Japanese, six are from overseas including one from New Zealand. Nick Cassidy, who made his name in the Toyota Racing Series winning in 2012 and 2013. Cassidy has also won the All-Japan Formula 1 series and competed in Super GT.
Several big names in motorsports have gone through the Super Formula series to Formula One. Homegrown talents such as Satoru Nakajima, Kunimitsu Takahashi, and Kazuyoshi Hoshino have stepped up from Super Formula (then own as Formula Nippon) to F1.
Foreign drivers such as Eddie Irvine, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and both Michael and Ralf Schumacher have also competed in Super Formula (Formula 3000) prior to making their debuts in Formula One.
In recent years drivers such as André Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, and Kazuki Nakajima have been champions of Super Formula. Most of the drivers also seem to dabble in Super Formula and arguably Japan’s most famous racing series – Super GT.
A familiar name, Kamui Kobayashi, who competed in Formula One until the 2014 season raced in the 2015 season for Super Formula. Stoffel Vandoorne, is one of Super Formula’s recent graduates. He finished 4th overall in the 2016 Super Formula season and has now been signed on to drive for McLaren Honda in Formula One, taking over for Jenson Button.
Being a top-tier racing series, Super Formula races are held on some of Japan’s most famous racetracks. The first and final race of the series are held at the world renowned Suzuka Circuit, where the Japanese Grand Prix race is also held. Races are also held in Fuji International Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi, Okayama International Circuit, Autopolis Circuit, and Sportsland Sugo.
The circuits a mix of world championship circuits and older, more technical tracks. In addition to what’s essentially a single-make racecar (with the exception of the engines), it makes Super Formula a competitive series. It’ll be interesting to see these cars and drivers in action. I hope to make it out to a race this season.
It’ll also be interesting to keep an eye on Nick Cassidy’s career in Super Formula. Watch this space.