Five Drivers you didn’t know that raced in Japanese F3

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Marcus Ericsson masters the wet en route to victory at Suzuka in 2009. © Yasushi Ishihara/LAT Photographic

This year, Sacha Fenestraz and Enaam Ahmed entered the Japanese F3 Championship after not finding a race seat in Europe.

However, a quick glance at the series’ history shows that they aren’t the first to do this.

The 1990’s and 2000’s witness a strong influx of international drivers race in Japan to further their respective careers.

With this in mind, here is a look at five drivers you didn’t that raced in Japanese F3.

Jacques Villeneuve: Runner-up 1992 Japanese F3 Championship

Team TOM’s driver Jacques Villeneuve (Right) shares a conversation with a fellow driver before the 1992 Macau Grand Prix. © Sutton Images

Jacques Villeneuve spent three seasons in Italian Formula Three with Prema Racing, but failed to make a lasting impression.

With this in mind, the Canadian opted for a fresh start in 1992 and made the move to Japan.

Villeneuve entered that year’s 1992 Japanese F3 Championship with Toyota’s junior outfit, Team TOM’s.

Racing again the likes of Satoshi Motoyama, Rickard Rydell, Anthony Reid and Tom Kristensen, Villeneuve held his own.

Across the season’s 11 races, he entered a season-long battle with Reid for the title.

Jacques Villeneuve’s move to Japanese F3 proved to be a turning point in his racing career. Image sourced from f3history.co.uk

Villeneuve utilised the TOM’s 032F and went on finish on the podium seven times, more than any other driver. This included three race wins.

However, despite entering one less race, Reid claimed five victories and this proved to be the deciding factor.

At the end of the season, the Brit beat Villeneuve to the championship by just nine points.

The same year, he finished third in the Macau Grand Prix, before going on to finish third in the 1993 Toyota Atlantic Championship.

After this, Villeneuve went on to enjoy success in IndyCar and Formula One.

Tom Kristensen: 1993 Japanese F3 Championship

Tom Kristensen in action during his Japanese F3 days. Image sourced from Alan Mann Racing.

Having won the German Formula Three title in 1991, Tom Kristensen found himself racing in the Japanese equivalent the following year.

Driving a Toyota-powered Ralt RT35 for Navi Connection Racing, the Dane showcased his talent.

With a race win and an additional five podiums, Kristensen finished a respectable fifth in the standings.

1992 also saw him finish as runner-up in the Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC) in a Nissan Skyline GT-R.

For 1993, he moved into the vacant seat left by Jacques Villeneuve at Team TOM’s and drove the new 033F chassis.

Kristensen was in a class of his own and ended the season with the most pole positions (4), wins (5), podiums (8) and fastest laps (7).

Tom Kristensen before the start of the 1995 Japanese Formula 3000 season finale at Suzuka. Image sourced from the Official Tom Kristensen Facebook page.

Unsurprisingly, he won the 1993 Japanese F3 Championship, with Rickard Rydell 18 points adrift in second place.

Kristensen would spend three more years in Japan, and finished second once again in the 1994 JTCC season aboard a Toyota Corona T190.

Alongside, he also finished third in the 1995 Japanese Formula 3000 Championship with Team Cerumo.

Then, after being unable to find his way into Formula One, Kristensen would go on embark on a successful career in sportscar racing.

The man dubbed as Mr. Le Mans would go on win the famous endurance race a record nine times.

Furthermore, Kristensen also claimed multiple wins in the 24 Hours of Sebring, on top of this the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Pedro de la Rosa: 1995 Japanese F3 Championship

Pedro de la Rosa won the 1995 Japanese F3 championship in dominant fashion for Team TOM’s. © Sutton Images

Before he raced in Japanese F3, Pedro de la Rosa had built up a reputation as a star of the future.

Having won the Formula Fiat and Formula Ford championship in his native Spain, alongside British and International Formula Renault, no one doubted his driving abilities.

Therefore, when De la Rosa joined Team TOM’s for the 1995 Japanese F3 campaign, there was a lot of expectation.

By this point, the series used one chassis – the Dallara 395 – with the only difference being the engine manufacturers.

Regardless, the Spaniard went on to demolish the competition and finished all nine races on the rostrum.

This impressive form included eight wins from pole position en route to a well-deserved Drivers’ championship.

De la Rosa would spent two years in Formula Nippon and the All-Japan GT Championship, and went on to win both titles in 1997.

He went then go on to become a journeyman within Formula One, racing for Arrows, Jaguar, McLaren, Sauber and HRT between 1999 and 2012.

Adrian Sutil: 2006 Japanese F3 Championship

Adrian Sutil waves the German flag after winning the Japanese F3 race at Fuji Speedway in 2006. © Yasushi Ishihara / LAT Photographic

Like many drivers before him, Adrian Sutil made the move up to single-seaters and made an immediate impression.

In 2002, he won all tens races of the Swiss Formula Ford Championship from pole position.

After minimal success in Formula BMW, the German finished second behind Lewis Hamilton in the 2005 Formula 3 Euro Series.

For 2006, Adrian Sutil joined Team TOM’s in Japanese F3 and was challenged by team-mate Kazuya Oshima for the championship.

Sutil’s consistency helped him establish a lead when would prove to be unassailable and took the title.

The following year, he made his Formula One debut with Spyker. Sutil would scored his maiden championship point during that year’s Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway.

After this, he went spend a few more years in F1 with Force India and Sauber. More recently, Sutil was Williams’ reserve driver  in 2015.

Marcus Ericsson: 2009 Japanese F3 Championship

Marcus Ericsson celebrates his Japanese F3 win at Suzuka in 2009. © Yasushi Ishihara/LAT Photographic

Marcus Ericsson joined Japanese F3 in 2009 in the belief the championship would further his development as a driver.

Having won the Formula BMW title in 2007, Ericsson was touted as Sweden’s next F1 star.

He had recieved praise from Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack, who helped him in the early stages of his career.

The 2009 season saw the Team TOM’s drivers of Ericsson, Takuto Iguchi and Yuji Kunimoto dominant proceedings.

Between them, they won 14 out of 16 races and fought tooth and nail for the title.

After the finale at Sportsland SUGO, it was Ericsson who came out on top.

Despite Iguchi and Ericsson being tied on five wins a piece, the Swede’s consistency made the difference.

Subsequently, Ericsson won the championship by nine points, with Kunimoto a further six points adrift.

The Swede then joined the GP2 Series and won three races and made his Formula One debut with Caterham in 2014.

Ericsson would then go on to race for Sauber before moving to IndyCar at the start of 2019.

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