As always, the Japanese Super Formula Championship has produced some close and exciting battles across the land of the rising sun.
With the season already at the halfway stage, here is a round-up of how the drivers have done so far:
After Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly came unbelievably close to winning the Drivers’ title last year, Team Mugen are in contention once again thanks to their full-time driver, Naoki Yamamoto.
Yamamoto’s season got off to a great start with a lights-to-flag victory at Suzuka from Pole Position.
This was then followed up by an equally impressive display to win at Sportsland SUGO.
However, his eighth-place finish at the Fuji Speedway means his championship lead has been cut down to a single point.
Regardless, Yamamoto has proven he can win the Drivers’ title, having done so in 2013, and will be amongst the contenders this year.
Following his success in last year’s Super GT championship for Lexus alongside Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy has so far managed to transfer this form into Japan’s top single seater series.
After a solid drive which saw the Kiwi claim seventh for Kondō Racing at Suzuka, Cassidy produced back-to-back podiums, finishing second at SUGO before going on to take the chequered flag at Fuji.
Cassidy was made to work for the victory though, as he fought off defending champion Hiroaki Ishiura for the entire duration of the contest to secure a well-earned win from pole.
He is now second in the championship on 21 points; just one point behind leader Yamamoto.
In 2017, it was Hiroaki Ishiura’s consistency that gave him the Drivers’ title by the small margin of just a half a point for Inging Motorsport.
This year, he has tried to continue this philosophy, with his fourth place at Suzuka and second place in Fuji moving him to third in the standings, and nine points behind Yamamoto.
However, given how competitive the championship has proven to be thus far, Ishiura’s failure to score at SUGO could be costly at the end of the season.
Following his second place at Suzuka, there was talk that 2018 could be the year that Yuhi Sekiguchi won the Super Formula Championship.
However, there is a level of frustration within Team Impul, given that once again Sekiguchi has struggled to show the consistent form that has eluded him since joining the series in 2016.
The 11-point gap himself and Yamamoto is still recoverable, but he’ll need to score big next time out at Twin Ring Motegi to stay in the title hunt.
Toyota’s factory team, Vantelin Team TOM’s haven’t been battling at the front as usual in 2018, once again showcasing why the series can be unpredictable.
Two-time champion Kazuki Nakajima has scored the team’s 11 points so far, with a best finish of third at SUGO to put himself joint-fourth with Sekiguchi in the Drivers’ Championship.
Despite this, the Japanese Le Mans winner has yet to show signs of the form he showcased in previous title winning seasons.
And going off Nakajima’s late season form for the last two years, you’d suspect that the 2018 title won’t be his, although there is a long way to go in this year’s championship.
Team Dandelion’s Tomoki Nojiri has started to show signs of the consistency that escaped him last year.
His two points finishes, which included his third place at Suzuka and a Pole Position at SUGO, have put Nojiri at the front of the midfield pack.
On the other hand, his failure to record points in Fuji could put the Drivers’ Title beyond him, although you can expect Nojiri to give those ahead of him a run for their money.
Yuji Kunimoto: Since winning the Super Formula title in 2016 for Inging Motorsport, Kunimoto’s form has dropped off, in part to some bitter luck.
Thankfully, a podium finish last time out in Fuji shows what Kunimoto can and hopefully he’ll be able to fight at the front for the remainder of the season.
Ryo Hirakawa: Another driver to experience misfortune in Super Formula this year, the reigning Super GT champion can’t seem to catch a break for Team Impul.
Having thrown away some a potential top eight finish at Suzuka, Kirakawa had qualified on pole for the race at Autopolis, only to receive a grid penalty and then the race be cancelled due to poor weather conditions.
Since then, Hirakawa’s form has changed slightly, narrowly missing out on points at SUGO before taking fourth place in Fuji.
Tom Dillmann: Having been drafted in by Team Le Mans to replace the injured Pietro Fittipaldi, Tom Dillmann has put in two respectable performances.
However, given that Fittipaldi is close to returning, and that the Frenchman himself has been linked with a Venturi seat for the 2018/19 Formula E season following his fourth place at the recent New York ePrix, it is feasible that Dillmann won’t be returning to Super Formula for the foreseeable future.
Narain Karthikeyan: Usually amongst the tail-enders in Super Formula, Narain Karthikeyan’s fifth place finish for Nakajima Racing at SUGO was his second-best finish in the series to date.
If the former Formula One driver can continue this form, then Karthikeyan be well on his way to recording his best season in Super Formula, albeit at 41-years-old.
Nobuharu Matsushita: Having experienced a fair amount of success in GP2/Formula 2, the signing of Nobuharu Matsushita by Team Dandelion seemed to be a masterstroke on paper.
And although he has yet to get onto the scoreboard, the Honda-backed driver hasn’t been far off doing so and it will likely happen sooner rather than later.
James Rossiter: Having re-joined Super Formula having a year’s absence, James Rossiter has yet to recapture the form demonstrated in previous seasons.
However, Vantelin Team TOM’s have gotten behind the Brit and Rossiter will surely be able to progress as the season wears on.
Nirei Fukuzumi: Nirei Fukuzumi made his Super Formula debut at Suzuka for Honda’s factory team, Team Mugen.
Fukuzumi qualified second alongside pole sitter and team-mate Naoki Yamamoto and was on course to finish in the points before experiencing an engine failure.
Although he was forced to miss the subsequent rounds due to his commitments with Arden in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, it is believed that Fukuzumi will be returning to the championship for the rest of the season.
Dan Ticktum: Having won last year’s Macau Grand Prix, Dan Ticktum returned to Asia to replace Nirei Fukuzumi at Team Mugen.
The Red Bull backed Briton was unfortunate to not score in his two appearances, retiring at SUGO before putting in an impressive performance to fight from 19th to finish 11th at Fuji.