The excitement surrounding Super Formula continues, as the series heads to Fuji Speedway for Round Four of the 2019 championship.
Owned by Toyota, the 16-turn course has one of the longest straights in motorsport at 1.475 km (0.917 miles). As you’d expected, slip-streaming will be key to success for the drivers this weekend.
Several other sections of the track will provide challenges for the drivers. 100R, a sweeping right-hander, and the heavy braking zone at the Dunlop chicane, are prime examples.
Additionally, a good run through the final few corners is crucial to getting a good exit onto the pit straight.
Fuji Speedway has also experienced two spells hosting the Japanese Grand Prix in the 1970’s and the late 2000’s.
The inaugural race in 1976 is easily the most famous of the four. There, McLaren’s James Hunt become world champion in torrential conditions.
O’Ward replaces Ticktum at Team Mugen
The big story in Super Formula is that Patrico O’Ward will replace Dan Ticktum at Team Mugen for the remainder of the season.
The 20-year-old Mexican was running in IndyCar on a part-time basis with Carlin, but was having to raise funds without the help of Red Bull.
As a result, a return to IndyCar has been put into serious doubt for the time being.
More recently, O’Ward also made his Formula 2 debut with MP Motorsport last month in Austria.
Understandably, he is determined to make his mark within the Red Bull junior programme:
“Dr. Helmut Marko spoke to me and he explained that he would like for me to do the remaining Super Formula rounds in Japan, as well as possibly some more F2 races if that can be arranged,” O’Ward said.
“It is a huge opportunity of course and I’m very excited about it. I know that it will be a big challenge.”
“Like coming here [at the Red Bull Ring], I do not know the tracks in Japan or the car, but there is more track time in a race weekend I believe.”
“I know that culture and communications are different and the series is at a very high level, so it is a fantastic chance for me to learn and progress.”
Ticktum dropped from Red Bull
“At this level the demands are intense,” Dr. Helmut Marko explained.
“Unfortunately, Dan has not found the success in the Super Formula series that we hoped for.”
Ticktum has won the Macau Grand Prix twice, but only managed one point in Super Formula this season. The Brit also made his F1 test debut in Bahrain last April.
In comparison, fellow Red Bull junior Lucas Auer is currently sixth in the Drivers’ standings, after finishing third at Sportsland SUGO.
Furthermore, current Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly also achieved success in Super Formula, with two wins en route to second place in the 2017 season.
However, after the race at SUGO, Ticktum explained a possible reason why he was off the pace:
“Terrible is the best way to describe [the weekend],” Ticktum told motorsport.com via the Red Bull junior site.
“We tried everything with the car, the set-up, I tried changing my driving style, we all did everything but there is something wrong that we didn’t find.”
“I really wonder whether when I hit the kerb at Autopolis something was damaged that we haven’t found. It does seem that something is significantly wrong.,” Ticktum added.
“These cars are very sensitive, you can see that most of the teams are inconsistent, but that doesn’t explain why I am a second off my teammate.
“Not wanting to be arrogant, but on an off day I might be a tenth or so off, but this is more than that.”
Real Racing Gain Sponsors
In other news, Real Racing are expected to arrive at Fuji with an updated livery, as a result of a sponsorship deal.
The team are have reach a deal with the Tokyo-based Gendai Super Performance Motor Oil, with the latter making the announcement on social media.
However, details of the sponsorship deal are unknown at this stage.
Although Real Racing have yet to release an official statement at the time of press, the partnership could mark a turning point in their season.
They endured a difficult start to 2019 and sacked rookie driver Tristan Charpentier after just one race.
Results have improved since Koudai Tsukakoshi’s return to Super Formula. Despite this, Real Racing are the only team yet to score a championship point this season.
The Form Guide – Who to Look Out For in Fuji
Dandelion Racing’s Naoki Yamamoto will look to continue his dominant form and extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
The defending champion also set the fastest time of 1:21.742 during pre-season testing at Fuji Speedway in March.
Team Tom’s Nick Cassidy is Yamamoto’s closest challenger with 16 points and will be looking to repeat his performance from last year’s race.
Driving for Kondo Racing, the Kiwi from pole position in commanding fashion, and also set the fastest lap.
Another driver to keep an eye on Hiroaki Ishiura, who has finished on the podium at Fuji three times in the last four years.
This included his win there for the JMS P.MU/CERUMO.INGING outfit in 2017, en route to his first Super Formula title.
Kenta Yamashita will be one of the dark horses this weekend for Kondo Racing.
In pre-season, he set the fastest time amongst the Toyota drivers and will want to do the same this weekend.
In the Teams’ Championship, Dandelion Racing command a 18 point lead, thanks in part to Yamamoto’s form.
However, behind them, a nice battle is starting to form for second place. Team TOM’s, Kondo Racing and Team Impul separated by just six points.
Watch the Race Live AND Free!
The race to due to get underway on Sunday 14 July, at 6:00 am BST (2:00 pm Local Time).