Six drivers will be heading to the double header at Suzuka this weekend with a mathematical chance of claiming this year’s Super Formula Driver’s Championship.
Hiroaki Ishiura (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING), Pierre Gasly (Team Mugen), Felix Rosenqvist (SUNOCO Team Le Mans), Yuhi Sekiguchi (Itochu Enex Team Implu), Kazuki Nakajima and André Lotterer (both Vantelin Team Tom’s) are all in contention of the winning the title with sixteen points up for grabs from the two remaining races.
Here is the overview of the top six drivers as they prepare to embark on the famed figure of eight circuit.
Hiroaki Ishiura currently leads the Drivers’ Standings on 33.5 points, something he has done since winning the third round of the championship at the Fuji Speedway.
Ishiura is also the only driver to have finished every race in the points thus far, with his worst result being an eighth-place finish in the first race at Okayama.
The Japanese driver has had to fight to maintain this impressive level of consistency though, with the standout moment being his fourth-place finish at Motegi, having started the race in sixteenth place.
Ishiura also did well to hold off his team-mate Yuji Kunimoto and Kazuki Nakajima for the same position at Autopolis and this element of race craft will help him in his pursuit of his second Super Formula title in three years.
Considered by many as the favourite to win the championship, Pierre Gasly has given up the chance to race for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin to compete for the Super Formula Championship this weekend.
After a slow start which saw the Frenchman fail to score in the opening two races, the Frenchman went on to claim back-to-back victories at Motegi and Autopolis and is the only driver to win this year with a Honda engine.
Gasly is only half a point behind Ishiura in the Drivers’ standings and after his recent appearances for Toro Rosso in Formula One, it is likely he’ll be attracting a new audience to a highly competitive championship as he looks to prove to Helmut Marko and Co that he is worthy of a place in the pinnacle of motorsport.
Like Gasly, Felix Rosenqvist failed to score in the first two races of the season. Thereafter though, the Swede has had a brilliant run of consistency which has seen him finish the following five races in the top five, including a hat-trick of podiums.
Despite this, Rosenqvist is the only driver in title contention who has failed to win a race so far, although he was very close when he finished second at Fuji within breathing distance of the eventual race winner Ishiura.
He’ll arrive at Suzuka this weekend five points behind the Japanese driver and will undoubtedly be fighting for that breakthrough victory, and just as importantly, the championship.
Yuhi Sekiguchi’s 2017 season has been one of contrasting fortunes. When the Tokyo-born driver is in the groove, he can challenge at the front, having recorded a race win at the second race held at Okayama, in addition to last time out in Sportsland SUGO.
On the other hand, when Sekiguchi can’t turn up the wick, his form tends to drop considerably and has failed to score points on three occasions.
This level of inconsistency could prove to be costly once the chequered flag is waved as the season ends, especially when the level of competitiveness across the field is accounted for and is lucky to only be eight and a half points behind Ishiura in the standings.
However, if his performance at Sportsland SUGO is anything to go by, Sekiguchi isn’t going to go down quietly and is going to put up one hell of a fight.
Kazuki Nakajima started his 2017 campaign perfectly, with a dominant victory from pole position when the championship kicked off at Suzuka back in April.
Since then, the two-time Super Formula champion has struggled to challenge for points on a regular basis and only managed to return to the podium last time out with a third-place finish at Sportsland SUGO.
The Toyota-backed driver is on 22 points, eleven and a half points behind Ishiura, meaning a win in race one is essential to keep his slim title chances alive.
Whereas his team-mate Nakajima has had inconsistent finishes holding him back, André Lotterer has had bad luck.
After picking up points in the first five races of the year, including a win at the first race of the double header at Okayama, the experienced German driver was forced to retire at Autopolis after he experienced engine problem early on.
And after another non-score at Sportsland SUGO, Lotterer has dropped from second to sixth in the championship within two races through no fault of his own.
As a result, it is likely that failure to win the weekend’s first race at Suzuka will draw the curtain down on what was a promising championship battle for the veteran driver.