Preview Japanese Formula 4: Will the next Tsunoda please step forward?

It’s Golden Week in Japan, in which several Japanese holidays take place. Virtually all Japanese have a week off, and therefore it’s an ideal time to race on weekdays. Super GT will run a 450k race at Fuji Speedway on Wednesday, while the 2022 Japanese Formula 4 season finally kicks off.

By René Oudman

Japanese Formula 4 has been a breeding ground for Japanese racing talent for years. Since its inception in 2015, the starting level of the local motorsport ladder has raised several top drivers. Think of the first champion, Sho Tsuboi, who is currently showing his skills in Super Formula. His successor Ritomo Miyata, the Japanese Formula 4 champion of 2016 and 2017, now drives for the renowned team TOM’S in the highest class of Japanese single-seater racing. Other well-known graduates are Sena Sakaguchi, Ukyo Sasahara and Toshiki Oyu.

Almost everyone knows the 2018 Japanese Formula 4 champion. Current AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda turned out to be the best in the field four years ago -– his Japanese Formula 4 title proved to be the prelude to a successful career in Europe, which has led the youngster all the way to Formula 1. Since Tsunoda’s promotion to Europe, more eyes have logically been on Japanese Formula 4.

Yuki Tsunoda celebrating his 2018 Japanese Formula 4 championship title win | Credit: Honda Formula Dream

2019 champion and Red Bull-backed Ren Sato, will, in the event of a successful Super Formula season, probably be allowed to test his luck in Europe, as a Formula 2 seat is kept warm for him. Young Japanese talents are seeing more and more of their countrymen in the limelight and want to emulate their achievements. Due to the increasing attention for Japanese Formula 4, the field of participants is very healthy, unlike other Japanese feeder series.

This year’s class

For the new season, many eyes are set on Rin Arakawa. The 22 year-old Japanese finished second in last year’s standings, behind champion Seita Nonaka, but ahead of Iori Kimura and Kakunoshin Ohta who, like Nonaka, were promoted to Super Formula Lights. Arakawa drives for the Toyota training team and encounters three other talents, all promoted from karting. Rikuto Kobayashi, Jin Nakamura and Ryoma Henzan can prove that they belong in the world of car racing.

Where there is Toyota, there is of course Honda. The big rival’s training team has three cars in its fleet for Syun Koide, Kazuma Nishimura and Yusuke Mitsui. Koide, 22, won one race last year and was on the podium several times. OTG Motorsport and Reimei Ito, respectively the number three in the team championship and the number four in the 2021 drivers’ championship, are joining forces once again. The 21-year-old Ito, like Arakawa and Koide, is considered a contender for the title due to his experience.

As is the case in every feeder series on Japan’s racing ladder, older drivers make up a large proportion of the field. Familiar names like Nobuhiro Imada (57) and Ryuji Kumita (55) compete in the Independent Cup. Last year’s veteran champion Hirobon will not be taking part in the opening weekend in Fuji.

Calendar

Round 1-2: Fuji Speedway, May 3-4
Round 3-4: Suzuka, May 28-29
Round 5-6: Fuji Speedway, August 5-6
Round 7-8: Suzuka, August 27-28
Round 9-10: Sportsland SUGO, September 17-18
Round 11-12: Autopolis, October 1-2
Round 13-14: Motegi, November 5-6

Header photo credit: Japanese Formula 4

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