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Champion’s Story 1: Ralf Schumacher (1996)

2020年4月24日

In 1996, a young red-cheeked 20-year-old driver from Germany came to Japan. His name was Ralf Schumacher. His elder brother, who became the talk of F1 after Aryton Senna, was a huge influence. At a party a few years prior, Michael who raced in F3, told those who were in attendance “my younger brother is faster than me.”

Ralf drove for Team LeMans, a team whose main sponsor was one of the most popular bands in Japan–X-JAPAN. Because of this, the vibe at the opening race of the season at Suzuka was a totally different one than usual. X-JAPAN’s main vocalist TOSHI even came to the race. And not only race fans, but fans of the band also filled the stands.

In the midst of that atmosphere in Suzuka, Schumacher went on to pick up a podium finish. In Rd. 2, he won at Mine Circuit. And then again at Tokachi Circuit in Rd. 4. In the race at the midpoint of the season Toranosuke Takagi picked up his game.

Schumacher’s closest rival became teammate Naoki Hattori. And yet another rival was Formula Nippon’s maiden season Rd. 1 winner and the oldest driver in the series–Kazuyoshi Hoshino. Hoshino would hang up his shoes in formula racing that season. The championship would come down to these 3. Ralf focused his attention on Hattori. At Fuji, Hattori displayed his speed. After qualifying in Rd. 7, Schumacher’s manager ordered Hattori’s parts and engine to be changed out with Schumacher’s. To Ralf’s side’s dismay however, Hattori went on to win that race. Making it hard for Schumacher’s side to look Hattori in the eye. That is how bad they wanted to win. Schumacher’s manager at the time was none other than current F1 Scuderia Alpha Tauri team principal Franz Tost. Tost and Schumacher lived in a house along Yamanakako, where Tost looked after the young Schumacher.

Hoshino Kazuyoshi

It was time for the last race of the season. Held under rainy conditions, it was a dramatic race, to say the least. Schumacher was the first to get off to a solid start. Hoshino, who had taken pole, had clutch problems at the start of the race and was forced to retire. Hattori, who just needed to run a good race to take the season crown, went off course in Corner A, bringing his day and hopes for the title to an end. As a result, Ralf Schumacher went on to become the inaugural Formula Nippon Champion.

All results of 1996 season


Reynard 96D / Mugen MF 308

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