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“NEXT50” Debut Year Season Opener Preview


Photo 2021 Start Scene

The 2022 Super Formula season will get underway at Fuji Speedway on April 9 & 10 with a 2-qualifying and 2-race event weekend. Free practice will be held on Friday afternoon, followed by Rd. 1 on Saturday. The qualifying for Rd. 1 will be held in the morning, with the first race of the season in the afternoon. The Rd. 2 qualifying will be held on Sunday morning with the race slated for an afternoon lights out. A strong start for the drivers in these two rounds would no doubt help them to carry momentum throughout the first part of the season.
The 2022 season will be a 10-race season held over 7 rounds, with points for each one counting towards the season championship. A P1 finish in each qualifying session will earn a driver 3 points, P2 will receive 2 points, and P3 will earn 1 point. For the races, a P1 finish will earn a driver 20 points, P2 15 points, and P3 11 points. Drivers who finish in the top 10 in a race will all earn points toward the championship. A P1 finish in both qualifying and the race could garner a max of 23 points. Winning both the qualifying and race in both rounds in the season opener could give a driver a total of 46 points heading into Rd. 3 at Suzuka at the end of April.

Ren Sato(TEAM GOH) & Atsushi Miyake(TEAM GOH)
Ukyo Sasahara who Earned a Full-time seat(TEAM MUGEN)
Giuliano Alesi Will Drive Full-season in 2022(Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S)
A total of 12 teams with 21 drivers have been announced for the 2022 Super Formula season. Both TEAM MUGEN and TEAM GOH have added an additional car to their arsenal this year, bringing the total driver count up by 2 compared to last season. TEAM GOH drivers Ren Sato & Atsushi Miyake will compete as rookies in this campaign, both stepping up from the Super Formula Lights category. Ukyo Sasahara (TEAM MUGEN) and Giuliano Alesi (Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S) have been announced as the full-time drivers for their teams. Sasahara raced in place of Juri Vips for the entire 2020 season due to Vips not being able to enter Japan during the pandemic. Sasahara also took over the steering for Tadasuke Makino (DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING) for the first 2 races of 2021. Alesi replaced newly retired Kazuki Nakajima in 4 of the 7 races last season, with Alesi winning his first Super Formula race in the heavy rain at Autopolis. Alesi will be in the #36 car, the team ace number for TOM’S. Great things are expected from Sacha Fenestraz (KONDO RACING) who didn’t get issued a visa until the latter part of 2021, abbreviating his season to just two rounds—Rd. 6 at Motegi and Rd. 7 at Suzuka. Sasha has been behind the wheel in both pre-season tests and will race the entire 2022 campaign. Hiroki Otsu, in his 2nd year in the series will be driving for DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING. Other highly-touted 2nd year drivers Ritomo Miyata (Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S) and Sena Sakaguchi (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING) will also get a drive for their teams. They will be going up against the likes of defending champion Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN), who won the championship in his 8th season in Super Formula, veterans Kamui Kobayashi (KCMG), Yuji Kunimoto (KCMG), Yuhi Sekiguchi (carenex TEAM IMPUL), Ryo Hirakawa (carenex TEAM IMPUL), Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING). Nirei Fukuzumi (ThreeBond Drago CORSE), who won 2 races last season, will also be driving for a new team, and 2020 2-race winner Sho Tsuboi (P.MU/CERUMO・INGING), as well as Toshiki Oyu (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING), who is known for his outstanding high-level driving style, will also be racing in the series. The bar in Super Formula is amazingly high. Who will step up to the plate and hit a home run in the first event of the season?

Defending Champion Tomoki Nojiri (TEAM MUGEN)
Yuhi Sekiguchi (carenex TEAM IMPUL) Finished 3rd Overall in 2021
Photo Naoki Yamamoto (TCS NAKAJIMA RACING)
Two-days of pre-season testing were held at Fuji just two weeks ago. The first morning of testing was held under wet conditions, with the afternoon session being called due to snow. To the contrary, day 2 of testing was dry, with additional time on the clock to help make up for the day one cancelled session. Even with that said, some of the drivers didn’t even make it out onto the track in day one of testing, so more than likely, very few of the teams have had all the time they wanted to tweak their set-up, and drivers would have probably been happy to have more track time. But that is racing, which is absolutely true a Fuji, especially in the spring. The cherry blossoms are out, but weather in the early spring is completely unpredictable. Which could make driving conditions a factor in the Fuji event.

Photo Pre-season test at Fuji
A 2-qualifying, 2-race weekend will keep the tension in the pits to the max. For the qualifying, teams will be able to bring in 3 sets of slick tires from their pre-season testing, regardless of whether they are used or new sets. In addition, 3 new sets of slick tires will be provided to the teams. More than likely, the teams will bring in the new tires they weren’t able to use during testing. Of those, 2 sets for the Saturday and 2 sets for the Sunday qualifying would probably be used. In the free practice session on Friday, the cars would probably have on a set of new tires for the beginning of the session, and again at the end of the session during fast-lap simulations. Watching the end of the session could be a predicter for who is going to finish in the top spots in qualifying on Saturday morning. This season, there will only be Q1 and Q2, with Q1 being 10 minutes. The cars will be broken down into 2 groups—one with 10 cars, the other with 11. Only the top 6 cars from each group will be able to move on to Q2, which is 2 cars less than in 2021. The times are always unbelievably tight at Fuji in qualifying, which makes it exasperatingly fun to watch for fans, and an off-the-charts driving experience for drivers, especially considering the probability of not being able to move on to Q2 is higher than ever. Which means the timing of when a car gets out onto the track and how the driver heats up their tires becomes ever-so important. Q2 will be 7 minutes, with 12 cars battling it out to try to win pole position. Last season, 8 cars moved on to Q3, so drivers will need to not only find a “sweet spot” to be in without being caught up in traffic, but they’ll also need to keep the heat in their tires. The first qualifying of the season should be one you won’t want to miss! Who will take PP?

Tire Management will be Ever-so Important
Just several hours after the intensity in the qualifying on both days will be a race of 41 laps (or 75 minutes). The length will be the same as the 1st round last season. There will be a mandatory tire change (all 4 tires) for the races, if the conditions are dry. The window to change tires is between when the top-running car on track marks the start of their 10th lap until before they enter the last lap of their race. In the long straight at Fuji, what kind of start the drivers get off to in a race as they enter the first corner and what position they are in after the initial lap will be yet another place to keep your eyes on during racing weekend. How the drivers use the 200 seconds of their overtake system (OTS) during the races to either jockey for position or defend their position will also be equally fun to watch. And so will who changes tires when and how quickly they can get back onto the track. There should be plenty of parts for fans to enjoy in the race, as the pressure is on teams to ensure they get their tire change just right.

In 2021, Nojiri finished the race at Fuji in P1
In 2021, Nojiri finished the race at Fuji in P1, Oyu P2, and Fukuzumi P3. Will they finish again in those spots this season? Or will it be different drivers? It is a home race for Toyota-powered engines, so will they finish with the upper hand?
This is the first season for the Super Formula NEXT50 project, which Japan Race Promotion announced in October 2021. The event at Fuji will mark the start of many pieces of the project, including the introducing of a new app in the form of SFgo for a limited amount of supporters to enjoy and provide their feedback on. Special off-track events at circuits will also take place in conjunction with the NEXT50 project, helping to add to the overall entertainment factor of the series.



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