In the 1990s Japan was a viable career alternative for young drivers who found their options limited in Europe. The resident Japanese F3000/ Formula Nippon and Super GT series attracted well known names such as Eddie Irvine, Tom Kristensen, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz Harald-Frentzen.
During the late 1990s and 2000s the Japanese racing scene suffered a lull in worldwide attention, although in recent years both Japan and America are seeing a resurgance in interest as young drivers from Europe increasingly look further afield to attain a professional racing career. The racing scene seems increasingly focused on money in the last few years, with several Formula One teams struggling for finance, leading to a situation where increasingly a driver’s ability to bring a budget with him determines who is promoted from the junior formula’s.
In response to this Japan is seeing an upturn in popularity as the best young Japanese drivers are now being joined by accomplished and high profile drivers from Europe in their Super GT and Super Formula single seater series. In recent years the quality of the Japanese racing scene has been proven in Europe as long time Super GT and Super Formula drivers Andre Lotterer and Loic Duval led the Audi attack on the World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Andre Lotterer racing in the Super Formula single seater series last year. Photo sourced from http://www.racingblog.de
Other notable drivers to have turned their careers East to Japan include James Rossiter, Vitantonio Luizzi, Narain Karthikeyan and Andrea Caldarelli. The number of European drivers joining the Japanese scene only looks set to swell in 2015, with rumors that young drivers such as Macau GP winner Felix Rosenqvist, 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion Bertrand Baguette, GP3 race winner Jann Mardenborough and 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer all rumored to be looking for drives in Japan this year. Heikki Kovalainen is the latest driver to defect to Japan as he announced a deal this week to join Team SARD Lexus for the Super GT series this year.
Complementing the increasing European talent is the very best of Japanese driving talent, with the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima and Takuma Sato returning to race in the Super Formula and Super GT series. Alongside them are the likes of GP2 racer Takuya Izawa and former Indycar racer Hideki Mutoh show that the talent on the Super Formula grid is up there with any grid outside of F1 at the moment.
The Super Formula grid races away from the line at Twin Ring Motegi in 2013. Photo sourced from http://www.supergtbrasil.blogspot.co.uk
Japan is so attractive right now for young drivers as it promises the opportunity to become a professional racing driver rather than struggle to attract finance to continue on the young driver ladder in Europe. Alongside the chance to earn a professional driver there are also copious chances to link up with a manufacture, with Toyota running a LMP1 programme in the WEC, with Nissan joining them in LMP1 this year also. Honda is also returning to F1 and has links with Indycar also, with all of these manufactures assisting or running teams in the Super GT series. Japan is therefore the perfect shop window for young drivers to put themselves in should they wish to put aside their dreams of F1 and become a factory driver for a distinguished manufacture. The future seems increasingly bright for the Japanese racing scene, as it becomes increasingly prominent in international motor sport, returning it to it’s glory days of the past.
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