Home Formula RegionalFRegional Japanese Championship New driver development programme sends F4 and FFord stars to FRJC

New driver development programme sends F4 and FFord stars to FRJC

by Ida Wood

Photo: Petr Fryba

A new young driver development programme has been set up in Japan, and will support three drivers this year who have landed Formula Regional Japanese Championship seats.

G Force Engineering is the company behind the programme, and is led by Masaru Okazawa. He was previously a mechanic for Team Goh, famous for its sportscar accomplishments but now known as a Super Formula team, and then was Audi Team Hitotsuyama’s director in Super GT.

Coaching G Force’s young drivers will be 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours winner and Super Formula race-winner Seiji Ara, and Hiroshi Yuchi will be the programme’s chief engineer.

The drivers that G Force has selected to support this year are Jesse Lacey, Sebastian Manson and Michael Sauter. Lacey will drive for the Bionic Jack Racing team in FRJC, whereas Manson and Sauter will be team-mates at Birth Racing Project.

Australian 17-year-old Lacey has spent the last two years competing in Formula 4. As a car racing rookie in 2022 he appeared in his home nation’s various open single-seater series in a first-generation F4 car, then last year he came fourth in the United States F4 championship with one win and two poles.

In 2021, while primarily racing in junior karting, he also reached the Ferrari Driver Academy’s Scouting World Final.

Manson is currently fighting for the 2024 New Zealand Formula Ford title, and is also racing in FRegional Oceania. This weekend he is set to be on the grid for the latter series’s New Zealand Grand Prix at Highlands Motorsport Park.

Last year the 15-year-old Kiwi came fourth in NZ FFord, and was seventh the season before that. He sits 10th in the standings in the 2023-24 North Island FFord season and fought for this year’s South Island FFord title after coming ninth in the 2022-23 season.

Sauter already has experience of FRJC, having contested two rounds last year with two different teams as he raced in the home country of his mother for the first time. On his second outing he claimed a win and two poles, enough to put him sixth in the standings.

Prior to that the 19-year-old Swiss had spent 2023 racing in F4 Central European Zone, where he was run by his family’s Sauter Engineering + Design team. He came third in the title fight with one win and eight other podium finishes.

That was his and the team’s third year in F4, after two seasons in Germany’s championship. Sauter’s best finish as a rookie was a fifth place, and he came 15th in the standings. Although he improved two spots in the 2022 points table, a singular fifth place was again his best result.