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Super Formula Lights champion Natori misses out on SF test chance

by Ida Wood

Photo: Super Formula Lights

Four of the top five from Super Formula Lights this year will enter the official Super Formula rookie test next week at Suzuka, but not champion Teppei Natori.

B-MAX Racing’s Natori was crowned in a controversial final round at Twin Ring Motegi as he clashed with title rival Giuliano Alesi, who also raced in SF for TOM’S, with both having required crowdfunding to complete their seasons.

Natori did at least have a secure Super GT3000 seat with Team UpGarage, and claimed pole with the team at Motegi, but otherwise had a trying rookie season in sportscars in what was his first year of racing since losing his Honda junior status.

Honda’s top talent in the junior series this year ended up being Ren Sato, who moved into SF Lights after winning the Japanese Formula 4 title and being championship runner-up in French F4.

He impressively won five races and came third in the SF Lights points with the one-car Toda Racing team which uses a self-developed engine, but ended his racing season by angering Honda’s management in the Super GT finale when he crashed his Team Aguri-run GT3000 class car into reigning overall champion Naoki Yamamoto.

It cost himself a shot at the GT300 crown he was fighting to win, and denied Team Kunimitsu, their drivers Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino, and Honda itself the back-to-back GT500 titles they were on course to win for the first time.

Sato apologised profusely for the clash, and Honda hasn’t lost faith as it’s handed him his first SF chance in post-season testing. He will do all three days of running over December 7-9, while Alesi will do the first two and miss the final day reserved for drivers who have competed in three SF races or less.

Also driving on December 9 will be Atsushi Miyake and Toyota junior Hibiki Taira, who were fourth and fifth in SF Lights.

Single-seater returnee Miyake won two races for Rn-sports, while 2020 Japanese F4 champion Taira made the podium four times with TOM’S. He also did three Super GT3000 races and finished above Natori in the standings, and Miyake did the full season and won at Suzuka en route to fifth in the class standings.

No teams have been named on the SF entry list, and with two-time champion Kazuki Nakajima confirmed to be in action it indicates he could stay on at TOM’S next year rather than retire from the series. That would stop Sacha Fenestraz from moving to the team, keeping him at Kondo Racing and preventing Alesi from making a full-time SF move.

Natori is unlikely to graduate into the series due to his similar lack of manufacturer affiliation and budget issues, potentially making him the first champion since Mitsunori Takaboshi in 2018 not to immediately move up to SF.

Moving down to SF Lights for post-season testing is Nobuharu Matsushita, working with the B-MAX operation he drives for in the top tier, and TOM’S driver Kazuto Kotaka who raced as a substitute driver in SF through 2021.