GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne is one of several European-based junior single-seater racers to sample Japan’s Super Formula series this week, ahead of a possible drive there in 2016.
With Formula 1 options limited, it has been rumoured that McLaren could place its protege Vandoorne with its engine supplier Honda in Super Formula next year.
The Belgian took part in the first of two days of testing at Suzuka on Wednesday for the Dandelion Racing team, before heading to Abu Dhabi for this weekend’s GP2 finale.
“It’s been a fantastic day for me in the Super Formula car, the first time with this car and on a new track for me as well here at Suzuka,” he said.
“I really enjoyed my time here. It’s been a difficult day, first with the engine problems in the morning and I didn’t do so many laps in the dry conditions but I think our pace looked pretty good before the failure.
“It’s definitely a high-class championship with many good drivers. We’ll see. It’s been a great opportunity today, no decisions are taken yet for next year but this is a very good option for me next year I think so we’ll see what the next weeks bring for me.”
Vandoorne ended the day eighth quickest, three spots behind fellow GP2 racer Richie Stanaway, driving for the Mugen-Honda team in a deal put together by Status Grand Prix bosses Teddy Yip Jr and David Kennedy through their Theodore Racing concern.
Quickest was Yuhi Sekiguchi, fresh from a recent return to single-seaters that included last weekend’s Macau Grand Prix and testing for the Impul team powered by Toyota, which he has represented in Super GT in recent years.
Series regulars Andre Lotterer and Joao Paulo de Oliveira followed, ahead of Vandoorne’s fellow Belgian, 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 champion Bertrand Baguette who contested the series for the first time this year with the Nakajima-Honda team.
Vandoorne’s 2014 GP2 team-mate Takuya Izawa was sixth, having returned to the series after his year in Europe.
Other rookie testers are FR3.5 veteran Jazeman Jaafar and ex-GP2 driver Stefano Coletti with Dandelion – sharing a car on Wednesday but likely to get a day each in Vandoorne’s absence on Thursday – and Nick Cassidy with Kondo after winning the Japanese F3 title for Toyota-backed TOM’s.