Motorsports

Super Formula: TOM’S impressed by Ukyo Sasahara in testing

Sasahara took over from regular driver Giuliano Alesi aboard the Toyota squad’s #36 car for the second day of the annual rookie test at Suzuka, as he auditions for the vacant spot in the TOM’S line-up for the 2023 season.

Alesi and Sasahara ended up setting very similar headline laptimes, with the latter setting the 14th-fastest time of the afternoon and 15th of the day combined with a best lap of 1m36.465s.

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But Sasahara made a big impression with limited time to get used to the very different characteristics of the TOM’S car compared to the Honda-powered Mugen machinery he raced this year, particularly with his technical knowledge and feedback.

Evaluating Sasahara’s performance, Yamada explained Sasahara was in line to finish much higher up the order without both of his attack laps on fresh tyres in the afternoon session being compromised.

“On the first set of new tyres, he got caught up behind a slower car, without which I think he would have got into the 1m35s,” Yamada told Motorsport.com. “And on the second set there was an accident right in front of him at Degner. 

“[Without that] he would have done a time the same as Ritomo [Miyata], or slightly slower, so he should have been about fourth or fifth-fastest.

“Even though he couldn’t set a good time in the end, I think he’s by far and away quicker than Giuliano. Also, his feedback regarding the car is very precise and accurate. 

“There’s no comparison. Of course, Sasahara has had a much longer career, but even taking that into account, you can’t really compare them.”

 

Should Sasahara get the nod to replace Alesi at TOM’S, it would put him in a very select group of drivers to have made the move from one of Super Formula’s two engine suppliers to the other.

While drivers such as Narain Karthikeyan and Loic Duval have made such transitions, for Japanese drivers the switch is much rarer.

But Yamada said that he feels moving manufacturers ought to become more commonplace in the world of Japanese racing.

“Daisuke Ito, the team manager of our car #36 [in SUPER GT] also came from Honda, so for us it doesn’t feel out of place,” Yamada said when asked about the potential of signing a Honda driver.

“It causes a big commotion, but in the world of motorsport it’s a normal thing. In Japan, the walls between manufacturers are high, but I’m not a fan of that. I think it’s better to be free.”

A final decision on whether Alesi or Sasahara will drive the #36 TOM’S car in 2023 is set to be made by the team together with Toyota later this month, but may not be communicated officially until next year.

Regardless of the outcome of that decision, the two are set to share driving duties in the team’s #37 entry in SUPER GT next season.

 


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