Final weekend, Tomoki Nojiri wrapped up his second Tremendous System title at Suzuka as he concluded a season much more dominant than his breakout 2021 marketing campaign. There have been solely two wins in 10 races, however he scored pole an unbelievable six occasions, giving himself a median grid slot of two.2, and completed on the rostrum eight occasions. On the 2 events he didn’t end within the high three, he completed fourth, which have been his worst finishes.
The Group Mugen driver’s principal rivals heading into the Suzuka weekend, Sacha Fenestraz and Ryo Hirakawa, may solely look on and congratulate their adversary on placing collectively about as near an ideal season as you might realistically hope for in Tremendous System.
Whereas drivers like IndyCar star Colton Herta have had their ambitions of racing in System 1 quashed by an absence of superlicence factors, Nojiri has no such issues. His first title final 12 months already put him over the 40-point threshold wanted to amass a superlicence, and his newest triumph now has him on 60 factors – probably one of many highest totals for a driver who has by no means sat in a grand prix automotive, and, in all honesty, most likely by no means will.
Regardless of how dominant he might have been in Tremendous System, the F1 paddock is unlikely to ever be all in favour of a 33-year-old driver whose expertise of racing exterior of Japan in vehicles quantities to simply two System BMW races greater than a decade in the past, and who speaks little English. Even a free apply run at Suzuka in Crimson Bull or AlphaTauri like colleague Naoki Yamamoto had in 2019 is unlikely whereas Honda just isn’t formally engaged in F1.
However the disinterest cuts each methods. Nojiri is aware of the time for him to race abroad with any severe ambitions has lengthy since handed, and he appears greater than content material in his new position as Honda and Group Mugen’s Tremendous System spearhead. And but, it nonetheless begs the query of what may have been for a driver whose ample expertise had been obscured by inconsistent outcomes for a lot too lengthy, and is barely now changing into obvious to the remainder of the world.
Each of Nojiri’s two automotive races up to now away from Japanese soil happened at Macau, the place System BMW’s Asia-Pacific sequence used to carry its season finale in assist of the F3 Grand Prix. Nojiri retired from his first look on the well-known avenue observe in 2009, however in 2010 he was second and simply 4 seconds behind present Ferrari F1 star Carlos Sainz. Finishing the rostrum in third place was reigning IMSA SportsCar champion Tom Blomqvist.
In a uncommon foray exterior of Japan, Nojiri shared a System BMW podium with Sainz and Blomqvist in 2010
Picture by: Sutton Photos
Nojiri revealed on Twitter within the aftermath of his second Tremendous System title that there had been talks about him racing within the Macau Grand Prix throughout his time racing in All-Japan F3 in 2011-13, however these got here to naught. And when an opportunity got here up for a Honda junior to race in GP2 in 2014 with ART Grand Prix, Nojiri wasn’t critically thought-about for the berth that in the end went to Takuya Izawa, 5 years his senior.
As a substitute, he took over Izawa’s vacated seat at Dandelion Racing to start a stint in Tremendous System that was marked with huge inconsistency and unrealised potential, a scenario that solely actually rotated as soon as he moved to Group Mugen in 2019.
Having develop into the primary back-to-back champion within the sequence since Tsugio Matsuda in 2007-08, Nojiri’s intention now’s to match Satoru Nakajima’s feat of profitable three titles in a row from 1984-86. Additionally on the agenda is surpassing the achievements of Yamamoto, the motive force in whose shadow he existed for the primary seven years of his Tremendous System profession.
When any individual does lastly handle to dislodge Nojiri from the highest of the Tremendous System tree, the F1 paddock ought to sit up and take discover
Yamamoto’s current struggles with Nakajima Racing have allowed Nojiri to shut proper in, with the pair now degree on poles (13) and only one race win aside (Nojiri has eight to Yamamoto’s 9). The Tremendous GT title is one which has nonetheless eluded Nojiri, and profitable that in the identical 12 months as Tremendous System, as Yamamoto did in 2018 and 2020, is one thing he’s aiming for.
In an interview with Motorsport.com earlier this 12 months, he joked: “I wish to do it thrice in a row!” earlier than including: “Yamamoto is a good rival, however I’m nonetheless dropping to him by way of profession outcomes, so within the subsequent two or three years I wish to be certain that I surpass him.”
After going by a mini-boom with the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne (2016), Pierre Gasly (2017) and Alex Palou (2019), the Tremendous System grid hasn’t actually featured any severe F1 aspirants for a few seasons now, with issues not helped by the COVID-19 pandemic that every one however prevented non-Japanese drivers from racing within the sequence for a time.
Peerless consistency meant Nojiri was a shoo-in for a second straight Tremendous System title, however nonetheless he needs extra
Picture by: Masahide Kamio
And whereas names resembling Theo Pourchaire and Liam Lawson have been linked to strikes to Japan for 2023, the practicalities of mixing F1 reserve driver duties and sim work with greater than half-a-dozen cross-continental journeys makes the championship one thing of a tricky promote for anybody who’s already carefully related to a grand prix group.
That mentioned, so long as Tremendous System continues to boast the quickest automotive exterior of F1 with finances necessities far beneath that of F2 as well, it’ll proceed to carry a sure attract for worldwide drivers disillusioned with life within the F1 assist paddock. And if a significant up-and-coming star does occur to roll the cube on embarking on a Vandoorne/Gasly-style journey and performs properly, it’ll solely encourage others to offer it a go themselves.
The one hassle is now, for Tremendous System, Nojiri’s dominance would possibly make it tougher for a teenager hoping to make use of the sequence as a springboard to better issues to get observed. On the flipside, there’s little question that when any individual does lastly handle to dislodge Nojiri from the highest of the Tremendous System tree, the F1 paddock ought to sit up and take discover.
If any F1 aspirant does come to Japan, they’ll do properly to topple Nojiri
Picture by: Masahide Kamio