This year’s Japanese GP to lack local driver, engine for first time ever at Suzuka

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Formula One returned to Japan in 1987 after a 10-year absence with its debut at the Honda-owned Suzuka Circuit and every year since, has had either a Japanese driver or a Japanese engine manufacturer to root for. Often times, both. In 2013, tragically, that’s not the case.

With last year’s Suzuka third-place finisher Kamui Kobayashi gone to the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Japanese won’t have any driver to root for in this year’s Japanese Grand Prix. Not having a home engine to root for either makes for a double blow to a fervent Formula One fan base; there’s no Honda until 2015 when it returns with McLaren, and Toyota has long since left the building after its eight-year underperforming run.

The last Japanese GP at Suzuka ran without one of its native sons was in 2001. Although there wasn’t a true Japanese driver in the field, the spiritual hero that day was Jean Alesi, in his 201st and last grand prix. Alesi’s Japanese wife made him a crowd favorite; it also didn’t hurt he was driving a Jordan with Honda power. Unfortunately, an early race collision with then-rookie Kimi Raikkonen took him out of the race.

In the two off years of 2000 and 2001 without Japanese drivers, there was Japanese engine participation in the form of Honda.

Since the 2001 race, Takuma Sato (2002-’07), Sakon Yamamoto (2006-’07, ’10), Kazuki Nakajima (2008-’09) and Kobayashi (2010-’12) have flown the flag in the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Sato’s fifth in 2002 for Jordan – as Alesi’s replacement, no less – was also a high point along with Kobayashi’s podium.

When you go back into the ‘90s, names like Toranosuke Takagi (1998-’99), Ukyo Katayama (1992-’97), Shinji Nakano (1997-’98), Taki Inoue (1994-’95), Hideki Noda (1994), Satoru Nakajima (1987-’91), Toshio Suzuki (1993) and the legendary Aguri Suzuki (1988-’93, ’95) were all in the field. Suzuki’s third at Suzuka in 1990 was the original high-water mark.

Suzuki also dipped his toes back into F1 with the popular, underdog Super Aguri team – which fielded Sato and Yamamoto in 2006, and Sato and Anthony Davidson in 2007.

In a new era of F1 populated by tracks designed by Hermann Tilke, Suzuka is a true throwback in the second half of the season. The track is celebrated by fans and drivers alike; it’s a shame that this year, the local fans won’t have one of their own to support.

Gabby Chaves to sub for Joao Barbosa at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

Photo: IndyCar
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Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.

The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.

Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.

“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”

Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”

Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.

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