Super Formula is the pinnacle of auto racing in Japan. Toyota Times reports from the frontlines, where reforms are being driven by an urgent sense that it may all be coming to an end.
Public testing for the future
Launched in the spirit of making motorsports sustainable for the next 50 years, SF NEXT50 has set in motion various projects to make racing a testing ground for developing mobility and entertainment technologies. This includes two key initiatives in developing the next-generation formula cars that will enter competition next season.
1. Experimenting with materials, tires, and fuels to aid carbon neutrality
2. Improving aerodynamics to maximize driver potential
On July 18, drivers and engineers from Honda and Toyota were testing their machines in neighboring pits at Fuji Speedway.
This fifth round of testing included durability tests for a cowl that incorporates hemp, aerodynamic tests on the rear wings that help drivers in head-to-head battles, and an evaluation of tires made from sustainable materials. The pair of drivers ran a total of 366 laps during the two-day testing, completing the equivalent of nine races.
Honda test driver Koudai Tsukakoshi says he has noticed a change in himself since taking part in the project.
“Until now, our development was about making cars faster to win more races. I’ve never been part of development focused on other goals, such as being environmentally friendly or making racing more entertaining. I love motorsport and have put my all into racing, so I’m very glad to have more opportunities to contribute to the future. I now see a different significance in driving.”
The development testing is also open to the public. As Toyota test driver Hiroaki Ishiura explains:
“Traditionally, racing cars have been developed in secret behind closed doors, but now the trial-and-error is taking place publicly on the race track, and we’re trying to share it with others. Working out in the open brings a new significance, and as a driver it feels rewarding. We’re taking on an important challenge, both within the bounds of motorsport and from a broader perspective.”
Development scenes unthinkable in racing
On that day, Honda’s team was testing exhaust sound, something that always excites the audience.
“If you focus on an exhaust manifold that amplifies the sound, it ends up making the vehicle heavier and less powerful. That’s why initially we didn’t plan to do it.”
So says Masahiro Saiki, who heads development as a Large Project Leader at Honda Racing (HRC). His engineer spirit was sparked into action when Toyota began working on sound at the previous test session.
“If Toyota jumps out ahead, as engineers we can’t help ourselves—we have to make something even better.”
In fact, Saiki is so passionate about sound that he has even considered returning to multi-cylinder engines if given the chance.
Toyota Racing Development (TRD) General Manager Takahiro Sasaki recalls Honda’s development team coming over to the Toyota pits and asking to see the exhaust pipes.
“Normally, we won’t enter the Honda pits, and they don’t come into ours. That would never happen in a regular race, but this environment makes it possible. We figured there was no harm in showing them. Saiki’s response was, ‘We’ll build something better for next time.’”
Company borders disappear when it comes to development for shaping the industry’s future. All SF NEXT50 tasks and test results are shared, with no single company taking the lead.
This partnership between rivals also serves to boost development speed. Currently, the carbon-neutral fuels used for testing are sourced abroad, limiting the quantity of data obtained ahead of track testing. Sharing information, however, revealed identical results for both companies.
“We would normally be concerned about our data’s reliability, but now both sides can take them to the track with confidence.” TRD leader Sasaki places great trust in Honda’s development team.
Saiki agrees. “The results were so similar, we wondered if they’d peeked at our data. Even when we ran the test cars, our times were almost identical. Normally that would be unthinkable—after all, the engines were from entirely different manufacturers, and we had different drivers,” he says.
Setting aside their heated rivalry, both sides acknowledge the other’s strengths and place trust in each other. The presence of such peers accelerates the development of technologies that will bring motorsports into the future.