Car Lovers Ignite Passions to Reform Racing


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.

For those involved, the urgency grows

This project was born of an urgent sense among industry insiders that something needed to be done.

While the racing’s organizer JRP, Honda, and Toyota discussed reform ideas together, the execution fell to JRP. However, since the race promotion body lacked the resources to handle this massive task, it was decided that Honda and Toyota would each loan one of their employees to assist.

The two chosen for this mission were Shunsuke Yanagisawa from Toyota and Shota Yokono from Honda.

Shota Yokono (left) and Shunsuke Yanagisawa (right). Prior to the assignment, Yanagisawa was involved in marketing planning for GR brand products and motorsports. He is currently head of marketing at JRP. Yokono was part of the Brand Communication Division’s Motorsports Department, handling projects such as the Super GT and NSX GT3. After the transfer, he oversees digital initiatives under Yanagisawa.

Yokono is a diehard motorsports fan who joined Honda because of his fascination with F1. “As a fan, you can see that the level of competition is not reflected in the number of spectators and the excitement in the grandstands,” he says. “It was obvious that this isn’t viable, even before looking at the numbers.”

As neither the teams, circuits, nor promoters can finance their operations with spectator revenues, the series has been kept alive by the support of sponsors and the passion of team owners—a situation that can hardly be called sustainable.

“I now see the dire situation facing the race promoter and the teams. It’s now or never—unless we do something, Super Formula will come to an end,” Yanagisawa shares what he realized anew while working alongside the organizer.

JRP certainly didn’t stand idly by. And yet, in an industry reliant on carmakers and various other stakeholders, the promoter had limited realistic options.

“Everyone wanted to change things, but they couldn’t. Those hopes were always squashed somewhere along the way,” says Yanagisawa. It was only when the heads of Honda and Toyota got together that the momentum shifted towards reform.

Yanagisawa voiced his resolve, saying, “they’ve given us a fresh opportunity to work across manufacturer lines, and we need to build on that further.”

JRP redefined its purpose with a “drivers first” vision and discussed the company’s internal structure. At the same time, it organized the tasks that would require assistance from carmakers, circuits, and participating teams.

New ways to enjoy racing

JRP President Yoshihisa Ueno joined Suzuka Circuitland, now Honda Mobilityland, in 1988. Having worked on racetracks for many years, he admits that helping people recognize the appeal of motorsports is a difficult task.

“The drivers are hidden behind helmets, and you can’t even tell who is winning during a race. Unless you dig quite deep, it’s hard to grasp what makes it interesting.”

Indeed, Super Formula races are a battle between 21 cars, but unlike baseball or soccer, spectators only see part of the action, with the spotlight always on the front-runners. If a favorite driver ends up in the trailing pack, their efforts receive little attention.

That is how JRP identified the need to share the efforts of every driver and to fundamentally change how the race is presented to fans.

This is why Yokono decided to create “SFgo,” a new Super Formula digital platform. With this app, fans can select a favorite driver and view onboard footage from their vehicle.

Along with the exploits of their favorite racers, users can also see the car’s speed, tire temperature, brake pressure, throttle position, and other data that make analyzing the race more fun.

In addition, SFgo allows users to select their favorite drivers and moments to share with others, offering a new way to enjoy racing, unlike the one-way information flow experience when watching races on TV.

Ueno has high expectations heading into the service’s full rollout next year. “We want to use the power of digital technology to showcase our drivers even more.”

Car lovers keep fighting for the future

The challenges being tackled under SF NEXT50 are certainly not confined to Super Formula. All categories of motorsport share the need to pursue carbon neutrality and to bring more excitement to racing. However, Ueno believes that Super Formula is uniquely placed to make reform possible.

“Other formats bring together many manufacturers and suppliers. Having so many people involved makes coordination more difficult. In our case, however, the foundational Toyota-Honda collaboration made it easier to take bold steps. We’re going to take those steps first, and if we get results, hopefully they’ll serve as a good model for the entire industry.”

Instead of treating the small number of participating manufacturers as a drawback, Super Formula has turned it into a source of dynamism, hoping to generate a solid groundswell in the motorsports industry.

“The crowd and engines roar in synch—no other sport can produce a moment like that,” Ueno passionately talks of motorsport possibilities.

Drivers, manufacturers, and promoters—these car lovers will continue working to ensure that the next 50 years of motorsport excite the senses and captivate audiences.

The White Tiger (Honda’s development car) and Red Tiger (Toyota’s development car) charge down Fuji Speedway’s home straight. At times competing, at times joining forces, these two rival companies are working to bring motorsports into the future.