After taking third in Japan’s Super Formula standings last year, this weekend marks a new beginning for Felix Rosenqvist in the land of the rising sun as he descends on Okayama International Circuit to commence his journey in the top-tier Super GT series.
Racing a Lexus LC 500 for Team LeMans – the same squad for which he competed in Super Formula in 2017 – Rosenqvist heads into the season-opener eager to make his mark on the Super GT paddock alongside team-mate Kazuya Oshima. The duo are sharing driving duties in the #6 WAKO’S-branded entry, forming part of a star-studded field in the top-level GT500 category that contains factory-backed teams from Lexus, Honda and Nissan.
The expected frontrunners are likely to include reigning Super GT champions Nick Cassidy/Ryo Hirakawa (Lexus) and 2017 runner-ups Tsugio Matsuda/Ronnie Quintarelli (Nissan) – but Rosenqvist will also face competition from plenty of other famous names.
Among these are a host of ex-Formula 1 stars: Kamui Kobayashi (Lexus), Heikki Kovalainen (Lexus), Kazuki Nakajima (Lexus) and, last but not least, 2009 world champion Jenson Button (Honda).
“I’m really excited to take on my first season in Super GT, and to be part of such a strong field,” says Felix Rosenqvist. “I was actually sitting in the grandstand when Kovalainen won his first F1 race in Budapest in 2008, and Jenson Button was always part of the furniture when I watched racing growing up as a kid. I think it’s great that Super GT has attracted plenty of fast drivers – but I hope to prove I’m the fastest of them!”
Like Rosenqvist, Kobayashi and Button are both heading into their first full seasons in Super GT. Unlike their Swedish rival, however, they both performed one-off appearances at last year’s Suzuka round of the championship.
As a matter of fact, Rosenqvist is the only driver on the current GT500 grid to have never contested a Super GT race, making him the least experienced driver in the pack.
“I’m the “greenest” one in the field and I also did miss a few days of pre-season testing due to clashing Formula E commitments, but I still think I’ve managed to learn the basics during the few outings I have had in the car so far,” Rosenqvist explains. “We’ll see how it goes, but Okayama should suit us well and I enjoyed it last year in Super Formula. Kazuya is fast, so he’ll be a good team-mate. Most things seem to be new to me these days, so I’m quite used to the feeling!”
The 2018 Super GT campaign features eight races of varying distance. This weekend’s season-opener is a 300 km event, and Rosenqvist is pinpointing what he believes will be the keys to success.
“I don’t think you should underestimate the importance of qualifying,” Rosenqvist concludes. “The races might be fairly long, but not long enough to waste time behind slower cars that you might not be able to get around.
“Another key point, I think, will be traffic management. We’re going to be lapping the slower category (GT300) quite soon, and you can easily lose five-six seconds behind someone if you’re not aggressive enough. You will need to make it through quickly, which is always a sketchy factor. It’ll be risk versus reward. I think it’s an exciting prospect and I can’t wait to hit the track.”
Free practice and qualifying takes place on Saturday, with Sunday’s 300 km race then going green on Sunday to kick off the battle for the Super GT crown.
All times local (GMT+09:00)
Round 1/8 | Okayama 300 km
Saturday 7 April
Free Practice: 09.00-10.45
Sunday 8 April
Race (300 km): 14.40