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Ukyo Sasahara returning to Super Formula for the remainder of the season with TOM’S has the potential to derail points leader Ritomo Miyata.
That’s the belief of former Sasahara chief engineer Tomo Koike, who now leads Red Bull junior title bid Liam Lawson at the Mugen team.
Miyata took the lead at round five of the season last month at Sugo, as he picked up a second victory in the last three races, and now leads Lawson by 12 points with four races remaining this year.
However, there will be a major change inside the TOM’S garage from this weekend’s Fuji race, as Sasahara – who lost his Mugen disc to Lawson late last year before to leave Honda – joins the team in place of Giuliano Alesi.
While struggling Alesi couldn’t come close to Miyata in the first five races of the season, Koike thinks Sasahara will offer a much tougher challenge than the Frenchman, and believes this could see the championship leader look away from the ball.
“Miyata’s situation will change as Ukyo returns,” Koike told Motorsport.com. “Maybe it’s not good for him because Ukyo will be more competitive than Alesi.
“I think Ukyo will drive to beat Miyata as well, and Miyata might not be able to just focus on himself. He will also have to take into consideration what Ukyo is doing.
“He was well placed before, but the situation is changing and I think Miyata will be under more pressure now.
“Ukyo’s mindset is a bit different from other Japanese riders. He will support Miyata’s title bid, but he will also be determined to win a race this season.
“Look at Round 9 last year – he passed (teammate) Tomoki (Nojiri) at Suzuka.”
Sasahara in the Mugen garage last year with Koike (second from right)
Koike believes the next two races at Fuji and Motegi will be key to Lawson’s ambitions to become Super Formula’s first rookie champion since Ralf Schumacher in 1996.
Fuji was the scene of Lawson’s historic first victory in April, while Motegi has always been a weak track for Miyata and is considered one of the easier tracks for rookies to master.
While Koike is confident of repeating Lawson’s previous strong form at Fuji, he admits any hope of a good result at Motegi will require improvement in terms of one-lap speed.
“The goal is to earn as many points as possible in the next two races because Ritomo will be very strong at Suzuka,” Koike said. “Ideally, we have to get ahead of him in the next two rounds.
“At Motegi, the qualifying position is very important, so we have to improve our qualifying setup. We have to try to work on our procedure from Q1 to Q2 and put everything in place there.
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