Sasahara admits pressure was building before first SF win

Ukyo Sasahara admits his first Super Formula win has relieved the “pressure” he was feeling to repay Mugen for his last-minute inclusion in the team this year.

A perfectly-timed safety car allowed Sasahara to go from 13th to victory on last weekend at Fuji Speedway, as he was able to complete his mandatory tyre change under caution and then pull away from nearest pursuer Sho Tsuboi after the final restart with relative ease.

Read Also:

Prior to last weekend, Sasahara’s best result of the year so far had been seventh, although he had qualified on pole for the season opener, also at Fuji, only to stall on the grid.

The 26-year-old admitted post-race that he felt the pressure had been building to deliver a result, having only been handed the chance to rejoin Mugen in a second car this year mere days before the start of pre-season testing.

He added that he hopes the win can help stabilise his season and allow him to achieve similar levels of consistency as his championship-leading teammate Tomoki Nojiri.

“My participation this season was decided at the very last minute, I had a lot of help from everyone in the team and they had to work extra hard because of me,” reflected Sasahara. 

“For several races, a combination of my own mistakes and small details not working well meant things weren’t gelling well, and we just couldn’t get any results.

“The fact I hadn’t scored a win or even a podium prior to this round meant I was feeling under a lot of pressure, and the fact I had to get a result was weighing on me.


“Now I want to use this race as a starting point to become more consistent.

“I don’t want to get carried away, I want to keep my feet on the ground, but I’d like to become like Nojiri-san in the sense of always being able to win and fighting for the championship.”

Sasahara’s win moves him up to sixth in the drivers’ standings, although he still trails his Mugen teammate Nojiri by 63 points with four races to go.

Sasahara's tortuous journey to Super Formula glory

Sasahara’s first win in Super Formula may have owed a lot to the safety car coming at the right time, but considering some of the misfortune that has plagued his time in the series up to now, few would dispute that he deserved a little luck for a change.

Rewind two years and Sasahara was parachuted in at Mugen when COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented the team’s original signing, Red Bull junior Juri Vips from taking up his seat. But his season didn’t really get going until the penultimate round at Suzuka, his pace seemingly transformed by a change of chassis and gearbox prior to that weekend.

Even then, getting caught up in a four-way crash - for which he was partly, but not wholly, to blame - and a subsequent engine penalty left him with just a single points finish from the Fuji season finale to show for a bruising year.


Many observers felt Sasahara had done enough to warrant being kept on at Mugen for 2021, but Honda seemed to have other ideas, sidelining him in favour of rookie Hiroki Otsu.

While Otsu performed respectably at Mugen last year, even winning in mixed conditions at Motegi, arguably Sasahara would have done an even better job with a full season of experience under his belt. Instead, he had to be content with two substitute appearances for Dandelion Racing in place of an unwell Tadasuke Makino at the start of the season.

A podium at Suzuka was a job well done for Sasahara, who then dutifully spent the rest of the season attending races and being on standby for Dandelion in case something happened to either of its regular drivers. And yet, when Nirei Fukuzumi’s decision to move to Drago Corse opened up a vacancy at Dandelion, again Sasahara was snubbed in favour of Otsu.


For some time in the winter it appeared that Sasahara was on course for another year on the sidelines. It was only thanks to another Honda-powered team, B-Max Racing, failing to fill its second seat with a foreign driver that the season finally changed, opening the door for Mugen to expand from one car to two following its off-season split with Servus Japan (which now runs Team Goh).

Even then, the deal was only completed barely in time for pre-season testing, and needed an external sponsor in the form of Sasahara’s personal backer BH Auction to get it over the line.

Pole for the season opener at Fuji was another timely reminder that Mugen was right to push to get Sasahara on board as teammate to reigning champion Nojiri, but in both races that weekend he stalled on the grid, leaving many to wonder if his luck would ever change.

It finally did on Sunday, and even if Sasahara wasn’t necessarily the worthiest winner that day, there’s no doubt after all he’s been through that he deserved to stand on the top step of the podium sooner or later.



Honda debuts noise-enhancing exhaust in Fuji Super Formula test

How Fuji clash exposed Super Formula stewarding shortcomings