Indian racing driver Narain Karthikeyan began his 2014 Super Formula campaign by qualifying second for the season opener on Sunday.
The completely revamped Super Formula series (erstwhile known as Formula Nippon) has switched to a new Dallara SF14 chassis this year; powered by two-litre, 550 bhp turbocharged engines – similar to the new Formula 1 regulations.
“It is incredible to qualify on the front row on the first weekend of the season, considering the competition. We managed to improve bit by bit over the weekend and hopefully will be in a good place for the race,” said Karthikeyan after the qualifying at the famed Suzuka Circuit here today.
Driving for Team Impul Hoshino Racing, the 37-year-old qualified just a tenth behind 24-hour Le Mans winner and World Endurance champion Andre Lotterer of Team Tom’s Toyota.
Like Formula 1, Super Formula features a knockout-based qualifying format with Q1, Q2 and Q3 sessions determining the final grid for the 43-lap, 250km long race on Sunday.
Karthikeyan was consistently in the top five during the practice sessions and managed to make a considerable step forward in qualifying to get closer to the front-running Tom’s Toyota factory team.
“The Tom’s drivers (Lotterer and Nakajima) have been in a class of their own throughout the weekend so splitting them is incredibly satisfying. Just four-tenths cover the top five so it is very close at the front,” Karthikeyan an added.
Former Force India reserve driver James Rossiter was fourth while 2010 series champion and Karthikeyan’s Team Impul teammate Joao Paulo de Oliveira qualified fifth.
The first race of the season is set to be a step into the unknown, considering the drivers will have contend with a new launch system, with clutch on the steering (like Formula 1) – fuel loads and tyre degradation being other critical factors.
2014 Super Formula Calendar:
April 13 Suzuka Circuit, May 18 Fuji Speedway, TBA Korea, July 13 Fuji Speedway, Aug 24 Twin Ring Motegi, Sept 14 Autopolis, Sept 28 Sportsland Sugo Nov 9 Suzuka Circuit.