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The other Kiwi called Liam aiming for success in Japan

Red Bull junior Liam Lawson may have grabbed headlines with his Super Formula campaign, but he’s not the only New Zealander making waves in Japan this year.

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In fact, Formula 1 hopeful Lawson is not even the only Kiwi called Liam plying his trade on the Japanese scene in 2023. Formula Regional Japanese Championship racer Liam Sceats has seen to that.

Sceats, 17, joined FRJ this season after contesting the Formula Regional Oceania series (formerly Toyota Racing Series) last winter, placing fourth in the standings. He’s driving for the Servus Japan-run Sutekina Racing Team that took now-Toyota Super Formula racer Sena Sakaguchi to the inaugural title back in 2020.

Since the second round of the championship at Suzuka, Sceats has been a regular on the podium, winning his first race in the following round at Okayama. He added a second triumph to his tally last time out at Motegi, and now runs second in the championship behind last year’s runner-up Sota Ogawa.

“I love it here,” Sceats told Motorsport.com at Motegi. “I came here because [Formula Regional Oceania] finished in February, and we had no plans after that. We had an offer from the promoter to come here for the rest of the year, and I didn’t look any further. 

“It’s gone well so far. Sometimes the results have not been what I wanted, but I was stoked to get the first win at Okayama.”

 

FRJ is still struggling with low grid numbers, a problem that has plagued the series since its inception. Nine of the series’ Dome-built machines lined up for the opening round at Fuji, and since then each race has attracted only seven cars.

However, the championship has attracted some quality drivers, even if most of them have been one-offs. Sceats’ fellow countryman Kaleb Ngatoa, who also raced in Formula Regional Oceania, joined the field at Suzuka, while Enzo Trulli was a guest driver for TOM’S in the most recent round at Motegi.

Ex-SUPER GT racer Yuya Hiraki, single-seater veteran Yu Kanamaru and Japanese F4 graduates Yugo Iwasawa and Jiei Okuzumi have also proven strong rivals.

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“It’s a bit of a shame it doesn’t get the grid numbers, but the quality is there,” says Sceats. “Every round I’ve been to, the top three drivers who I’ve been competing against are very good and I’ve learned a lot racing them. It’s been good to race against experienced drivers despite the low grid numbers.”

Sceats trails Ogawa by 47 points with two rounds to go at Fuji and Sugo. With few cars on the grid to take points away from his rival, Sceats will realistically have to hope for a repeat of Ogawa’s race one DNF at Motegi to have any hope of taking the crown.

 

The plan after that is to contest another season in Formula Regional Oceania during the northern hemisphere winter. After that, Sceats says: “I’m looking at either the US or Japan. Europe is very expensive, so I probably won’t go down that route.

“Japan is the number one choice in terms of making a career. It really depends on funding, but after this year the next step would be Super Formula Lights.”

And while Sceats says he has not had any contact with his namesake Lawson since he arrived in Japan, he revealed he has been getting some help from another of his more famous compatriots.

“Nick Cassidy has given me a little bit of guidance, just helping me with the new circuits, which are very different to the ones we have at home,” says Sceats. 

“It’s great to have his support, and because New Zealand is a small country where everyone knows everyone, you see New Zealanders looking out for each other all over the world.”

While Lawson's spell in Japan is destined to last just a single season, it's possible Sceats could establish himself as a more permanent fixture as he bids to emulate the success of Super Formula champion Cassidy.

 

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