Hiroki Otsu has emerged as the favourite to land the vacant Super Formula seat with leading Honda squad Team Mugen.
Motorsport.com understands that Nakajima Racing SUPER GT driver Otsu is set to partner the previously-announced Tomoki Nojiri, driving the #15 car that was left unfilled when Honda announced the majority of its 2021 line-up earlier in the month.
The 26-year-old missed out on a Super Formula drive last year when he was passed up in favour of Toshiki Oyu for the vacant Nakajima seat alongside Tadasuke Makino.
Otsu’s anticipated arrival at Mugen marks a departure for a team that, from 2017 until the start of last year, had always fielded one of Red Bull’s junior drivers in its second car.
Current travel restrictions in place amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic make it almost impossible for any of the Austrian energy drink giant’s current proteges to race in Japan, with Juri Vips having had to abandon plans to race in Super Formula last year.
Ukyo Sasahara, Team Mugen
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
However, Red Bull's backing of the #15 car is understood to be likely to continue.
Ukyo Sasahara ended up filling in for Vips for the full 2020 campaign, but managed only one points finish in the final round of the season at Fuji Speedway.
Despite losing his drive in Super Formula, Sasahara’s relationship with Mugen will continue in SUPER GT, where he will be partnered by Oyu in 2021. Otsu meanwhile continues for a second season in the series alongside Takuya Izawa at Nakajima.