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Super Formula Fuji testing

TOM'S says benching Alesi mid-season was discussed last year

TOM'S has revealed that benching Giuliano Alesi mid-season had been discussed at the end of last year when the team elected to keep him in his Super Formula seat for 2023.

Giuliano Alesi, #37 Deloitte TOM'S GR Supra

Following this month's Sugo race, TOM'S took the decision to stand down the struggling Alesi and replace him with former Team Mugen driver Ukyo Sasahara for the remaining four races of the season.

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Sasahara drove for TOM'S in last year's post-season test at Suzuka following his departure from Honda, but the Toyota squad ultimately elected to retain Alesi in its line-up for 2023 alongside Ritomo Miyata.

TOM'S team director Jun Yamada however revealed speaking to Motorsport.com's Japanese edition that plans were put in place to effect a mid-season swap in the event that Alesi was unable to improve on his 2022 results.

Asked whether benching Alesi had been a consideration from the start of the season, Yamada replied: "To be honest, yes.

"Ukyo also drove for us in the winter test, but the reason we chose Giuliano was [TOM'S owner Nobuhide] Tachi-san’s desire to liven up motorsport as a whole with a ‘star’ driver. But the thing that concerned us was the fact that his speed is a little lacking.

 

"With the team, we discussed how we might somehow work to improve on that. But already from the end of last year, we said that if the results were like last year, we would have to think about doing something in the middle of the season.

"I think he was feeling a lot of pressure, and he was in a very difficult position. Even so, we had to consider the teams’ standings, as well as the motivation of the team. We had many discussions with him. But after consulting with sponsors and Toyota, we came to this decision.

"He’s calm, honest. He’s a really good person. But if the essentials are lacking, then it’s hard to allow him to continue to drive."

Sasahara: Mixed feelings about replacing SUPER GT team-mate

Sasahara took over at the wheel of the #36 TOM'S car from last week's two-day test at Fuji, setting the fifth-fastest time on the opening day and overall, 0.347s shy of pacesetter Naoki Yamamoto.

The two-time race winner admitted that his delight about returning to a full-time race seat was somewhat tempered by the fact his chance comes at the expense of Alesi, his driving partner in SUPER GT.

"It’s complicated as I understands how he feels," Sasahara told Motorsport.com's Japanese edition. "For me it’s a big chance, so I can’t say anything, but in SUPER GT we share a car, so my feelings are even more complicated.

 

"That said, we are pro drivers, and we have to switch between Super Formula and SUPER GT and keep them separate. I’ve been selected because people expect big things from me, so I want to live up to those expectations."

As well as supporting Miyata's bid to win the drivers' title, Yamada said that he hopes Sasahara can help TOM'S close the 30-point gap in the teams' standings to current leaders Mugen.

"Firstly, I want him to keep calm and steadily accumulate points," Yamada said of Sasahara. "But he is a driver who has the capability to win, so if there’s a chance I also want him to aim to win races.

"Miyata is leading the championship, but we are second in the teams’ standings and there is a big gap to first. We are aiming for both titles, so I want Sasahara to score big so that we can achieve our goals."

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