Why Rossiter's big Super Formula chance came five years late
Sometime Formula 1 test driver James Rossiter came agonisingly close to securing a top Super Formula drive in 2013, but a late turn of events delayed the deal for another five years.
Unable to find a seat in F1 or IndyCar despite coming close on several occasions, Rossiter looked to the far east for an alternative career.
Andre Lotterer was due to leave Japan’s premier single-seater series - then known as Formula Nippon - to focus on his FIA World Endurance Championship duties with Audi, leaving a seat vacant at leading Toyota squad TOM’S.
However, Lotterer eventually elected to stay on in the championship for several more seasons to come and Rossiter’s TOM’S drive didn’t materialise.
“I was brought here [to Japan] at the end of 2012 to replace Andre in Super Formula,” Rossiter told Motorsport.com. “He was going to stop Super Formula for 2013.
"I would join TOM’S for 2013 in Super Formula. That was always the plan. [But] Andre realised that there were only two clashes and he asked if he could stay in Super Formula and I could fill in for the missing ones.”
When one door closed for Rossiter, another opened almost simultaneously. Lotterer’s Audi WEC stablemate Loic Duval earned a full-season promotion for 2013, and unwilling to undertake a triple campaign alongside Super Formula, he halted his Super GT career.
“I came to do my first [Super Formula] seat fit in 2012 and I saw the GT car, and I asked them if I could test it,” said Rossiter.
“They said, ‘Oh, if Loic decides not to come back we’d be very interested.’ And then literally I think it was two days later when Loic said ‘I’ve got an Audi seat for LMP1.’ I’d just gone back to England and I got a call saying they’d like me to join them for Super GT.”
And so Rossiter did get to drive for TOM’S, albeit in one of the squad’s Super GT cars alongside former F1 racer Kazuki Nakajima.
The pair were instantly successful, finishing third in the championship with two wins to their name. Several more victories followed, although the two never finished higher than third in the standings.
“I raced with him every year that he was available since I joined, and we have a great friendship and relationship inside and outside of the car,” he said.
“From a driving perspective you can’t tell who’s driving the car if you looked at the data – we have almost identical technique, which makes it so easy as a teammate where you have to share a car.
“And it’s what’s led to our success, and since I came to Japan the two of us have won more races than any other Lexus drivers.”
Renewed TOM’S Super Formula chance
Alongside Super GT, Rossiter also raced in Super Formula starting in 2014, albeit for second-grade Toyota team Kondo.
But after three seasons in the midfield and only a single podium finish, Rossiter called it quits to focus on his more successful Super GT commitments.
That was until TOM’S came calling after a year as Lotterer finally decided to bow out of Super Formula after landing drives in both Formula E and WEC.
“Yes! Finally, finally he left! He told me, ‘Come and race Super Formula in 2013, I’m leaving’, and finally he decided to leave five years late,” Rossiter said.
“He’s been an example to any foreign driver who wants to race over here, and what he’s achieved has been amazing. They’re certainly big shoes to fill inside TOM’S, but the nice thing is I know the team very very well and I know the job in hand.”
Rossiter’s first TOM’S appearance of the year came at Suzuka last month, where he recovered from a poor qualifying to finish 11th, while also managing the fastest lap of the race in the process.
Toyota is no longer Super Formula’s dominant engine maker, hurting TOM’S, but a mid-season upgrade could well change the order.
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