Matsushita secures belated Super Formula return
Nobuharu Matsushita will make a surprise return to the Super Formula grid in this month’s second round of the season at Suzuka as part of a one-car B-Max Racing effort.
Ex-Formula 2 racer-turned Nissan SUPER GT racer Matsushita raced for B-Max in the latter half of the 2020 season as a replacement for Sergio Sette Camara, culminating in a podium finish at the season finale at Fuji Speedway.
Both driver and team had been planning to extend that alliance into 2021, only for Honda to refuse to supply its former protege an engine.
B-Max signed teenage rookie Yves Baltas after that to secure its short-term future, but travel restrictions prevented the American driver from participating in pre-season testing and the Fuji season opener.
However, shortly after the Fuji race, Honda gave its belated blessing to the team's original plan – with Matsushita returning to the grid for the rest of the season as a result in B-Max's #51 car.
Baltas will miss the Suzuka race but is hoping to join the grid from May’s Autopolis round onwards in the #50 machine.
Matsushita told Motorsport.com that the end of B-Max’s tie-up with Motopark and a lack of preparation time means he has low expectations for his return at Suzuka.
“I’m really happy to be back on the Super Formula grid,” said the 27-year-old. “Of course, it wasn't ideal to miss pre-season testing and the first round, but I have to thank B-Max and Honda for the chance.
“I don’t know how it will go at Suzuka, I haven’t driven the Super Formula car in almost four months, and also the whole team and the engineers have changed [as a result of the Motopark alliance ending]. We have potential, but the important thing is preparation.
"I think Suzuka will be a difficult weekend. It’s basically going to be a test, so I don’t care if I am knocked out in Q1. But we try to analyse the data and work step-by-step to be competitive for the rest of the season.”
The sudden change of heart from Honda about supplying an engine for Matsushita follows the marque’s motorsport boss Hiroshi Shimizu stepping down at the end of March. His replacement is Masaya Nagai, previously president of Honda’s subsidiary in China.
Shimizu was at the helm when Matsushita refused an offer to become a works Honda driver in Super Formula and SUPER GT at the end of 2019 in favour of another attempt at F2.
Matsushita’s return to the grid means the Super Formula grid will be boosted to 19 cars for Suzuka, split between eight Honda-powered cars and 11 Toyota runners. Baltas' anticipated arrival will then complete the full grid of 20 cars.
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