Chances for drivers to win both the Super Formula and Super GT titles in a single season are extremely rare. That is why the exclusive club of ‘double champions’ numbered only four drivers until they were joined by a new member in 2023: Ritomo Miyata.
It has been quite the year for Miyata, who joins Pedro de la Rosa, Satoshi Motoyama, Richard Lyons and Naoki Yamamoto in conquering both categories in the same year, becoming by far the youngest to do so at the age of 24. Not only that, but Miyata is also the first factory Toyota driver to conquer the two top categories in Japanese motorsport (de la Rosa’s GT500 title in 1997 also came at the wheel of a TOM’S-run Supra, but Formula Nippon, as it was known, was a one-make category back then).
“Now I’ve become champion in all the major categories in Japan, including F4, F3 [Super Formula Lights], Super Formula and now GT500, so now I can go and compete on the world stage with no reservations,” said Miyata in a clear nod to his 2024 plans, as he prepares to take on the World Endurance Championship with the ASP Lexus LMGT3 team in 2024.
And it looks like Miyata, who earlier this year was officially unveiled as a member of Toyota’s WEC Challenge scheme to nurture drivers for the world stage, has every chance of going on to become a member of the Japanese manufacturer’s Hypercar roster in the coming seasons if he can keep up the startling rate of progression he has demonstrated over the past few seasons.
While Miyata was superb in Super GT, it’s probably his Super Formula title that will linger in the memory most of all from the 2023 season. And what makes that achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that he went into his third season representing the flagship TOM’S squad in the single-seater series with just two third-place finishes on his CV.
Initially, it looked like 2023 might be more of the same for Miyata. He qualified second for both of the opening races at Fuji, only to slip back to fourth and fifth in the two races as the wins were split by his eventual title rivals, Mugen pair Liam Lawson and Tomoki Nojiri. But after scoring his first win in the next round at Suzuka, Miyata looked like a changed man.
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Miyata’s first SF win at Suzuka proved a turning point that gave him new confidence
Miyata’s race engineer Masaki Saeda tells Motorsport.com: “When he won the third round at Suzuka, he had to make a lot of overtakes and I think that grabbing that result really boosted his confidence a lot. I think he matured a lot by getting that first win.
“It’s our third year of working together and he has always been making steps in the right direction. Ritomo has made a lot of progress with tyre management and overtaking, so everything has gone in the right direction, including those things.”
After that win, Miyata was only off the podium once for the rest of the season. Even when he was, it was at his self-proclaimed bogey circuit, Motegi, where he still finished fourth. It was this consistency that allowed him to beat Red Bull junior Lawson to the title.
“He has become stronger and stronger, first winning Super Formula and Super GT… Honestly, I’m amazed at just how good he has become” Jun Yamada
Lawson’s peaks were arguably higher than Miyata’s, but a combination of small things going wrong – penalties, strategy errors and incidents – ended up costing him dearly. Miyata, meanwhile, pretty much maximised what he had every weekend, despite the ongoing disadvantage of the Toyota engine compared to the Honda unit used by his rivals in qualifying trim. Miyata referenced this in his press conference when he clinched the title at Suzuka, admitting he feared Honda runners might end up monopolising the Q2 spots…
Just a week on from becoming the youngest to wear the Super Formula/Formula Nippon crown since Ralf Schumacher back in 1996, Miyata scored a third win of the Super GT season in the Motegi season finale to guarantee himself and his TOM’S team-mate Sho Tsuboi a dominant title. But it was the previous race at Autopolis, where the pair won from 12th following a final-stint charge from Miyata, that put them in such a strong position. It was another superlative display from a driver who has looked almost unstoppable since that pivotal Suzuka win in Super Formula back in April.
“Since he won at Suzuka, he’s been fast like the wind,” TOM’S boss Jun Yamada told Motorsport.com after the Motegi finale. “He has become stronger and stronger, first winning Super Formula and Super GT… Honestly, I’m amazed at just how good he has become.
“Of course, Tsuboi is also a great driver and the combination of those two has worked superbly. Having the two of them drive together, I think there was pressure on them to become champions, and naturally there was pressure on the team. So I think it’s brilliant that the two of them did such a good job and brought home the championship.”
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Miyata has proven equally adept in single-seaters and in GT cars, all the while maturing quicker than many of his contemporaries
Miyata, whose first name is derived from an old model of Fiat, the Ritmo, hasn’t had a conventional upbringing. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, he admitted after his Super Formula win that he had a hard time at school, with go-karting becoming his escape. He climbed the karting ranks to become All-Japan champion in 2014, then earned a Toyota scholarship to race in Japanese Formula 4 in 2016, duly winning the title at his first try.
He defended his title the following year, fending off a certain Yuki Tsunoda in the process, while also embarking on a four-year journey in All-Japan F3/Super Formula Lights that finally yielded the title in 2020 after a near miss in 2019 against his good friend (and future TOM’S GT500 team-mate) Sacha Fenestraz.
In 2021, Miyata was given the keys to Nick Cassidy’s TOM’S Super Formula machine, but at first he wasn’t hugely impressive in Japan’s top single-seater category. In fact, he was overshadowed by his fellow rookies, including team-mate Giuliano Alesi, who stole the headlines with what now has to be regarded as a very fortuitous win in the wet at Autopolis.
But Miyata’s progress in the two years has been startling. Such was his dominance in the team that Alesi lost his TOM’S drive in the middle of this season. The Frenchman’s mid-season replacement, Ukyo Sasahara, likewise failed to make much of an impression before his season ended prematurely with his horror accident at 130R.
It’s hard to think of many Japanese drivers who have looked so complete so early in their careers. At the same age as Miyata, Naoki Yamamoto – the last driver to do the ‘double’ in Japan back in 2018 and ‘20 – was in his third season of Formula Nippon and had not yet scored a podium. Tomoki Nojiri, the man Miyata dethroned this year, was a struggling rookie, still seven years away from his breakthrough 2021 campaign at the age of 24.
Perhaps you would have to go back to Kamui Kobayashi, who was a Formula 1 rookie at 24, to find a Japanese driver who has matured as rapidly as Miyata has. And coincidentally it’s Kobayashi, now a multiple WEC champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner with Toyota, whom the new kid on the block looks destined to eventually replace.
At the age of 37, Kobayashi no doubt has several more good years in him, but his double duties as the team principal of the Toyota WEC outfit means the pressure may be on for him to stop sooner rather than later. Besides, now-Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe vice-president Kazuki Nakajima only made it to 36 before he had to call time on his front-line career.
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Miyata’s dominance in the TOM’S team spelled time for Alesi, and has put him on the cusp of the international stage
After attending Le Mans and the subsequent WEC round at Monza with Toyota, Miyata made his race debut at Fuji, as he was given Toyota’s blessing to join the Kessel Racing Ferrari squad in the GTE Am class. Despite his total unfamiliarity with the 488 GTE and Michelin tyres, he made an immediate impact, leading the team to a podium finish, and he could well have won on his debut without an engine issue.
Next year, Miyata looks set to be one of two pro drivers in the ASP Lexus set-up alongside Jose Maria Lopez, a programme that sits neatly alongside his Super Formula title defence (although he will have to give up racing in Super GT). If Fuji is any guide, he should be up to speed quickly as he re-acquaints himself with the RC F GT3 that he spent two seasons racing in the GT300 ranks back in 2018-19, before his step up to GT500.
Miyata said in his rookie Super Formula season that he was frustrated never to have had the chance to race overseas, but now the opportunity has come – and he is more than ready to make the most of it
A clash between the Bahrain WEC round and the Motegi Super GT finale prevented Toyota from giving Miyata a tryout in the GR010 HYBRID LMH in the rookie test, but a first run in the prototype looks like a matter of time. And even if 2025 proves a year too soon, it would be no surprise at all to see Miyata racing for outright Le Mans wins by 2026.
Miyata said in his rookie Super Formula season that he was frustrated never to have had the chance to race overseas, but now the opportunity has come – and he is more than ready to make the most of it. Throw the fact Miyata is now eligible for a superlicence into the mix, along with the tantalising possibilities hinted at by Miyata’s Toyota stablemate Ryo Hirakawa getting a McLaren F1 reserve role, and there may be no limit to what he can achieve.
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
A podium on his debut in the WEC aboard unfamiliar machinery points to Miyata’s potential for more international exploits