What next for Japan’s top female driver?

Koyama made headlines last year when she won the Formula Regional Japanese Championship title, making her the first-ever female champion of an FIA-sanctioned, mixed-gender single-seater championship anywhere in the world.

This year she is taking on a different challenge as she leaves open-wheelers behind to race both in SUPER GT and the Toyota-backed GR86/BRZ Cup series, a campaign she kicked off last weekend at Sugo against several of her rivals from the GT300 class.

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After two seasons contesting the W Series, Koyama was at something of a career crossroads. She was signed by Toyota’s domestic young driver programme for 2022, but initial hopes of landing a drive with TOM’S in Super Formula Lights came to nothing, and she was instead placed in Formula Regional with the Super Licence team.

Seven wins from 17 races — including a hat-trick in the middle of the season at Motegi — gave Koyama the title. Admittedly, the series lacked depth with grid sizes only rarely breaking into double figures, but you can only beat the opposition in front of you, and Koyama did exactly that, outscoring nearest rival Sota Ogawa by a handsome 69-point margin.

Koyama was handed the chance to test for TOM’S in Super Formula Lights in last year’s post-season test at Suzuka off the back of her title success. But, with Enzo Trulli on the team’s radar from an early stage, her chances of landing a race drive were always limited. Still, she managed to impress team director Jun Yamada, who said: “She’s the female driver with the most potential, so I hope we can work together again in future.”

Maintaining Toyota’s backing for a second season, Koyama is now embarking on her first season in SUPER GT’s GT300 class with the Anest Iwata Racing squad. Signed as a third driver alongside Igor Fraga and Yuga Furutani, Koyama is working with some of the same personnel that took her to the Formula Regional title, including general manager Masami Kunii and team director Yusuke Matsuura, brother of JLOC racer Kosuke.

There was something of a saga over Koyama’s eligibility to race this year as inclement weather in the pre-season test at Fuji in March prevented her from clearing her mandatory rookie test. After the season opener at Okayama, a private session was arranged at Fuji and she finally was able to fulfil the requirements ahead of the second round at the same track.

Speaking to Motorsport.com, Koyama says the transition to GT machinery has not been as hard as you might expect for a driver coming from a pure single-seater background.

“Formula Regional doesn’t have the same amount of downforce as the F3 car, the rear is quite heavy, and if anything I would say it’s more similar to a GT3 car [in terms of driving style],” she explained. “So I don’t feel uncomfortable at all. It wasn’t like, ‘woah, this is so different’ or anything, and the laptime around Fuji is similar. 


“I hadn’t driven a car with ABS before, so that was something I had to get used to, as well as the weight of the car. At first I was often going over the limit, but so I had to pull back from the limit and adjust the set-up of the car, but the feeling wasn’t bad. 

“So far I haven’t been able to do a run on new tyres [during a race weekend or official test], so I don’t know how far I am away in terms of one-lap speed, but on used tyres I would say I am around the same pace as the others, so in terms of the laptime and the overall feeling, it’s going well.”

As has often been the case for third drivers in SUPER GT lately, Koyama didn’t actually get to race at Fuji, but she did turn laps in the full-course yellow session, and got further running under her belt during the GTA-organised test at Suzuka the following week. 

With four more 450km races on the agenda this year, there’s still a solid chance of seeing her behind the wheel of the #50 Lexus RC F GT3 during a race at some point in 2023.

Koyama added: “There’s a really nice atmosphere in the team. Yusuke [Matsuura] is looking after me here, and my team-mates are really easy to get along with. There’s a proper spirit of cooperation, we are sharing a lot and communicating well with each other.

“One thing I need to work on is making adjustments quickly, like all the GT500 drivers do. I think the actual driving time I’ll get this season is quite limited, but it’s a valuable chance for me to practice, and to learn to be quick consistently like the others.”

Despite making the move to GT racing this year, it’s clear that Koyama is still a single-seater racer at heart, and through her ambassadorial role for Super Formula she has been able to stay involved in the paddock where she can envisages her future.

While she had a tough time in the W Series, she remains open-minded to racing overseas again in what she calls «normal conditions». Equally, the 25-year-old is aware that she doesn’t have time on her side and that she must make the most of every chance that comes her way.

“My initial target is to become GT300 champion and I would love to race in GT500 after that,” she said. “And of course I would also love to race in Super Formula. 

“As the years go by, there’s a sense of the path getting narrower in terms of future options, but I want to make the most of the opportunities I’m given, do my best in the current environment, and if I can get good results then the path could get a little wider again. 

“Super Formula and GT500 are both manufacturer-based series, so it could be difficult, but what is possible to target changes as you get results. So I want to give it my all so that I can widen my options and get the chance to step up in the future.”

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