Vandoorne primed for Super Formula opener

© XPB 

McLaren-Honda reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne says he expects “close competition” in this year’s Super Formula, with the series kicking off at Suzuka this weekend.

Despite Vandoorne winning the 2015 GP2 Series title in dominant fashion, his promotion to Formula One was blocked by McLaren already having world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on its roster for the 2016 season.

Alonso’s withdrawal from the Bahrain Grand Prix on medical grounds led to Vandoorne receiving a late call up to replace the Spaniard. The Belgian ace acquitted himself quite well in tricky circumstances to secure a 10th-place finish, McLaren-Honda’s sole point so far this season.

Prior to Vandoorne’s unexpected F1 debut, it had been decided to place him in the Japan-based Super Formula championship with the Honda-powered Docomo Team Dandelion in order to keep the 24-year-old race sharp.

“Everyone here is a professional driver, and the lap times during the testing are all so close and competitive,” Vandoorne said ahead of the Suzuka opener. “It's definitely going to be a close competition in both qualifying and the race itself.

“You will be kicked out of the top 10 grids if you lose just 0.2 or 0.3 seconds, so everything will have to go perfect to finish with a good result. I am just excited for the first race.”

Vandoorne will race against several former F1 drivers in Super Formula, including triple Le Mans winner André Lotterer, Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, and Narain Karthikeyan.

The McLaren-Honda reserve driver remains in frame for a full-time F1 role within the Woking-based team in 2017.

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