The 2016 Japanese Super Formula Champion Yuji Kunimoto is one of the most perspective Japanese young racing drivers. Until the age of 26 (born in 1990), he captured two major open-wheel racing championship titles – Formula 3 championship in 2010 and Super Formula in 2016. He is also a regular competitor in the Japanese Super GT Series since 2009, scoring three wins and eleven podiums since then.
2016 Japanese Super Formula champion
Yuji started racing at the age 10
Yuji Kunimoto (国本 雄資 on Japanese) was born on September 12, 1990, in Yokohama. After starting at the age 10, he competed in different national and international go-kart championships for next seven years, until he switched to bigger cars in 2007.
His first competition was the Formula Toyota, in which he participated as the member of Toyota Driver Program Scholarship. Since then, for his whole career, he remained Toyota driver in all competitions. He scored no points in the Formula Toyota, but gained some success in the Formula Challenge, winning three races and finishing fourth in the points.
Kunimoto was the 2008 Formula Challenge champion
In 2008, Kunimoto became the Formula Challenge champion. In the series, which was ran with Nismo-powered Tatuus FC106 cars, he won half of the races he started (8 of 16) and scored fifteen podiums. In the same year, Yuji had a one-off appearance at Macanese round of the Formula BMW Pacific.
In 2009, Kunimoto progressed to the Japanese Formula 3 Championship, driving for Petronas Team TOM's, but also debuted in the GT300 class of the Super GT series. With four wins in sixteen races, Yuji finished third in the F3 classification, behind Marcus Ericsson and Takuto Iguchi. In the Super GT competition, he was driving Toyota Corolla Axio for apr team, together with Takuto Iguchi. They finished 10th in the points.
2010 Japanese Formula 3 champion
Japanese Formula 3 champion in 2010
Another championship-winning year followed in 2010, when Kunimoto clinched the Formula 3 title, winning ten of sixteen races as a Petronas Team TOM's driver.
In the Super GT championship, Yuji won the race at Fuji Speedway with apr's Toyota and added two more podiums, to finish fifth in the points. His partner was http://www.snaplap.net/driver/takuto-iguchi/Takuto Iguchi. They also reached a podium at non-championship JAF Grand Prix at Fuji, finishing third.
Formula Nippon debut in 2011
In 2011, Yuji progressed to the Formula Nippon, the major Japanese open-wheel racing series, but also stayed with apr team in the Super GT series. In a such a double arrangement, characteristic for many Japanese drivers, Kunimoto remained for the next six seasons.
In his Formula Nippon rookie year, driving Swift FN09 (Toyota) for Project μ/cerumo INGING team, Kunimoto's best result was fourth place at Twin Ring Motegi and he finished 10th in the points. In the GT300 class of the Super GT Series, still driving apr's Toyota, he scored one podium and finished seventh in the points. His co-driver was Morio Nitta.
Yuji progressed to GT500 class in 2012
While staying with Project μ/cerumo INGING team in the 2012 Formula Nippon, Kunimoto progressed to the premium GT500 class of the Super GT championship. He joined Lexus Team KeePer Kraft to drive Lexus SC430 alongside Andrea Caldarelli.
In both competitions, Yuji finished 13th in the points. His best result and only podium in 2012 was second place in GT race at Suzuka Circuit.
Kazuya Oshima and Yuji Kunimoto - winners at Motegi in 2013
2013 - first Super GT win in the GT500 class
In 2013, Formula Nippon was renamed to Super Formula. Kunimoto stayed with P.mu/cerumo INGING team, reaching the fourth place at Sportsland Sugo as the best result and finishing 10th in the points.
In the Super GT Series, he remained in the cockpit of Lexus SC430, but under the colors of Lexus Team LeMans Eneos. His co-driver was Kazuya Oshima. They won the last race of the season at Motegi and finished fifth in the points.
Maiden Super Formula podium at Fuji
Yuji was in the line-up of the same two teams for two more seasons (2014 and 2015). The Lexus Team LeMans switched to Lexus RC F in 2014. Kazuya Oshima was Yuji's partner in both seasons. They finished seventh in the points in 2014 and two places down in 2015.
In the 2014 Super Formula season, Kunimoto scored a maiden podium, finishing third at Fuji. Later he added one more podium (second at Autopolis) to finish seventh in the points. In 2015, his best race was at Fuji, where he took fourth place. At the end of the season, he was ninth in the points.
Kunimoto's victory at season's finale helpd him to take the title
2016 - two wins for the championship title
And then the victorious 2016 season came. Still driving Dallara SF14 (Toyota) for the Project µ/cerumo-Inging, Kunimoto won two races, including one race at the season's finale at Suzuka Circuit, to take the title with a three-point gap over Andre Lotterer.
In the 2016 Super GT season, Kunimoto's new partner in the #19 Lexus RC F of the Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh was Yuhi Sekiguchi. They won the Thai round at Chang International Circuit, entering the season's finale at Twin Ring Motegi as title contenders and finishing fourth at the end.
Le Mans 24h debut in 2017
For the 2017 season, Kunimoto stayed with same teams in both Japanese championships. New challenge came in June, when he was invited to drive for Toyota Gazoo Racing at 24 hours of Le Mans, sharing the #9 Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez. Unfortunately, they retired after 160 laps.