It’s been twelve years since Shinji Nakano last raced in the Super GT series, but by passing his refresher test during last weekend’s official test session at Suzuka Circuit, the ex-Formula 1 driver is on course to race in the International Suzuka 1000km in August.
Nakano was one of four drivers to pass a mandatory drivers’ test for first-time competitors and, for returning drivers who have been away from the series for more than two years. In total, Nakano turned a total of 50 laps over the two days of testing in the Team Taisan SARD Audi R8 LMS.
Nakano last raced in Super GT in 2004, driving the Raybrig Honda NSX for Team Kunimitsu. It was a tough first – and only season to date – for Nakano and co-driver Hiroki Katoh, who finished a distant 13th in the GT500 championship with a best finish of eighth at Sugo.
He is expected to step in to the third driver role at Suzuka with Team Taisan SARD, driving alongside veteran Shogo Mitsuyama and rookie Yuya Motojima. Nakano has been serving as a test driver and consultant with the team since their reformation earlier this year – in fact, Nakano has driven for Team Taisan at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Asian Le Mans Series in years past.
The 45-year-old is best known for his two seasons in Formula 1 for Prost Grand Prix (1997) and Minardi F1 Team (1998), in addition to four years in the American open-wheel racing scene between CART and the IndyCar Series.
Since departing Super GT, Nakano has become a semi-regular participant at Le Mans, making his ninth start in the race this year for the Race Performance team in LMP2. Nakano earned his berth in this year’s race by helping Race Performance and co-driver Nicolas Leutwiler win the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 class championship.