Suzuka 1000km: Get to know a third driver

The International Suzuka 1000km is by far Super GT’s longest race in terms of distance, and the event with the longest lineage in the series. For many teams, two drivers alone will not be enough to get them to the flag at Suzuka – they’ll want to use a third driver.

Third drivers at Suzuka have run the gamut from aging veterans to developing young superstars, from series mainstays who somehow ended up on the outside looking in all year to random journeymen, from Japan to all corners of the racing world. Super GT doesn’t have a minimum drive time rule for three-driver teams, meaning some of them will just be there to watch from the garage and learn for the future – but some of them will drive, and feature in a big way, for their respective teams.

With that in mind, here’s some of the third drivers who will have a significant impact in this year’s running of the Suzuka 1000km.

Mitsunori Takaboshi

Mitsunori Takaboshi

#46 S Road MOLA Nissan GT-R / Age 23 / Japan

Takaboshi is the only third driver in GT500, only the second since 2010, but his one-race promotion is the reward for his incredible potential, potential seen by Nissan and NISMO as that of a future GT500 champion. It is also a precautionary measure in the wake of Katsumasa Chiyo’s back injury sustained at the last race at Fuji Speedway.

Despite not having any prior testing in the car, Takaboshi is poised for success in his new role with the S Road MOLA International team. A rookie sensation in 2015 with the B-Max NDDP Racing squad, Takaboshi, like Chiyo before him, has made the leap to Europe with Nissan in the Blancpain GT Series – and done quite well despite the team’s struggles in 2016. Takaboshi is also a former F3 National Class champion and a multi-time race winner in the overall placements in All-Japan F3.

Nissan will find a way to slot him into the 2017 GT500 roster at the going rate, and whether or not Chiyo is fit to race at Suzuka, Takaboshi will be able to demonstrate his potential in a big way during the race – even as a first-time GT500 entrant in the biggest race of the season.

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Kenta Yamashita

#25 VivaC Team Samurai Toyota 86 MC / Age 21 / Japan

Yamashita is a top prospect of the Toyota Young Driver Programme (TDP), and a two-time Japanese Formula 3 runner-up. It is a testament to the talents of those who defeated him previously, Nobuharu Matsushita and Nick Cassidy, rather than any perceived shortcomings for the 21-year-old from Chiba.

Yamashita was loaned out to Excellence Porsche Team KTR for the 2015 Super GT Series, where his talents didn’t get a chance to come through. With VivaC Team Samurai, it’s a much different story – the Dome-built 86 MC is one of a handful of JAF GT300-spec cars that’s awesome around Suzuka. Add to that, the coaching he will get from owner and lead driver Takeshi Tsuchiya.

Remember this name if you haven’t already – Yamashita is poised to become a major player in the Toyota racing family for many years to come.

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Shigekazu Wakisaka

#51 JMS LM Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 / Age 41 / Japan

The younger brother of Juichi, Shigekazu Wakisaka is himself a two-time Suzuka 1000km champion, in 2001 and 2002 for Toyota. With over 60 starts in both GT500 and GT300 categories since 2000, Shigekazu Wakisaka is one of the more experienced third drivers in this field.

He drove for this JMS LM Corsa team for the full 2015 season, but elected to stand down to run the endurance races only as Akihiro Tsuzuki was brought back to the series after a year out. Wakisaka finished sixth with Tsuzuki and Morio Nitta at the Fuji 500km on May 4.

Wakisaka will be a factor in the Suzuka 1000km, as Ferrari chases its first GT300 class win at the great race – as does co-driver Nitta.

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Augusto Farfus

#7 BMW Team Studie M6 GT3 / Age 32 / Brazil

Two years ago, BMW factory driving ace Augusto Farfus (center) made his Super GT debut with the “totally not a works team, wink wink, nudge nudge” Studie and, with Jörg Müller and Seiji Ara, finished a fantastic third place in the GT300 class. After missing last year’s race, Farfus is back at Suzuka.

The Curitiba native’s credentials need little introduction for avid touring car fans – 15 victories in the World Touring Car Championship from 2005-10, and 4 wins in his current series, the DTM, where he was runner-up in the 2013 Drivers’ Championship. He’s won at the prestigious Guia Race of Macau twice as well.

3rd in 2014, 2nd in 2015 – with Farfus back as the third gunner, BMW Team Studie feels there’s only one position to go from there, and that’s straight to a victory.

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Shinji Nakano

#26 Team Taisan SARD Audi R8 LMS / Age 45 / Japan

It’s been twelve years since Super GT fans last saw Shinji Nakano, veteran of two Formula 1 seasons and three plus in North American open-wheel racing, in a Super GT car with Team Kunimitsu. The former Honda-supported driver now returns, this time in an Audi, entered by one of Super GT’s legendary teams, Team Taisan SARD.

Nakano took part in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, racing as part of the team that won last year’s Asian Le Mans Series. Since leaving Super GT the last time, Nakano has focused on Le Mans primarily. But earlier in the year, he was brought into the new Taisan SARD team as their third driver and advisor.

Partnered with former Suzuka 1000km GT300 class winner Shogo Mitsuyama, and impressive rookie Yuya Motojima, Nakano may be poised for a great return to the series after twelve years away.

 

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Tadasuke Makino

#2 Syntium Apple Lotus Evora MC / Age 19 / Japan

19-year-old Tadasuke Makino is the youngest driver in this year’s Suzuka 1000km. He’s also making his series debut. And he just might be the X-factor that helps the Mooncraft Engineering Lotus Evora of Cars Tokai Dream28 win this race.

Makino was one of the quickest drivers in the July test sessions at Suzuka, posting times comparable to veteran ace driver Hiroki Katoh – who has often had to shoulder the load for his team. With Makino, the team now have a second true pro driver to help ease the burden on 63-year-old owner/driver Kazuho Takahashi, and give them the pace to compete for the class victory that the car’s pure speed at Suzuka deserves.

Makino has also had an impressive season for TODA Racing in Japanese F3, and as a Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) prospect, his future may include a chance to race in Formula 1 – especially if he can deliver a Suzuka 1000km win on his debut to become the youngest-ever GT300 class winner.

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Dominik Farnbacher

#60 Syntium LM Corsa Lexus RC-F / Age 31 / Germany

Second-generation German driver Dominik Farnbacher has one of the most impressive strike rates in the field. He’s only started seven Super GT races between 2007 and 2015, but in that span, he won three GT300 races for Team Taisan.

Farnbacher is better known for his time racing in North America and Europe, primarily for his father’s team which now represents Lexus in the VLN Endurance Series. It gave Farnbacher a way back to Super GT, and this is his second year with the sole Lexus RC-F GT3 team in GT300.

The tragedy therein lies with the appalingly poor pace of the current RC-F GT3 – good enough to compete in the Pro-Am VLN series, but nowhere close to the more professional standards of GT300 competitiveness. Akira Iida, Hiroki Yoshimoto, and Farnbacher are three top-class drivers who should be battling for the win, but will just be lucky to even get a point out of this race.

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Keishi Ishikawa

#111 EVA RT Test-01 Mercedes-AMG GT3 / Age 21 / Japan

The last of the Japanese F3 contingent to step up for the Suzuka 1000km is Makino’s TODA Racing teammate, Keishi Ishikawa – another HFDP prospect.

Ishikawa is in his second F3 season with TODA, and while he hasn’t quite matched Makino’s success in the same equipment, he’s still roughly got the same pace as his teammate.

For his Super GT debut, Ishikawa joins the Rn-sports team carrying the Neon Genesis Evangelion EVA-01 colours, with Masayuki Ueda and Kazuya Tsuruta as his co-drivers. There’s a very real chance that Ishikawa will be the fastest driver on the team by quite a margin. Whether or not it’s enough for a points finish is uncertain.

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Hironori Takeuchi

#108 Direction 108 Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3  / Age 51 / Japan

In addition to the debuting Jono Lester, there is also the third driver for Lamborghini Team Direction SHIFT – the team’s co-owner, Hironori Takeuchi, who is in his first Suzuka 1000km in three years.

Takeuchi won this race outright in 2001, plus the JGTC GT500 Drivers’ Championship, with Toyota Team Cerumo. He added a GT300 class win at Suzuka in 2006, the first for his SHIFT Race Car Engineering organization that now partially runs the other half of Lamborghini Team Direction. He’s one of the unheralded greats in Super GT, with over 100 race starts’ worth of experience in a racing career that began thirty years ago.

In 2013, he finished 2nd in GT300 at the age of 48, and he had no trouble getting re-acclimated to the series in testing. Takeuchi’s task won’t be easy, but with his track record, he can absolutely help his team to a good finish at Suzuka.

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