In the first full month of the off-season for the Autobacs Super GT Series, we are starting to understand a little more about what the 2017 GT300 class will look like.
The bulk of the updates have come courtesy of the December 2nd issue of auto sport Magazine, as well as from the Super GT Heroes 2016 awards show held this past week in Tokyo.
On a November 30th AUTOSPORTweb broadcast hosted by Juichi Wakisaka, VivaC Team Tsuchiya’s chief engineer and representative, Takeshi Tsuchiya, gave re-confirmation of the team’s 2017 full-time driver lineup of Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita. The duo was first reported when Tsuchiya announced his retirement from full-time racing in October.
Both Matsui and Yamashita were part of the online talk show, Matsui representing VivaC Team Tsuchiya as GT300 Drivers’ co-Champion, Yamashita being represented as the reigning All-Japan Formula Three Champion. The latter drove the VivaC 86 in the Suzuka 1000km as a third driver, but will now replace Tsuchiya as a full-time driver.
In total, a whopping 37 teams have applied for entry into the GT300 class for 2017, according to auto sport. At the Super GT Heroes show in Tokyo, apr Racing team director Hiroto Kaneso alluded to at least two new teams entering the series in 2017.
As a measure, Super GT will be introducing a new system of categorization and pre-seeding for the GT300 teams, separated into three categories:
- Category A: For the top-ranked GT300 teams from the previous season.
- Category B: For long-participating veteran teams which have participated for more than five years.
- Category C: For all other teams not included in either categories A or B.
Teams in categories A and B will already be qualified for all eight rounds of the 2017 season. However, depending on the entry limits for each venue, teams in Category C may not be allowed to race. Category C restrictions will all but surely come into play at the series two smallest venues according to garage capacity: Sportsland Sugo, and Buriram United International Circuit in Thailand.
Confirmation of this new ranking system for GT300 has yet to be made by the GT-Association. One thing we can be assured of is that, even though it is unlikely that all 37 entries will be accepted, we should expect the largest GT300 grid in history.
Two new cars are rumoured to enter the GT300 class for the first time in 2017, according to auto sport: The first is a Mother Chassis Toyota Mark X sedan, which had first appeared on the radar back in September after the Super Taikyu Fuji Super-TEC endurance race.
Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave, who runs a Toyota Mark X in Super Taikyu’s ST-3 category, are rumoured to be one of two teams to enter with the Mark X MC.
Another team that could potentially use the Mark X MC is Toyota Team Thailand, who have already confirmed plans to run the full 2017 Super GT Season. Should they be unable to use their Toyota 86 MC that they ran in Buriram this past season, the Mark X would be a viable alternative.
Another car that might be set to debut in Super GT is the Bentley Continental GT3, a car which has enjoyed success in every corner of the globe in FIA GT3 racing.
Chinese-American team Absolute Racing would surely be a favorite to bring the Bentley to Super GT, given their success with the car in the GT Asia Series. It is worth noting that one of their drivers, Keita Sawa, is a former Super GT driver as well. However, there is no word as of yet as to who would field the car.
One team that is hoping to be around in 2017 is Team Mach. Famous for their livery inspired by the Mach 5 of Mach GoGoGo or Speed Racer depending on where you grew up, the team had a double-DNF in the two races at Motegi to close out another frustrating season in which they finished last in the Teams’ Championship standings.
When all of Team Mach’s active former drivers gathered for photos after the final race, it seemed as if it might have been to say goodbye to the team after twelve seasons.
But Team Mach owner/driver Tetsuji Tamanaka has stated that the team is ready to compete in 2017, with their Mach Toyota 86 MC updated to 2017 specifications. However, the team is still looking for a second driver, sponsorship, and a maintenance garage to help with preparing the car. The cost to repair the car’s damages after the Motegi weekend were quoted at ¥10 million JPY by Tamanaka.
It is very likely that at least one team will be stopping their Super GT operations in 2017 to offset the potential new entries.
Thanks to friend of the show Geinou of RacingBlog.de, and to Japanese Samurai of the TenTenths Motorsport Forum, for providing additional information.