After a superb 2015 season and the controversial origins of their 2016 Toyota Prius GTs, apr Racing continued their run of excellence and delivered another fantastic season in GT300, with 2nd place in the championship.
#31 Toyota Prius apr GT
Drivers: Koki Saga / Yuichi Nakayama
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 2nd (60 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 2nd (77 points)
Wins: 1 (Sugo)
Podiums: 3 (Sugo, Suzuka, Motegi II)
Pole Positions: 1 (Motegi II)
One of two new Prius registered on December 30, 2015 – two days before new rules were put into effect that would ban future mid-engined racing builds of front-engined production cars, such as the Toyota Prius – the #31 and its’ capacitor hybrid powertrain continue to remain a fan favorite, if somewhat controversially so.
The hybrid-V8 Prius GT was, on paper, the fastest car in 2015, bookending the year with wins at Okayama and Motegi – but going into the Summer Series, this car had yet to put a point on the board after two non-scoring finishes.
Then came the breakout win at Sugo, followed by another disappointing outing at the home circuit of Fuji, but two more top fives at Suzuka and Buriram kept their title hopes alive, and they did all they could to try and win the championship at the finale before settling for a second place at Motegi.
There’s no controversy with the driver lineup: Once again, Koki Saga, the man whose name sounds like one hell of an obscure Super Famicom RPG, was metronomically consistent in the opening stints. Nakayama is a step faster, he’s younger, and GT500 is in his very near future. Pay no mind to how he struggled through a pointless 2016 in Super Formula with a forlorn single-car team as Saga did in his time – Nakayama’s the real deal as a racing driver.
The two drivers and their Prius have effectively been second in the championship the last two years in a row, the next logical step has to be the championship in 2017. They have all the support behind them from Toyota, now all they need is more consistency.
#30 Toyota Prius apr GT
Drivers: Hiroaki Nagai / Kota Sasaki
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 24th Place (2 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 18th Place (22 points)
Best Finish: 9th (Fuji 500km)
Best Qualifying: 12th (Motegi II)
apr Racing’s second entry has been a hodgepodge of ill-prepared GT3-category cars sold to the highest bidder in recent years, but this year, Hiroto Kaneso built a second Toyota Prius GT for their second entry to give the squad a little more continuity.
There is still that second-rate feel with this car: A much simpler and less powerful battery-driven hybrid system, Yokohama tyres instead of Bridgestones, and an older lineup that is truly pro-am: All-time GT300 pole man Sasaki joining 48-year-old rookie Nagai.
They did put in a gritty drive to pick up ninth place at Toyota’s home circuit at Fuji Speedway in the 500k, but generally speaking this car was still well off the pace of the #31 Prius – and that’s when they had the lithium ion battery hybrid onboard, which they couldn’t ship to Buriram.
Sasaki still has plenty of pace in him, even after a year out of full-time racing in an inferior car. Nagai, a car salesman by trade who has raced competitively for all of five years, is what he is – a true amateur driver, bringing sponsorship from his Toyota dealerships to help make the effort possible.
There are no illusions that this team is on equal footing with the #31 team, in terms of equipment or personnel. But it’s still a major upgrade from what this side of Kaneso-san’s garage had been for several years.