2016 was a huge step forward for the JLOC team, their first with the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 that proved effective in Europe last year. Expectations were high, and a blend of youth and experience have the team on track to make significant gains for the future after another solid season.
#88 ManePa Lamborghini Huracan GT3
Drivers: Manabu Orido / Kazuki Hiramine
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 11th (30 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 11th (47 points)
Podiums: 1 (Motegi I)
Fastest Laps: 1 (Motegi II)
Best Finish: 3rd (Motegi I)
Best Qualifying: 3rd (Motegi II)
With the acquisition of two new Huracán GT3s, JLOC were expected to improve on a tough 2015, and in particular, JLOC’s flagship number 88 car was expected to get back up towards the pointy end of the GT300 field. The car certainly looked like a winner, as did the sister #87 car.
But their performance was especially telling: They were a consistent points-scorer, with 6 out of 8 races in the top ten. They led for a good chunk of the race at Sugo on a brave strategic gamble before they got swallowed up by the field. The first half of the Motegi GT Grand Final, however, was their best race – finishing 3rd, and even that could have been second if not for a last-laps rally from Jörg Bergmeister in the #33 Porsche.
The new car played a part in the success, but driver continuity was also a factor (and it’s the same at the #87 team as well). Going between rookies Kazuki Hiramine and Kimiya Sato for most of 2015, they settled on Hiramine as the full-time driver of the #88 alongside the veteran Orido.
It was a master stroke. Hiramine was lightning quick in his sophomore season, not only in Super GT with JLOC, but also in Super Taikyu as the ST-X Champion at Kondo Racing. Hiramine is just 24 years old and has major, major upside.
And “MAX” Orido, 48 in December, still has plenty left in the tank – he had a fun photo finish with his long time friend Nobuteru Taniguchi at Fuji Speedway in August, one that secured another crucial fourth place finish.
Who knows what could have been if not for a loose wheel at the Fuji 500km, or a broken driveshaft at Motegi in the finale from 3rd on the grid? That aside, this was a fantastic year for the #88 car.
#87 triple a Lamborghini Huracan GT3
Drivers: Shinya Hosokawa / Kimiya Sato / Taiyo Iida (Rds. 2 & 6)
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 19th Place (6 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 17th Place (22 points)
Best Finish: 8th (Fuji 500km, Motegi I)
Best Qualifying: 6th (Motegi I)
JLOC’s “B-Team” has typically never enjoyed as much success as the #88 squad, going without a single point in the drivers’ championship last year. For the most part, they were still a step behind the other entry, but this was a much better year for them on the whole.
They would avoid another pointless season after rising from 24th on the grid to finish 8th in the Fuji 500km – an understated, but still remarkable race for the team. They capped it off by adding another eighth-place finish in the first half of the Motegi Grand Final, JLOC’s first double-points finish in over two years.
It was a bounceback season for Hosokawa, whose 2015 campaign at Audi Team Racing Tech ended prematurely through no fault of his own. He’s a solid driver in his own right, having come just one race away from being a GT500 champion back in 2006, and his racecraft was impeccable in 2016.
But Sato, in his first full season, was stellar in his own right. Truth be told, he was not a bonafide prospect for Formula 1, but the 27-year-old has found a great home in Super GT, and was instrumental in securing their two points finishes and qualified a superb 6th in Motegi.
Sato, together with Hiramine – both drivers represent a potentially brilliant future for Isao Noritake’s team in GT300.