After a slow start, the new alliance of Gulf Racing Japan and Pacific Racing Team finally bore the fruit of success in a whirlwind 2016.
#9 Gulf NAC Porsche 911 GT3-R
Drivers: Ryohei Sakaguchi / Hiroki Yoshida / Dylan Derdaele (Fuji 500km)
GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 23rd Place (3 points)
GT300 Teams’ Championship: 21st Place (15 points)
Best Finish: 8th (Motegi II)
Best Qualifying: 4th (Motegi II)
Gulf Racing with Pacific were poised to break out in 2016: They dumped the problematic and aging McLaren MP4-12C in favour of a brand-new Porsche 911 GT3-R, the arrival of top GT Asia team Gulf Racing Japan brought in a wealth of new personnel to re-invigorate the team, and the team made a shrewd acquisition in Yoshida, formerly of Tomei Sports.
The year couldn’t really have started worse than an engine fire during the Okayama circuit safari that knocked them out for the rest of the weekend. They did make it to the Fuji 500km, but Sakaguchi was caught up in an incident that damaged the radiator beyond repair just a handful of laps into the race.
But with six straight finishes to end the year, and a breakthrough eighth place finish in the final race at Motegi, they finally turned the season around at the right time.
That was in large part due to an astonishing fourth-place qualifying from Yoshida on Sunday morning, the first time he’d ever qualified the car all season. In hindsight, it’s a bit frustrating that Gulf Racing with Pacific didn’t put as much trust in him as they did in Sakaguchi this year, though both drivers are relatively unproven at this level.
In the familiar Gulf blue and orange, this team had a much better season than they did in 2015. Yes, the loss of Pacific’s itasha liveries did turn a few fans away, but if the new Gulf Racing alliance establishes them as a viable competitor in GT300, it’s an important step they had to make, and that investment is starting to pay off.