January GT300 Silly Season Update: Who’s in, who’s out, and who’s back?

The January 6 issue of auto sport Magazine features a detailed update of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series’ GT300 class entry list, the first substantial update of the off-season.

In this field of potential entries, there are many potential new and returning teams and drivers, there are many drivers switching teams, and sadly, there are a handful of teams whose status for 2016 is questionable, doubtful, or entirely bleak.

Nonetheless, the potential for as many as 32 entries in the 2017 GT300 class – who will all be profiled in this helpful guide – would make this the largest GT300 field in Super GT history.

It is extremely important to remember that the rumours detailed below are just that – rumours – with most entries likely to be unconfirmed until as late as the end of pre-season testing in March, or the eve of the opening round of the season at Okayama.

Guide:

🔴 – Driver Confirmed
⭕ – Driver Expected to be Confirmed
▲ – Driver Unconfirmed
❓ – Driver Status Entirely Unknown
⚠️ – Team Status Unknown
🔰 – First-year team or driver
🆕 – New model vehicle

#2 – Cars Tokai Dream 28 – Lotus Evora MC – Kazuho Takahashi 🔴 / Hiroki Katoh 🔴

No changes for the Cars Tokai squad, who would field the oldest driver lineup in the field at an average age of 56 years old. This would be Takahashi and Katoh’s eleventh season together since 2006.

⚠️ #3 – NDDP Racing – Nissan GT-R GT3 – ❓ / ❓

The first big potential shockwave of the 2017 GT300 silly season may be the closure of NDDP Racing, headed up by Masahiro Hasemi since 2012. The works Nissan GT300 squad fielded a car for Kazuki Hoshino and Jann Mardenborough last season. Mardenborough looks set to move up to GT500, Hoshino would be a free agent.

#4 – Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Nobuteru Taniguchi 🔴 / Tatsuya Kataoka 🔴

This team’s entry was confirmed on December 23rd. NOB and TK will be together for the sixth consecutive season. This is GSR’s third year with Mercedes-Benz.

#5 – Team Mach – Toyota MC 86 – Junichiro Yamashita ▲ / Masami Kageyama ▲

Tetsuji Tamanaka’s retirement from driving will leave an opportunity for his two 2016 co-drivers at Team Mach to go full-time in 2017. It’s likely that Yamashita and Kageyama will drive the Mach MC86, with Kageyama, who turns 50 in May, returning for his 24th consecutive season of Super GT/JGTC racing.

#7 – BMW Team Studie – BMW M6 GT3 – Jörg Müller ⭕ / Seiji Ara ⭕

It’s all but assured that the experienced and decorated duo of Müller and Ara will race together at Studie for a fourth season next year, despite a tough season in 2016.

#9 – Gulf Racing with Pacific – Porsche 911 GT3-R – Jono Lester 🔰🔴 / Rintaro Kubo ▲

Gulf Racing with Pacific are set for a complete overhaul of their driver lineup in 2017. Kiwi Jono Lester will be the team’s new ace driver, participating in his first full season after driving for Lamborghini Team Direction in two rounds of 2016. Sophomore driver Kubo projects to move from Arnage Racing after one season.

#10 – Gainer – Nissan GT-R GT3 – Andre Couto ▲ / Ryuichiro Tomita ▲ / Kazuki Hoshino? ▲ / Masataka Yanagida? ▲

Gainer’s Nissan entry will revert to their traditional #10 this year, and there’s a good chance that they’ll retain their 2016 driver lineup of Couto and Tomita. But there’s now a volatile situation at Nissan, with the surplus of talent on the outside looking in. Hoshino could land here, especially if NDDP Racing folds without a replacement. And with Yanagida looking more and more likely to be pushed out of Nissan’s GT500 fleet, the Gainer GT-R would be his best available option in the series.

#11 – Gainer – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Katsuyuki Hiranaka 🔴 / Björn Wirdheim 🔴

In contrast, the Mercedes side of Gainer is a beacon of calm and continuity. This will be Hiranaka and Wirdheim’s fifth season together, all in a Mercedes GT3 car.

#18 – Team Upgarage with Bandoh – Toyota MC 86 – Yuhki Nakayama 🔴 / Shinnosuke Yamada ⭕

Veteran former GT300 champion Nakayama and second-year youngster Yamada should stick together for a second year in 2017 with Team Upgarage/Bandoh.

#21 – Audi Team Hitotsuyama – Audi R8 LMS – Richard Lyons  / Tomonobu Fujii ▲ / Benoît Tréluyer? ▲

A potential bombshell in the GT300 silly season would be the return of 2008 GT500 champion, three-time Le Mans 24h winner, and former World Endurance Drivers’ Champion Tréluyer to Super GT with Audi Team Hitotsuyama, to partner either Lyons or Fujii, or to run as a third driver for long-distance races. This was the top FIA GT3 team in GT300 last season.

#22 – R’Qs Motor Sports – Mercedes-AMG GT3? – Hisashi Wada 🔴 / Masaki Jyonai ⭕

Despite a calamitous 2016 season, R’Qs will be back for 2017 with the veteran lineup of “Wada-Q” and “Guts” Jyonai, who both turn 55 this coming year.

#25 – VivaC Team Tsuchiya – Toyota MC 86 – Takamitsu Matsui 🔴 / Kenta Yamashita 🔴

Confirmed by Takeshi Tsuchiya himself several times over the past few months, reigning Japanese F3 champion Yamashita, who is now a hot property after his impressive Macau Grand Prix performance in February, will replace Tsuchiya alongside Matsui. The team will use their traditional number 25, neglecting to run the unofficial GT300 champion’s number zero.

⚠️ #26 – Team Taisan SARD – Audi R8 LMS – ❓ / ❓

Even after a strong return season for Team Taisan SARD in 2016, their 2017 plans look uncertain at best. It’s important to remember that their 2016 entry was confirmed very late in the year. They finished the year with a strong, young driver lineup of Yuya Motojima and Tsubasa Kondo – which would be strong again in 2017, if they come back.

#30 – apr – Toyota Prius apr GT – Hiroaki Nagai 🔴 / Kota Sasaki 🔴

Nagai and Sasaki will stay together in 2017 in the “pro-am” half of apr’s two-car operation.

#31 – apr – Toyota Prius apr GT – Koki Saga 🔴 / Yuichi Nakayama ▲ / “TDP Driver?” 🔰▲

But in the number 31 “A-team” apr Prius, there could be a potential shakeup in the works. Koki Saga will stay on board, that much is certain. But Yuichi Nakayama’s place is uncertain, with Toyota/Lexus looking to expand their GT300 presence (see the LM Corsa entries further down). If Nakayama leaves, his seat will likely be filled by another Toyota Young Driver Programme (TDP) member, and it’s not implausible to see Daisuke Ito in this car either, if he’s displaced from GT500.

⚠️ #33 – KTR – Porsche 911 GT3-R? – ❓ / ❓

Another potential shockwave is the uncertain status of Porsche Team KTR, who had a phenomenal close to their 2016 season, led by Naoya Yamano, Jörg Bergmeister, and Yuya Sakamoto who all scored championship points last year. It seems the Excellence Group of Porsche dealerships may withdraw support of the team, which would be a devastating loss.

#35 – Toyota Team Thailand 🔰 – Toyota MC 86 – Nattavude Charoensukhawatana 🔰 ⭕ / Piti Bhirombhakdi 🔰 ⭕

Thailand’s first team to run a full season in Super GT will keep their MC86 from 2016, and their driver lineup from the Buriram race – “Mad Cow” Nattavude and Singha heir Bhirombhakdi.

⚠️ #48 – Dijon Racing – Nissan GT-R GT3 – ❓ / ❓

Dijon Racing enter 2017 with uncertain plans all around despite having their best season to date in 2016. Affable journeyman Hiroshi Takamori took a less involved role as a driver, yielding to Takayuki Aoki and Mitsunori Takaboshi by the end of the year. Nissan’s GT500 roster could be slashed in half for 2017 if both NDDP Racing and Dijon Racing suspend operations.

#50 – Arnage Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3? – Hideto Yasuoka ▲ / Rintaro Kubo ▲ / Masaki Kano ▲

Arnage Racing seem keen to retain their 2017 lineup whilst upgrading to the new Mercedes-AMG GT3, but with young Kubo eyeing up a move to Gulf Racing with Pacific, that could leave at least one vacancy, likely to be filled by veteran Masaki Kano. Yasuoka could return as the ace driver, but that isn’t 100% certain either.

#51? – LM Corsa – Lexus RC F GT3 🆕 – Yuichi Nakayama ⭕ / Sho Tsuboi 🔰⭕

It is expected that LM Corsa and OTG Motorsports will prepare a second 2017 Lexus RC-F GT3, as Toyota Gazoo Racing goes all-in on their GT3 programme. The new LM Corsa RC-F will likely feature a young lineup of Nakayama, joined by a Super GT rookie, former F4 champion and top F3 rookie from a year ago, Sho Tsuboi.

#55 – Autobacs Racing Team Aguri – BMW M6 GT3 – Shinichi Takagi ⭕ / Takashi Kobayashi▲

To the surprise of some, ARTA sticks with the BMW M6 for 2017 instead of going with the new Honda NSX GT3, but that’s the only stable element of their roster from 2017. Takagi is likely to stay on as the lead driver, but Kobayashi might be promoted up to ARTA’s GT500 side. If that happens, there are a few available options – such as Yoshiaki Katayama, last year’s All-Japan F3 National Class champion, who gained sponsorship from Autobacs at the end of 2016.

#60 – LM Corsa – Lexus RC F GT3 🆕 – Akira Iida 🔴 / Hiroki Yoshimoto 🔴

On top of the likely addition of a second new Lexus RC-F GT3, LM Corsa’s original team will stay the same, with the veteran duo of Iida and Yoshimoto, who have raced together since LM Corsa’s debut in 2014, back in the new 2017 RC-F after two seasons with the “test car”.

#61 – R&D Sport – Subaru BRZ GT300 – Takuto Iguchi 🔴 / Hideki Yamauchi 🔴

Set to be confirmed next week at the Tokyo Auto Salon, no changes at Subaru/R&D Sport on all fronts. This will be Iguchi & Yamauchi’s third season as a driver pairing.

#63 – Lamborghini Team Direction – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – Adrian Zaugg ▲ / Naoki Yokomizo ▲

At least one team will show up in 2017 for Lamborghini Team Direction, and the best bet is on the pink Huracan of Zaugg and Yokomizo, who could be put together again this coming season.

#65 – K2 R&D LEON Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Haruki Kurosawa 🔴 / Naoya Gamou 🔴

First time race winners in 2016, LEON Racing keep the pairing of Kurosawa & Gamou together for a third season.

⚠️ #87 – JLOC – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – Shinya Hosokawa ▲ / Kimiya Sato ▲

The #87 JLOC Lamborghini of Hosokawa and Sato might be coming back to contest the 2017 season, but apparently the status of JLOC’s second team is not confirmed for next year. This is because JLOC are planning an entry into the Blancpain GT Asia Series, and they may opt to run a single car in Super GT and Blancpain Asia.

#88 – JLOC – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – Manabu Orido 🔴 / Kazuki Hiramine 🔴

The flagship number 88 entry of JLOC will be back in 2017, that is for certain. This is set to be Orido & Hiramine’s 2nd full season as a driver combination at JLOC.

⚠️ #108 – Lamborghini Team Direction Shift – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – ❓ / ❓

While Lamborghini Squadra Corse expects to run four cars again in 2017, the #108 entry for Team Direction is the least certain of these four to return. Kyosuke Mineo and Hironori Takeuchi drove for the team at the final rounds in Motegi.

#111 – Rn-sports – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Masayuki Ueda ▲ / Kazuya Tsuruta ▲ / Keishi Ishikawa 🔰▲

Unconfirmed as of yet, but Rn-sports (Rounye) will be back next year, potentially in the EVA Racing colours. Veteran journeymen Ueda and Tsuruta are safe bets to stay on in 2017, but F3 standout Ishikawa, who was solid for the team in his one-off at Suzuka last season, is a good bet to take over one of those seats.

#360 – Tomei Sports – Nissan GT-R GT3 – Yusaku Shibata 🔴 / Atsushi Tanaka 🔴 / Shota Kiyohara ▲

Tomei Sports are the sole source of stability for Nissan in GT300 this off-season it seems, retaining their 2016 lineup of gymkhana ace Shibata, RunUp owner Tanaka, and potentially a 2nd partial season for young Kiyohara.

⚠️ #51? – INGING Motorsport? – Ferrari 488 GT3 – Akihiro Tsuzuki ▲ / Morio Nitta ▲ / Shigekazu Wakisaka ▲

With LM Corsa likely to go with two TGR-backed Lexus RC F GT3s, this leaves the old #51 LM Corsa team, prepared by INGING Motorsport, with the option to spin off into a separate team with their Ferrari 488 GT3. Should they do so, they could also keep their 2016 driver roster on board, which was headed by GT300 iron man Nitta.

⚠️ #52/68? – Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave 🔰 – Toyota Mark X MC 🆕 – Taku Bamba / Takayuki Hiranuma 🔰▲

A new team with a new Mark X MC, GreenBrave are set to take their rapid success in the lower categories to Super GT’s second division. Drivers are expected to be 2011 GT300 champion Bamba, returning to Super GT after four years out, and 43-year-old Hiranuma, the senior managing director of the Saitama Toyopet dealerships, and a budding “gentleman driver.”

⚠️ #?? – Teramoto Technical Office? – Bentley Continental GT3 🆕 – ❓ / ❓

Last but not least, the long-rumoured arrival of the Bentley Continental GT3 to Super GT’s second class. Teams like Absolute Racing and Arnage Racing have been linked to ushering in the big Bentley’s GT300 debut, but auto sport has them linked to Teramoto Technical Office, a maintenance garage headed up by Hiroyuki Teramoto, which was last involved in Super GT a decade ago.

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