With the 2017 lineup of GT500 teams and drivers set to be confirmed for the upcoming Autobacs Super GT Series, we have a clearer understanding of what the teams and driver combinations may look like next season.
The latest updates come courtesy of the January 6, 2017 issue of auto sport Magazine. Two teams have already confirmed their 2017 entries, Team Mugen and Nakajima Racing. So where does the rest of the grid stand?
auto sport can confirm that many of the teams are set in stone for 2017, pending official confirmation – but the biggest new development since December is a potential major shift in Super GT’s tyre war, with MOLA International debating a switch to Dunlop tyres in 2017.
Since 2011, Dunlop have had an exclusive supply deal with Nakajima Racing in the GT500 class.
MOLA are one of two teams currently running Michelin tyres in all of Super GT, the other being NISMO. But Dunlop have been looking to expand their presence in GT500 in 2017, and the most likely landing spot would be MOLA – if they switch, NISMO will have an entirely exclusive partnership with Michelin throughout all of Super GT.
MOLA previously used Dunlops in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but switched to Michelin when they moved up to GT500 in 2011. With Masataka Yanagida and Ronnie Quintarelli, MOLA’s Michelin-clad Nissan GT-Rs won the 2011 and 2012 GT500 titles in their first two seasons in the premier class.
Katsumasa Chiyo, who is expected to partner Satoshi Motoyama once again in the #46 S Road MOLA GT-R, drove the Dunlop-clad Gainer Tanax Nissan GT-R to the GT300 Teams’ Championship in 2015 in six out of eight rounds.
Also at Nissan, it is now becoming very likely that while Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli will stay together in 2017 at NISMO, there will be a change at both Team Impul and Kondo Racing.
Impul are likely to promote Jann Mardenborough to GT500 to partner Hironobu Yasuda, while João Paulo de Oliveira will go back to Kondo Racing to partner Daiki Sasaki. Yanagida looks as if he will be pushed out of the GT500 fleet after spending the last six seasons in the top class.
At Lexus, the biggest developing story is the rumour that Red Bull will take over as the title sponsor of the #37 TOM’s LC 500, driven by Ryo Hirakawa and James Rossiter.
Four other lineups look to remain intact from 2016: The #1 Denso SARD LC (Heikki Kovalainen/Kohei Hirate), the #6 Wako’s LC (Kazuya Oshima/Andrea Caldarelli), the #19 WedsSport Advan LC (Yuhi Sekiguchi/Yuji Kunimoto), and the #38 ZENT Cerumo LC (Yuji Tachikawa/Hiroaki Ishiura).
The one uncertainty is at the #36 au TOM’s LC, where it is looking more likely that Kazuki Nakajima will return to the series alongside Nick Cassidy. Daisuke Ito might stay onboard, but only as a deputy driver in the event of a schedule clash with Nakajima’s commitments in the World Endurance Championship for Toyota. It’s also likely that Ito will retire after eighteen seasons in Super GT.
Kamui Kobayashi has been linked to a third driver role at one of the Lexus GT500 teams, and now he’s likely to take on the Suzuka 1000km as a third driver with Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh.
At Honda, with Mugen confirming the lineup of Hideki Mutoh/Daisuke Nakajima, and Nakajima Racing confirming Bertrand Baguette/Kosuke Matsuura, two of the remaining three teams, Real Racing (Koudai Tsukakoshi/Takashi Kogure) and Team Kunimitsu (Naoki Yamamoto/Takuya Izawa) will renew their 2016 driver lineups for another year.
But at Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, it’s now likely that GT300 driver Takashi Kobayashi will return to the GT500 team for the first time since 2012, partnering Tomoki Nojiri in the ARTA NSX.
As for Jenson Button’s rumoured involvement in GT500 as a third driver, that will likely be alongside Yamamoto and Izawa at Team Kunimitsu, the flagship team of the Honda stable.