The 2016 Super GT World Awards recognize the most outstanding individuals from the 2016 Autobacs Super GT Series.
To honour the most outstanding first-year driver in all of Super GT, the best rookie driver will be presented with the Shingo Tachi Memorial Award. There is no more fitting namesake than Tachi (1977 – 1999), who in his debut season in 1998, set a number of landmark records as a rookie – winning the GT300 Drivers’ Championship alongside Keiichi Suzuki with a record five wins, 106 points, and becoming the youngest champion in series history at the time.
When Tachi died in a testing accident on March 11, 1999, just weeks before his GT500 debut, the motorsport world lost one of its most promising young superstars. His memory carries on as the namesake to our prize for the driver who immediately set the benchmark of excellence upon their arrival.
Cassidy, at 22 years of age, enjoyed the best season for a Super GT driver debuting in GT500 at 25 years or younger since Koudai Tsukakoshi in 2009.
His full body of work in 2016 saw him place fifth in the GT500 championship standings, and either of his two podium finishes at the Suzuka 1000km or the first Motegi Grand Final race could have easily parlayed into a win – they were still landmark achievements, however, as Cassidy became the first Kiwi podium finisher in Super GT history.
If not for a hefty post-race time penalty at Sugo, he and co-driver Daisuke Ito would have ended 2016 with a perfect 8 races out of 8 in the points. Given how more experienced drivers before him have fared in their debut seasons, that’s a remarkable run of consistency for “Big Cass.”
And you can’t teach that!
Making his Super GT debut in the Suzuka 1000km, and stepping up to GT500 at the very next round in Buriram, Thailand, Makino showed in just four races why he’s one of the hottest young properties in Japanese motorsport.
He set a GT300 lap record in qualifying at Suzuka in the Mooncraft Lotus Evora MC, then in his GT500 debut at Buriram, qualified just 0.033 seconds off the pole in second, and finished second – putting Honda as close as they ever got all year to a win, and making Makino the youngest-ever GT500 podium scorer at 19 years, 3 months, and 11 days old.
Demonstrating uncanny speed for a driver in just his second year out of karting, Makino will be on the fast-track to Formula 1 with Honda’s assistance. If he continues to ascend the ladder with the ability that he demonstrated in Super GT in the second half of 2016, Tadasuke Makino could finally become the breakthrough Grand Prix winner Japan has been waiting nearly half a century to see.
Motojima had a spectacular 2015 campaign, winning both the Super Taikyu ST-X class and Porsche Carrera Cup Japan titles. In 2016, he was a shrewd signing for the returning Team Taisan SARD, back after a frustrating 2014 and missing 2015 entirely.
In his first outing with the new Audi R8 LMS, Motojima got the Taisan SARD R8 into Q2 at the Fuji 500km. He did so again at Sugo, and at Suzuka for the 1000km when he was sixth-fastest in Q1. His blistering race pace helped Taisan to their first points since their return at the 300km race at Fuji in August, then a double-points finish in the two races at Motegi capped off a solid rookie year for the 25-year-old.
Motojima was by far and away the best driver on his team all season long, and he has the potential to become a champion in the sanbyaku class in the very near future.
And the winner is…
Jann Mardenborough, one of the most unlikely success stories in present-day motorsport, immediately broke out as a superstar in Super GT in his first season with NDDP Racing.
His breakthrough performance came with a dominating drive at the Fuji 500km, with two rapid stints at the wheel of the B-Max GT-R to take the win. Over the next two rounds of the season, at Sugo and again at Fuji, Mardenborough rallied back from deep in the field to finishes of fifth and sixth, and then at Buriram, he was the outright fastest driver in the GT300 field – and very nearly stole the win away from the VivaC 86 of Tsuchiya and Matsui. Fourth in the championship at the end seems a bit harsh, given how explosively fast Mardenborough was for most of the season.
Vindicating the faith that Nissan have had in him for five years, Mardenborough is poised to step up to GT500, where his star will only continue to burn brighter.