2016 Super GT World Awards: International Driver of the Year

The 2016 Super GT World Awards recognize the most outstanding individuals from the 2016 Autobacs Super GT Series.

Throughout most of Super GT’s history, drivers from outside of Japan have made a significant impact and helped shape the landscape of the series to what it is today. The International Driver of the Year award honours the most outstanding foreign driver in Super GT this past season.

In 2016, there was a substantial international presence, with drivers representing a dozen different countries apart from Japan taking part in at least one round of the season. Of those drivers, these select few stood out above their peers…

The finalists

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ANDREA CALDARELLI

Caldarelli finished runner-up in the GT500 drivers’ championship for the second time in three years, helping to lead Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans back to the sharp end of the GT500 grid.

The 26-year-old Italian racked up seven top-five finishes this season, scored points in every round of the championship, and came close to winning races at least twice this past season. He’s also made a successful venture into team ownership, with his FFF Racing by ACM outfit taking major victories in GT3-based series across Europe and Continental Asia.

Savvy beyond his years, but brave enough to wear his emotions with pride, Caldarelli can now truly say he’s one of the premier drivers in Super GT’s top class.

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NICK CASSIDY

After years of struggling to find a foothold in Europe, Cassidy found a new opportunity in Japan, parlaying the All-Japan Formula Three title from 2015 into his first true professional drive in Super GT this past season – and in the famous #36 TOM’s Lexus, no less!

This he combined with his first full season in European Formula 3, which Cassidy had tried to put together for many years. Cassidy won his maiden European F3 race in Zandvoort, in the midst of a marathon session of jetting between Japan and Europe in consecutive weeks.

Cassidy became the first podium finisher from New Zealand in Super GT history, and his arrival in the series has attracted a noticeable following from home this year – one that looks set to stay around as he continues his run in GT500.

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HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Heikki-San finally had a chance to demonstrate the ability that made him one of the highest-rated Formula 1 drivers of his era, even in the “dark years” mired at the back of the grid.

Four podium finishes, a maiden pole position lap, and a maiden victory to seal his first Super GT championship – the first championship of his professional racing career since 2004 – put Kovalainen back on the map in 2016.

Kovalainen also tried his hand in rallying this year, taking after his legendary countrymen like Alen, Kankkunen, Makinen and Gronholm – but Super GT remains Kovalainen’s main focus, and he still has plenty of time to add another GT500 title to his trophy case before he retires some time down the road.

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RICHARD LYONS

The last “double champion” in Japanese motorsport, Richard Lyons enjoyed his best season since stepping “down” to GT300 in 2012.

While poor luck at Sugo and Buriram did cost his team the GT300 title in the end, Lyons and Audi Team Hitotsuyama were rejuvenated by the new Audi R8 LMS. He just lost out in the closest finish in GT300 history at the Fuji 300km in August. Three months later at Motegi, he finally sealed Hitotsuyama Racing’s first win in over two decades, and his first win in his GT300 career.

The Ulsterman can take pride in a season where he and Tomonobu Fujii were the best of the FIA GT3 contingent. Combined with successes in GT Asia, and Lyons is starting to recapture the magic of a decade ago.

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JANN MARDENBOROUGH

It goes without saying that Mardenborough is an important driver for a lot of reasons. Having him in Super GT feels so surreal, yet so right. The young man who found his break in professional auto racing through the Gran Turismo video games – the same series that put the cars of Super GT into the mainstream conscience of international automotive enthusiasts.

“Jann tha Man” was downright electric in 2016, not only in his debut season in GT300 with NDDP Racing, but in his vice-championship run in All-Japan F3. In both series, he was untouchable when he was at the top of his game – that includes Super GT, where he was a winner of the prestigious Fuji 500km, and nearly a winner again at the Thai round at Buriram.

Mardenborough brings interest wherever he goes in the racing world. He will bring even more eyes and ears to Super GT for many years to come.

And the winner is…

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RONNIE QUINTARELLI

Though he fell short of winning three titles in a row this year, which would have been a record-extending fifth for the 37-year-old Verona native, Quintarelli still stood out as the top international driver in Super GT.

Quintarelli, already the first and only four-time GT500 champion in Super GT history, notched up his eleventh and twelfth career victories to move into a tie for the most wins by a foreign driver. It’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll go on to take sole posession of first place from there.

His full-ballast drives at the Fuji 300km and Suzuka 1000km were deserving of a champion, his battle with J.P. Oliveira at the Fuji 500km in May was one of the best of the year despite the anti-climactic outcome, and that was because he raced hard, but fair, against the only other man in the field who’s as hard a charger as he is.

Combine that with his work away from the track which earned him the Shinichi Yamaji Memorial Award, and Ronnie Quintarelli has earned his right to be honoured as the best international driver in Super GT for 2016.

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