2016 Super GT World Awards: Team Director of the Year

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

The Team Director of the Year honours the principal (or chief engineer) whose direction, decision-making, and leadership contributed the most to their respective teams’ successes in 2016. They are, after all, perhaps the most prominent faces of their respective organizations.

2016 saw a number of teams get creative to ensure success on the season, parlaying that into victories and even championships. There were many exceptional finalists, but only one winner…

The finalists

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MASATAKA BANDOH

Six years of tireless work and perseverance finally paid off for Masataka Bandoh and the Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh organization.

Bandoh, who took over his father’s racing team at just 31 years of age, who brought them up to GT500 in 2011, oversaw a season where the WedsSport RC-F finished fourth in the standings, scored points in every round for the second consecutive year, and most importantly, finally secured their first GT500 class win at the Buriram Super GT Race in Thailand.

Still only 40, younger than three active GT500 drivers and the youngest of all 15 of the GT500 team directors, Bandoh’s passion for the sport was evident as he had to don his signature sunglasses to hide the tears as he celebrated with his father after the Buriram race. His leadership over the last decade, picking up where Masaaki Bandoh left off, has built a truly formidable team for the future.

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MASAHIKO KONDO

2016 was a banner year for Kondo Racing, across a number of categories. In Super GT, they enjoyed their first multi-win season ever. In Super Taikyu, they dominated the top-tier ST-X category.

Masahiko “Matchy” Kondo, the musician and songwriter, turned racing driver, turned team principal at the turn of the century – enjoyed a breakthrough year atop the pitbox, with his Forum Engineering Nissan GT-R taking victories at Sportsland Sugo and at Twin Ring Motegi, both the end product of heroic tyre strategy – both times, the team elected to double-stint a full set of Yokohama tyres the whole race distance.

Long considered the dark horse of the Nissan GT500 fleet, Kondo Racing ended up finishing second-best among the GT-Rs in the final championship standings, ahead of former champion teams Impul and MOLA.

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TAKESHI TSUCHIYA (CHIEF ENGINEER)

The only chief engineer and/or race driver in the list of finalists, Tsuchiya gets the nod due to his strategic decisions that helped VivaC Team Tsuchiya capture their third GT300 championship, and his first as a driver at the end of a 21-year career in Super GT.

Serving as engineer under his father, team director Haruo Tsuchiya, Takeshi Tsuchiya rolled the dice on two-tyre or no-tyre stops in every round of the championship, and the team executed them to perfection. He took a less involved role as the “ace driver” as the season went on, entrusting lead driving duties to young Takamitsu Matsui by the end of the season – a move that paid off in the long run.

As Geinou of RacingBlog.de pointed out in nominating Tsuchiya as a finalist for the award: “He may have just been an engineer, but he made all the important decisions that helped the team win the GT300 championship.” Then again, to say he was just an engineer for the work he did was a colossal understatement.

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JUICHI WAKISAKA

Maintaining the standard of excellence that he established in his eighteen years as a GT500 driver and three-time series champion, rookie team director Juichi Wakisaka was a revelation at Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans.

He was a hit on social media with his expressive reactions, yes, but the hallmark of Wakisaka’s racing career was how he could balance that with a determined, focused approach as a competitor. At the helm of the Wako’s RC-F, he did just that, invigorating the team with a new energy from the top of the pitbox.

And it paid off nicely, with Team LeMans recording their best championship result since 2003, on the back of seven top-five finishes and a 100% scoring record. So much was his influence as a director that Team LeMans brought Wakisaka on to help turn around a frustrating 2016 Super Formula campaign near the end of the season. He has the makeup of an all-time great team principal.

And the winner is…

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HIDEKI NODA

2015 was a year of a wholesale overhaul at Lexus Team SARD. Not only did they bring in ex-Formula 1 hero Heikki Kovalainen and former GT500 champion Kohei Hirate to drive the iconic #39 Denso Lexus RC-F, they also installed a new team director – former driver Hideki Noda, himself a former GT500 race winner.

The well-traveled Noda and his team took a year to gel as a unit, but in 2016, they put it all together for a sterling campaign at Lexus Team SARD, never finishing lower than eighth place in any round of the season, scoring a total of four podium finishes, and taking the championship in the final weekend of the season over the heavily favoured NISMO team – and doing it with their first race win since 2012.

As a team director isn’t quite the big personality that his Lexus peers like Wakisaka and Bandoh are, but in leading SARD to their first Super GT title in their 22 year history, in just his second year on the job, Hideki Noda earns the nod and wins our inaugural Team Director of the Year Award for 2016.

 

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