Honda Racing announced their full five-car entry into the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series at a Friday morning press conference at the 2017 Tokyo Auto Salon, confirming the driver lineups for three teams: Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA), Real Racing, and Team Kunimitsu.
Their announcement comes just short of a month after Honda announced the first part of their GT500 entry, headlined by the return of Team Mugen to the top class, as well as the re-tooled driver lineup at Nakajima Racing.
Friday’s press conference only confirmed one additional change from the 2016 season, as Takashi Kobayashi will return to racing in GT500 for the first time since 2012, in the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT.
Autobacs Racing Team Aguri are celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2017, and the tenth anniversary of their only GT500 class championship, won in 2007. To turn around their recent run of misfortune, Aguri Suzuki will deploy a retooled driver lineup of Tomoki Nojiri and the returning Kobayashi.
Kobayashi, 29, first raced in GT500 for ARTA from 2010 to 2012, scoring a shocking pole position in a one-off debut in the 2010 Suzuka GT Summer Special. His co-drivers Ralph Firman and Yuji Ide went on to win the race, but Kobayashi did not drive in the final. He then spent the next two full seasons at ARTA, scoring just 19 points from 2011-12, with a best finish of sixth.
Since then, he has driven for ARTA’s GT300 team from 2013-2016, enjoying much better fortune in the second tier, with five wins, eight podiums, seven pole positions, and 162 points driving with Shinichi Takagi in the Honda CR-Z GT (2013-15) and the BMW M6 GT3 (2016). He and Takagi finished fifth in last year’s GT300 standings, despite missing the final race of the season at Twin Ring Motegi.
He joins Nojiri, who enters his third season in GT500 with ARTA. The 27-year-old Nojiri is a Super Formula race winner and All-Japan Formula 3 runner-up, but has yet to score a podium finish in GT500, with just 27 points and a best finish of fourth (Okayama 2015) in his first two seasons.
Katsutomo Kaneishi’s Real Racing team is also celebrating their tenth anniversary in 2017, and Honda’s best-ranked team from 2016 will retain their driver lineup of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure, who finished 11th in the GT500 Drivers’ Championship with one podium finish last season (2nd, Fuji 300km) in the #17 Keihin NSX-GT.
Tsukakoshi, 30, is entering his ninth full season, and has driven his entire Super GT career for Real Racing. He has one career win, sixteen podiums, and 342 career points scored from 65 career races. He was runner-up in the 2013 GT500 championship, and his only win was in the closest finish in Super GT history, at the 2010 Sugo GT 300km Race.
Kogure, 36, was GT500 class champion in 2010 at Dome/Honda Racing, and is entering his fourteenth season in Super GT, his second with Real Racing alongside Tsukakoshi. In 102 races, Kogure has seven wins, fourteen pole positions, twenty podiums, and 560 career points.
Finally, Team Kunimitsu announced the renewal of their popular driver combination of Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa in the #100 Raybrig NSX-GT, with the lights manufacturer returning for their 21st straight season as the title sponsor of the legendary Kunimitsu Takahashi’s squad. The two finished fourteenth in the GT500 standings, with 20 points and a best finish of 3rd (Fuji 300km) in 2016.
Yamamoto, 28, enters his eighth season in Super GT, his sixth with Team Kunimitsu. He won both the Suzuka 1000km and Super Formula championship in 2013, and finished third in the 2015 GT500 championship with Izawa. In 55 career races, all in GT500, Yamamoto has three victories, thirteen podiums, and a career tally of 320 points. Last year, he married former Super GT+ reporter and TV Tokyo personality Eri Kano.
Izawa, 32, is entering his ninth full season, and his seventh with Team Kunimitsu. He has four career victories, 20 podiums, and 384 points in 67 races. Izawa missed most of the 2014 season, participating in the GP2 Series as a Honda-backed driver at ART Grand Prix.
They will join the already-announced driver lineups of Hideki Mutoh & Daisuke Nakajima at Team Mugen, and Bertrand Baguette & Kosuke Matsuura at Nakajima Racing.
In addition, ARTA, Real Racing, and Team Kunimitsu will remain with Bridgestone tyres in 2017, complimenting Team Mugen on Yokohama tyres, and Nakajima Racing on Dunlops.