Today, one of the greatest drivers in the history of the Autobacs Super GT Series celebrates his milestone 50th birthday.
Morio Nitta may not be a household name to fans outside of Japan, but he is the undisputed king of the GT300 class over his twenty-two year career in the JGTC and Super GT. Nitta has more career race starts than any other driver, regardless of category. He owns the record for most victories and a share of the most championships in GT300 history. He’s one of only two drivers with more than 1,000 career points to his name.
And he’s showing little signs of slowing down, even on his 50th birthday. On this special occasion, we take a brief look at Nitta’s incredible Super GT career…
Nitta got his start in racing in 1986, and by 1988, the young Tokyo native was already a regular in the All-Japan Touring Car Championship (JTC).
He got his first big break in 1990, when he joined Team Advan and accomplished veteran co-driver, Keiichi Suzuki. Together, Suzuki and Nitta took class victories in three races out of six, including the prestigious Fuji Inter-TEC 500km, to win the ’90 JTC-3 Class Championship in their Toyota Corolla Levin.
Nitta received his first Super GT drive in 1994 at the penultimate round at Sportsland SUGO, when he drove to a fifth-place finish in what was then known as the GT-2 class. But it wasn’t until 1996 when he got his first full-time opportunity – and what a chance it was!
Nitta was reunited with Suzuki at the wheel of the Team Taisan Jr. Porsche 964, and together, they dominated the ’96 JGTC GT300 Championship, taking three victories and two second-place finishes in six races. They would finish runner-up in ’97 by just a single point, the first of four runner-up finishes for Nitta in his career.
In 1998, Nitta switched to the upstart A’PEX Racing Team and their mid-engined Toyota MR2. In ’99, A’PEX would join forces with defending GT300 champions Tsuchiya Engineering, and Nitta would have a new co-driver: Shinichi Takagi.
In ’99, Nitta would go on to take his second GT300 title in the MomoCorse A’PEX MR2, by just one point over the NISMO Silvia of Yuji Ide and Takeshi Tsuchiya, having trailed the NISMO duo by the same margin going into the championship finale at Twin Ring Motegi.
Over their twelve seasons together as co-drivers, Nitta and Takagi would form the most formidable and successful driver combination in GT300, and it was Nitta who re-wrote the record books in the 21st century.
The dynamic duo captured the 2002 GT300 title for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri and A’PEX (who later evolved into their current identity: apr Racing), giving Nitta his record-setting third GT300 title.
In 2004, Nitta became the winningest driver in GT300 history with his eleventh victory, surpassing his great mentor Keiichi Suzuki, and he’s held on to that lead ever since. In 2010, Nitta became the first driver in Super GT history to reach 1,000 career championship points.
Nitta and Takagi would continue to fight for the GT300 championship with the famous ARTA Garaiya, only to finish runner-up in the standings in ’04, ’08, and 2010. In ’04 and ’08, they lost by just a single point, and in 2008, they were defeated on a dramatic pass on the final run to the start/finish line on the final lap of the season.
Nitta also enjoyed success in Super Taikyu, punctuated by a banner year in 2006 when he won the Super Taikyu ST-1 Class Championship, and the famous Tokachi 24 Hour race in Hokkaido, with co-drivers Takagi and Tetsuya Tanaka.
Nitta remained with apr through the 2014 season, which included three seasons as the lead driver of apr’s radical hybrid-powered Toyota Prius GT starting in 2012.
At the 2013 Fuji 500km, Nitta picked up the most recent of his eighteen career GT300 victories, his seventh at Fuji Speedway, and equally as important, the first win for a hybrid race car in Super GT history. It was truly the beginning of the legend of the mid-engined Prius GT.
In 2015, Nitta moved to LM Corsa, driving their BMW Z4 GT3 in its final year of service. The following year, LM Corsa and INGING Motorsport swapped the BMW out for a brand-new Ferrari 488 GT3.
Nitta is unconfirmed for the 2017 Super GT season as of today, but over the last two seasons, he’s still shown time and again, glimpses of the same smooth, consistent, ultra-calm speed that has made him the greatest performer in GT300 class history.
Here’s to an incredible 50 years, and to many more to come.
MORIO NITTA – SUPER GT RECORDS
- Most career races started and entered: 162 starts
- Most GT300 Drivers’ Championships (tie): 3 (1996, 1999, 2002)
- Most GT300 Championship Runner-up Finishes: 4 (1997, 2004, 2008, 2010)
- Most GT300 Race Wins: 18
- Most GT300 Podiums: 52
- Most GT300 Top Tens: 110
- Most GT300 Championship Points – career: 1,178