Former GT500 champion Daisuke Ito will serve as the new team director of Lexus Team au TOM’s in the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, and will step back from full-time driving duties after eighteen seasons in the JGTC and Super GT.
The 41-year-old former champion will not be out of action for very long, as Ito will return to the cockpit of the #36 au TOM’s Lexus LC500 on May 4th to compete in the prestigious Fuji 500km, replacing the returning Kazuki Nakajima who will prioritize his commitments with Toyota Gazoo Racing in the World Endurance Championship.
Ito won the GT500 championship for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri in 2007, and is one of only six drivers to have won the famous Suzuka 1000km at least three times in their career.
Kazuki Nakajima returns to Super GT to drive the #36 au TOM’s LC500, and James Rossiter moves back to the #36 crew after one year in the #37 KeePer TOM’s squad.
But a clash of dates between the Fuji 500km on May 4, and the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 6 in Belgium, Nakajima will be unavailable to race at Fuji, barring nothing short of a miracle in cross-continental transportation. Therefore, Ito will return to the #36 car alongside Rossiter, reuniting the driver combination from 2015.
Ito, 41, has competed in 138 Super GT races over eighteen seasons, seventeen in GT500 with Honda (2000-2007) and then with Lexus (2008-2016). He is tied for fourth place in the all-time career wins list with twelve race victories. His last victory came in the 2015 International Suzuka 1000km, which marked Ito’s third victory in the race, having previously won it in 2000 and 2004.
His only championship was won in 2007 for ARTA, in a dominant campaign for he and co-driver Ralph Firman – winning three races and becoming the first team to clinch the GT500 title before the last race of the season. The following year, he made a blockbuster switch from Honda to Lexus, where he’s raced ever since.
Last season, Ito and co-driver Nick Cassidy finished fifth in the GT500 championship, with best finishes of second place at the Suzuka 1000km, and third place at Motegi.
Ito joins a fraternity of former drivers serving as GT500 team directors for Lexus, along with Masanori Sekiya (Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s), Juichi Wakisaka (Lexus Team Wako’s LeMans), Toranosuke Takagi (Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo), and Hideki Noda (Lexus Team SARD).
In an interview with auto sport Magazine, Ito was notified that he would be out of a seat in GT500 with two weeks to go before the 2016 season finale at Twin Ring Motegi. Ito has not retired from active driving in Super GT, but will evaluate his status at the end of the 2017 season, while focusing on his new duties as a team director.