Audi Team Hitotsuyama announced their entry into the GT300 class of the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series on Tuesday, confirming one of the blockbuster free agent driver signings of the off-season – as two-time GT500 champion Masataka Yanagida will join fellow former GT500 champion Richard Lyons in their Audi R8 LMS.
Audi Team Hitotsuyama, the top-ranked FIA GT3 entry in last year’s GT300 championship, also maintains their excellent relationship with top Audi customer squad W Racing Team (WRT) and their partnership with Dunlop Tyres, which propelled the team to their first winning season and their best-ever result in the GT300 championship in 2016.
Yanagida, 37, is the major acquisition for Hitotsuyama Racing, the sixteen-year Super GT veteran bringing with him two GT300 Drivers’ Championships (2003, 2010) and back-to-back GT500 championships (2011, 2012), the only driver in Super GT history to win multiple championships in both classes. In his GT500 career, Yanagida has six wins, five pole positions, twenty-three podiums and 535 points.
His peak years came with MOLA International and co-driver Ronnie Quintarelli, winning back-to-back GT500 titles in MOLA’s first two years in the premier class. Last year, Yanagida won two races at Sportsland SUGO and Twin Ring Motegi, and finished seventh in the GT500 championship driving for Kondo Racing with Daiki Sasaki.
Yanagida ends a sixteen-year relationship with Nissan, a relationship with deep family ties extending nearly fifty years – Masataka’s father, Haruhito, was one of Nissan’s most prolific factory racing drivers throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Joining Yanagida is Richard Lyons, the 37-year-old from Hillsborough, Northern Ireland returning for his sixth season with Audi Team Hitotsuyama, having driven the team to their first-ever Super GT victory at Twin Ring Motegi, and third place in the GT300 championship last season.
Lyons, a fourteen-year Super GT veteran, was the last “Double Champion” in major Japanese motor racing, winning both the Formula Nippon (now Super Formula) and GT500 Drivers’ Championships in 2004, the latter driving for NISMO with Satoshi Motoyama.
With eight GT500 class wins, Lyons is the winningest driver from the United Kingdom in JGTC & Super GT history. Since stepping down to GT300 in 2012, Lyons has one win and four podiums in the last five seasons, all with Hitotsuyama Racing.
Yanagida and Lyons combine for 236 career Super GT starts, forming the most experienced driver lineup on the outright 2017 Super GT grid.
Behind the scenes, Masaru Okazawa will serve as Team Director for his second season, and Chief Engineer duties will be shared between Shinji Sato of Audi Team Hitotsuyama, and Pierre Arnaud of WRT. Audi Japan will continue to provide factory support to the team and their second-generation Audi R8 LMS.
Yanagida, Lyons, and Audi Team Hitotsuyama will exhibit their 2017 challenger at the Osaka Auto Messe show from February 10-12.