D’Station Racing made their motorsports activities announcement at a press conference on Wednesday, headlined by the news that they will re-enter the Autobacs Super GT Series as title sponsor of the number 33 Porsche 911 GT3-R in the GT300 class, prepared by KTR.
It’s an all-star affair from top to bottom, with GT300 stalwart Tomonobu Fujii announced as the lead driver of the #33 Porsche for D’Station Racing, and Japanese baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki announced as D’Station Racing’s general representative, making up part of the ownership of the team.
Under the Excellence Porsche Team KTR banner in 2016, the #33 Porsche 911 GT3-R enjoyed a strong second half of the season, highlighted with a second-place finish at the first of two races in the Grand Final at Twin Ring Motegi. Naoya Yamano finished a career-best 10th in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship, driving the Excellence Porsche with Jörg Bergmeister, Yuya Sakamoto, and Tim Bergmeister during the season.
Over the off-season, Excellence Group, the largest Porsche dealership network in Japan, sold their ownership of the team to Nexus Group, the parent company of D’Station – one of the biggest pachinko hall chains in Japan. D’Station’s last involvement in Super GT was in 2015, when they were the title sponsor for Kondo Racing in the GT500 class.
Despite the change in ownership, with Nexus Group President & CEO Satoshi Hoshino installed as the team owner, and Sasaki, nicknamed “Daimajin” (demon god) in his days as a pitcher in the NPB & MLB serving as general representative, Toshiaki Takeda will continue on as the team director from 2016, and KTR will still handle vehicle maintenance for D’Station Racing.
Heading up the charge for D’Station Racing will be Tomonobu Fujii, a twelve-year veteran of the GT300 class, who returns to drive the #33 Porsche 911 GT3-R for the first time since 2013 – when Hankook Tyre were the title sponsor. The move was a natural fit for Fujii, as D’Station have been a long-time personal sponsor of his racing activities.
Fujii, 36, has spent the last three seasons with Audi Team Hitotsuyama, and helped lead the team to their first-ever Super GT victory, also in the first leg of the Motegi GT Grand Final. Fujii and co-driver Richard Lyons finished third in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship, the best-ever result for Hitotsuyama Racing, and the best of the FIA GT3 contingent in GT300 last season.
He also led Kondo Racing to their first-ever racing championship in the Super Taikyu ST-X class in 2016, winning four out of six races with co-drivers Yuudai Uchida and Kazuki Hiramine.
In 94 career Super GT races, Fujii has eight career victories, 20 podiums, and 508 career points – he’s regarded as one of the best GT300 drivers who has yet to win a championship.
D’Station Racing only announced Fujii as a driver of their Super GT entry, with the second seat rumoured to go to an unidentified Porsche factory driver. It is unlikely that any of the Excellence Porsche drivers from 2016 will return to the rebranded squad.
Tsubasa Kondo, last year’s Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion, was announced as the “pro” driver of the #777 D’Station Porsche in the Super Taikyu Endurance Series’ ST-X class, partnering Satoshi Hoshino. Kondo, 27, made his Super GT debut at the end of last season with Team Taisan SARD, and could also be a favorite to partner Fujii in the D’Station Porsche in Super GT.