Nissan announced their 2017 motorsport activities on Friday night, completing the GT500 grid for the 2017 season with the final four entries, and adding one more factory-supported GT300 team to the grid.
Former GT Academy graduate and Nissan factory driver Jann Mardenborough has been promoted to GT500 to drive the legendary Calsonic Nissan GT-R for Team Impul, replacing Brazilian João Paulo de Oliveira, who moves back to Kondo Racing for the first time since 2010.
NDDP Racing, Nissan’s works GT300 squad, brings back young standout NISMO Global Athlete Mitsunori Takaboshi to Super GT full-time in 2017.
“We have a firm determination to retake the series championship and, with this in mind, we have reevaluated our cars, drivers, organization and so on in order to ensure we are more prepared than ever,” said Takao Katagiri, CEO and President of NISMO.
“Our team structure consists of four seriously competitive teams that will all be aiming for the title. We will be pouring our souls into this season so we hope to continue to receive the passionate support that we have received from our fans thus far.”
Nissan’s GT500 efforts will be led once again by the flagship NISMO team, carrying the traditional number 23 this season. For the fourth successive season, Japanese driver Tsugio Matsuda and Italian star Ronnie Quintarelli form the driver lineup for the #23 Motul Autech NISMO GT-R, equipped with Michelin tyres, and a striking new livery for 2017.
Matsuda and Quintarelli form the most successful driver combination in the history of Super GT’s premier class: Matsuda is the all-time career leader in GT500 race victories (18), and Quintarelli is the only four-time GT500 champion in series history (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015).
They won the opening two races of the season at Okayama and Fuji Speedway in 2016, but only finished third in the championship due to a poor run in the final three races of the season.
The NISMO entry will once again be overseen by team director Yutaka Suzuki, and chief engineer Takeshi Nakajima, who helped lead the team to back-to-back titles in 2014 & 2015.
There is also continuity at MOLA International, who will retain the driver lineup of three-time GT500 champion Satoshi Motoyama, and popular second-year GT500 driver Katsumasa Chiyo, and also retain their partnership with Michelin tyres for 2017.
Motoyama, who turns 46 next month, will be the oldest and most experienced driver in the GT500 grid next season. He has 158 career starts over twenty-one seasons, 154 in GT500 – making him the most experienced driver in the history of the premier category. He is third all-time in career wins (16), has 42 career podiums, 107 top-tens, 7 pole positions, and a GT500 record 1,057 total points.
Chiyo, 30, is coming off a difficult first season in the top category, where he scored a podium finish on debut at Okayama, but suffered a back injury at Fuji Speedway that forced him to miss the 2016 Suzuka 1000km. He is a former GT300 class winner of the Suzuka 1000km in 2015, the same year he won the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia.
It was also announced that Chiyo will return to the Blancpain GT Series for NISMO Team RJN, partnering Alex Buncombe and Lucas Ordoñez in the Endurance Cup events. Chiyo won the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series title, becoming the first Japanese driver to win a major professional sports car championship outside of Asia.
Supporters of Team Impul will be delighted to hear that Calsonic Kansei will return as the title sponsor of the #12 Nissan GT-R, maintaining a partnership with team principal Kazuyoshi Hoshino dating back to 1982.
25-year-old Jann Mardenborough is the new recruit to partner 33-year-old former GT300 champion Hironobu Yasuda in the Calsonic Impul GT-R, one of the most popular cars in all of Super GT, one that’s very familiar to “gamer turned racer” Mardenborough, the 2011 Nissan GT Academy champion.
Mardenborough finished fourth in last year’s GT300 championship for NDDP Racing, runner-up in the All-Japan Formula Three championship, and was the lead driver of Nissan’s short-lived LMP1 programme in 2015. He will be the second GT Academy graduate to race in GT500 (Lucas Ordoñez being the first), and the first Black British driver ever to race in GT500.
Brazilian João Paulo de Oliveira moves over to Kondo Racing to partner young Nissan factory driver Daiki Sasaki. Oliveira, 35, will drive for musician-turned-racer Masahiko Kondo for the second time in his career, having previously driven for the team from 2007 to 2010.
Oliveira replaces Masataka Yanagida, who will drive for Audi Team Hitotsuyama in Super GT – but stays with the Nissan family as a GT3 development driver alongside Michael Krumm.
Sasaki, 25, helped drive Kondo Racing to their most successful GT500 campaign in history – with two wins and a team-best seventh place in the GT500 championship standings.
Nissan’s works GT300 efforts will once again be led by NDDP Racing, sponsored by the B-Max Racing Team and led by legendary team principal Masahiro Hasemi. Like the GT500 GT-R, the Nissan GT-R GT3 NISMO is also getting significant aero updates for the 2017 season, ahead of the launch of a brand new version of the GT-R GT3 in 2018.
“You can expect to see a new state-of-the-art, highly competitive machine that will ensure customers continue to choose the GT-R from amongst the increasingly large variety of European manufacturers and other rival companies’ GT3 vehicles,” said NISMO President/CEO Katagiri.
Second-generation driver Kazuki Hoshino will return as the veteran driver of the #3 B-Max GT-R for a fifth season, the 2006 Suzuka 1000km overall winner and three-time GT300 class winner partnering 24-year-old Mitsunori Takaboshi, who returns to Super GT full-time after spending last season prioritizing his efforts in the Blancpain GT Series.
Takaboshi and Hoshino scored two wins and finished fourth in the GT300 championship for NDDP Racing in 2015. Takaboshi ran four races in Super GT last year, scoring a third-place podium finish on his GT500 debut at the Suzuka 1000km.
Team Impul – #12 Calsonic Impul GT-R [Bridgestone]
Hironobu Yasuda [Japan] / Jann Mardenborough [Great Britain]
NISMO – #23 Motul Autech GT-R [Michelin]
Tsugio Matsuda [Japan] / Ronnie Quintarelli [Italy]
Kondo Racing – #24 Forum Engineering Advan GT-R [Yokohama]
Daiki Sasaki [Japan] / João Paulo de Oliveira [Brazil]
MOLA – #46 S Road Craftsports MOLA GT-R [Michelin]
Satoshi Motoyama [Japan] / Katsumasa Chiyo [Japan]
NDDP Racing – #3 B-Max Nissan GT-R GT3 [Yokohama]
Kazuki Hoshino [Japan] / Mitsunori Takaboshi [Japan]