With the announcement of Nissan’s four-car GT500 entry in the 2017 Autobacs Super GT Series, the entire GT500 class grid is accounted for – highlighed by the class debut of Jann Mardenborough, and Super GT returns for driver Kazuki Nakajima and Team Mugen.
Nissan’s announcement also confirmed the fifteenth entry on the grid for the 2017 GT300 class, which is now represented by factory efforts from Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Subaru, and Audi, a new Mother Chassis entry from Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave, and customer entries representing Mercedes-AMG and Porsche.
With three weeks to go until the start of the first official Super GT test sessions at Okayama International Circuit, there are still at least fifteen GT300 teams left to announce their 2017 Super GT plans – here’s a brief summary of where those remaining teams stand.
The fifteen teams that are already confirmed include factory entries apr Racing (Toyota), Audi Team Hitotsuyama (Audi Japan), NDDP Racing (Nissan), R&D Sport (Subaru), and LM Corsa (Lexus). Representing Porsche as customer teams are Gulf Racing with Pacific Motorsports and D’Station Racing. Mercedes-AMG’s customer entries include Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO and K2 R&D LEON Racing, and Gainer will field both a Nissan GT-R and a Mercedes-AMG GT3 in 2017.
In addition, while no official declaration of 2017 racing activities has been made from defending GT300 champions VivaC Team Tsuchiya, chief engineer and former driver Takeshi Tsuchiya has stated on multiple occasions that reigning GT300 champion Takamitsu Matsui and reigning All-Japan F3 champion Kenta Yamashita will be their drivers for the upcoming season – it would take drastic unforeseen circumstances for this to change.
That makes up the fifteen cars confirmed for the 2017 GT300 class. However, to make up the numbers of what could be the largest GT300 category in Super GT history, there are still as many as sixteen teams that are close to confirming their plans for the upcoming season.
Cars Tokai Dream28 will continue to field the Mooncraft Engineering-built Lotus Evora MC for veteran drivers Hiroki Katoh and Kazuho Takahashi in 2017, this pending official confirmation from the team – but it’s as close to a done deal as you can get.
BMW are expected to have two M6 GT3s on the grid in 2017, represented by BMW Team Studie and Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA). For 2017, the M6 GT3 will get a series of updates focused on improving reliability – one of the cars’ main weaknesses in 2016, inflicted primarily on Studie.
ARTA are expected to retain veteran driver Shinichi Takagi for the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3, but his new co-driver to replace Takashi Kobayashi is still a mystery. auto sport Magazine has stated it will be a driver affiliated with the ARTA project – and we’ll probably know before March 5, when ARTA team director Aguri Suzuki and executive Keiichi Tsuchiya will have an exhibition race at the Suzuka Circuit Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day.
Names floated around for the vacant seat include Yoshiaki Katayama (2016 All Japan F3 National Class champion), Ritomo Miyata (2016 FIA F4 Japanese Champion), Toshihiro Kaneishi (former ARTA GT500 driver), and Nico Menzel (2016 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion & BMW Motorsport Junior Driver), who all have ties to ARTA, Autobacs, or BMW of some kind.
As for Studie, they’re expected to hold on to veteran drivers Jörg Müller and Seiji Ara for a fourth season.
Lamborghini will be represented by Japan Lamborghini Owner’s Club (JLOC) and Lamborghini Team Direction, but how many cars they’ll field between them isn’t so certain.
That’s because JLOC are also preparing to enter the Blancpain GT Asia Series in addition to Super GT in 2017, and it’s unclear whether Isao Noritake’s team will continue to field two Lamborghini Huracán GT3s in Super GT, or cut out one of their Super GT entries – likely the #87 driven by Shinya Hosokawa and Kimiya Sato – and place them in Blancpain GT.
The only certainty is the flagship #88 car, and JLOC are expected to confirm veteran Manabu Orido and young lion Kazuki Hiramine for that car in the next few weeks.
Lamborghini Team Direction are all but certain to cut down to a single entry, but it’s complicated. The #108 car is the entry to be axed, but it was the #63 Huracán GT3 from 2016 that appeared on sale in January for a cool €275,000 EUR + VAT.
However they’ll manage it, Direction’s single car entry will likely be driven by Naoki Yokomizo, and former GT300 champion André Couto is expected to replace Adrian Zaugg after departing Gainer.
Back to the JAF-GT Mother Chassis, and there’s three Toyota MC86es that are expected to join the VivaC Team Tsuchiya entry in 2017, complete with the latest aerodynamic revisions tested since last fall.
The #18 MC86 of Team Upgarage with Bandoh is likely to hold station with former GT300 champion and Dome Racing test driver Yuhki Nakayama leading the charge, and sophomore driver Shinnosuke Yamada alongside.
Nakayama tested Toyota Team Thailand’s #35 Toyota MC86 in Sepang this month, but it’s expected to be 54-year-old veteran Nattavude “Mad Cow” Charoensukhawatana and Singha Corporation executive director Piti Bhirombhakdi making up an all-Thai driver lineup for the full 2017 season, as they did in the 2016 Buriram Super GT Race.
Finally, Team Mach will return next season, but the driver lineup isn’t as certain. Owner/driver Tetsuji Tamanaka retired from racing this off-season, and although veterans Junichiro Yamashita and Masami Kageyama would likely step up as full-time drivers next season, there’s still some uncertainty over just who will drive the #5 Mach Toyota MC86 in 2017.
If Ferrari are to have any presence in Super GT this season, it won’t be with LM Corsa and INGING Motorsport, as the two parties have gone with a works Lexus RC F GT3 and drivers Yuichi Nakayama & Sho Tsuboi for 2017.
auto sport Magazine has Ferrari linked to a potential move to Arnage Racing, who just sold their 2015-16 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG at auction for just under $150,000 USD. If they switch to the Ferrari 488 GT3, it may very well come with a package deal that includes drivers Akihiro Tsuzuki and three-time GT300 champion Morio Nitta. That said, a return for Hideto Yasuoka and/or Masaki Kano can’t be entirely ruled out.
Team Taisan SARD are expected to bolster Audi’s GT300 entry alongside Audi Team Hitotsuyama, and Yuya Motojima is favored to return to the team as their undisputed lead driver. His co-driver isn’t clear just yet though. Shogo Mitsuyama left the team after Suzuka last year, and his replacement, Tsubasa Kondo, is now tipped to move to D’Station Racing in 2017.
Beyond a possible return for either Mitsuyama or Kondo, or even Suzuka cameo entrant Shinji Nakano, there’s no clear-cut favorite to emerge as a new co-driver for Taisan and SARD.
Then there’s the two independent Nissan GT300 entries, affectionately known as “Bumblebee” and “Pinkzilla” – respectively, Tomei Sports and Dijon Racing respectively.
Former gymkhana champion Yusaku Shibata and RunUp Sports president Atsushi Tanaka are all but certain to return to the #360 GT-R of Tomei Sports. Whether or not rock band DOES comes back as a title sponsor is unclear, given that the band went on hiatus last October.
Unfortunately, Dijon Racing’s participation in 2017 isn’t 100 percent confirmed, a shame given that the team is coming off their best season ever – with two points finishes at Fuji and Motegi. Financial constraints and the uncertainty that they will be pre-seeded high enough to be guaranteed entry into all eight rounds complicates their status.
But if Dijon Racing and “Pinkzilla” do return, it’s likely to be with the amateur duo of “Dr.” Hiroshi Takamori and Masaki Tanaka, with no mention of Takayuki Aoki from auto sport – the former champion driver who led the team to their 2016 successes.
Last year, Rn-sports’ Mercedes-AMG GT3 carried the colours of the EVA Unit 01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion and EVA Racing. Rn-sports will be back in 2017, with 56-year-old veteran Masayuki Ueda likely to be joined by 25-year-old newcomer Ryosei Yamashita in the other driver slot.
Finally, Teramoto Technical Office are expected to prepare a Bentley Continental GT3 for its Super GT debut, likely with another team to help run it – be it an existing team, or a new outfit altogether.
Linked to the Bentley project are ex-Gulf Racing with Pacific driver Ryohei Sakaguchi, and former GT500 race winner and forlorn F1 folk hero, Yuji Ide. Bentley would join fellow Volkswagen-Audi Group (VAG) brands Audi, Porsche, and Lamborghini on the GT300 grid.
For now, there is another strong grid of GT300 challengers preparing for the 2017 season. And if the plans for these remaining teams come to fruition, they’ll only add to the might of the strongest, largest GT300 class ever.