March 8th is recognized as International Women’s Day, and there’s few better occasions to celebrate the women who have contributed to the Autobacs Super GT Series in a meaningful and impactful way, and those who seem set to follow in their footsteps, competitors and non-competitors alike.
Kumi Sato was the first woman to race in what is now Super GT, debuting on August 10, 1997 in the Kraft team’s GT300 class Toyota Cavalier. In her second race in the series, Sato scored a fourth-place finish at Miné Circuit, which is still to this day, the highest finish ever for a woman driver in Super GT. Sato’s twenty career starts and 34 championship points are also all-time records.
Her five seasons in Super GT are just a brief chapter in a racing career that began in 1990 in what is now the Super Taikyu Endurance Series.
Sato is still active in racing today, having been a steady presence in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s factory efforts at the Nürburgring 24 Hour race for the last five years, a two-time SP3 class winner in 2012 and 2014. Away from the track, Sato is an automotive journalist, reviewing the latest civilian cars on the market.
Keiko Ihara’s greatest impact in motor racing came after a brief cameo in the 2003 JGTC championship, driving an R&D Sport Porsche 911 GT3-R in two rounds with a best finish of 12th at Motegi.
Ihara, a former race queen for the Benetton F1 Team, began racing in 1999, ventured to race single-seaters in Europe, and has since gone on to become the first Asian woman to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (three entries in total), and the first woman to record a class podium finish in the FIA World Endurance Championship (two times in the 2014 LMP2 category).
Just last year in fact, Ihara raced for Mazda’s factory prototype team in the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. She is an active member of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, the Mazda Women in Motorsport Project, and when not involved in racing, a university lecturer in media innovation and an English teacher to primary school children.
Cyndie Allemann is the most recent woman to race in Super GT, and the only foreign driver of the three. The former European F3, Indy Lights, and FIA GT1 racer ventured to Japan in 2012, joining Audi Team Hitotsuyama in the first year of what eventually became a race-winning partnership.
Allemann made an immediate impact in her debut race at Okayama International Circuit, finishing ninth place in the GT300 class alongside co-driver Akihiro Tsuzuki.
Allemann is still involved in motoring today, as a host of RTL’s automotive magazine show GRIP.
What’s more, there are more young women ready to succeed their predecessors as they climb up the Japanese motorsport ladder towards the top categories, including Super GT.
One such woman is Ai Miura, who enters her fourth season in the All-Japan F3 Championship in 2017. Miura is already a trailblazer, becoming the first woman to take a National Class victory in 2014, and finishing runner-up in the 2015 N-Class standings behind second-generation racer Ryo Ogawa. 2017 will be Miura’s second season in the main-game championship.
Two of Japan’s most promising young women drivers raced last season in Super GT’s support category, the FIA Formula 4 Japanese Championship.
Miki Koyama (left) and Miku Ikejima (right) have raced together the last two seasons in Japanese F4. Koyama rose to international prominence when her story was published across multiple outlets such as GMA News and Jalopnik ahead of last season. Ikejima is supported by Autobacs Racing Team Aguri, and their former F4 teammate Ayaka Imahashi, who also races in the Toyota 86/BRZ Race series, should not be overlooked either.
In amongst the non-competitors, the first woman to come to mind in the Super GT paddock has to be pit reporter Amie Izawa, who has done a superb job in three previous seasons – and we’re happy to say, she’ll be back for a fourth season in 2017.
Fluent in five languages and undeniably passionate in her craft, Izawa and veteran pit reporter Jiro Takahashi have made a great duo in the paddock for Super GT and host broadcaster J Sports since Izawa’s debut in 2014.
Eri Kano was brilliant over the last five seasons as a reporter for Super GT’s magazine digest show, SUPER GT+. Kano retired this past season from SUPER GT+, shortly before marrying Super GT driver Naoki Yamamoto – even still, her accomplishments should stand out on their own.
It would be unforgivable also to overlook Nissan reporter Megumi Sato, who reports on all the latest news from Nissan’s automotive and motorsports divisions on the Nissan Dashboard YouTube series (and on a personal note, was one of Super GT World’s first followers and promoters!)
Commentary from the Editor
This is a non-comprehensive list of women who have made a significant impact in Japanese motorsport on the whole, not just in Super GT. Even still, it still feels like too short a list.
Most of the women involved in Super GT serve as race queens for individual teams. To be blunt, they’re there as props, they’re subject to sometimes horrific objectification – take the case of the WedsSport Racing Gals, whose uniforms were stolen in an act of lecherous cowardice last season – and the fact that the GT Association continues to promote them as a centerpiece of the on-track entertainment in the year 2017 is disappointing, to say the least. And they’re not the only series or promoter that’s guilty of this.
This is not a condemnation of the women themselves, but a challenge to a motorsport culture that is still rooted in outdated, regressive notions and ideals – and the objectification of women is part of that toxic atmosphere, and serves as a genuine barrier to entry and enjoyment for other women who want to be involved in a more impactful capacity.
The fact that a single Super GT team will employ more race queens – grid girls by another name – for one season of promotion for the team, than there have been women who’ve raced in Super GT’s entire twenty-four year history doesn’t sit well with us.
We would like to see this culture changed significantly before our time covering Super GT and other forms of Japanese motorsport is done. Until then, please listen to other women in motorsport, especially those who have been speaking out about the toxicity of the sport on issues such as this.