One of Super GT’s most decorated and experienced drivers in the history of the GT300 class will have another chance to race against the greatest drivers in the world, as Hiroki Katoh, lead driver for Cars Tokai Dream28, has been confirmed for a drive in the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans with Clearwater Racing.
Katoh returns for his seventh entry into the famed Grand Prix of Endurance, and his first since 2008, when he teams up with Portuguese endurance racing star Alvaro Parente, and Clearwater mainstay Richard Wee in the #60 Ferrari 488 GTE in the GTE-AM category.
Singapore-based Clearwater Racing have made major waves on the international racing scene in recent years, winning three drivers and constructors’ championships in the GT Asia series and the 2015-16 Asian Le Mans Series GT Championship.
They are entering their first full-time FIA World Endurance Championship campaign with their primary car, the #61 Ferrari 488 GTE driven by team principal Weng Sun Mok, Ferrari GT standout Matt Griffin, and another Super GT series alumni, Keita Sawa.
49-year-old Katoh has a strong relationship with Clearwater Racing, having driven for the team previously in GT Asia, and in the Super Taikyu Endurance Series, where he and Weng took pole position for last year’s Fuji Super-TEC 9 Hour race in a McLaren 650S GT3.
Katoh has six previous entries at Le Mans, last entering in 2008 with his regular Super GT co-driver Kazuho Takahashi, and racing legend Yojiro Terada, in a Courage LC70-Mugen LMP2 – in what was Terada’s farewell to Le Mans after 29 years.
His best finish came in 2000, a fifth place overall, driving a Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S with Johnny O’Connell (no relation) and Pierre-Henri Raphanel. Katoh also finished 7th in 2002, driving an Audi R8 for Audi Sport Japan Team Goh with four-time Le Mans champion Yannick Dalmas and future Le Mans winner Seiji Ara.
Katoh’s main focus in 2017 will be Super GT, where he’ll drive with Cars Tokai Dream28, long-time “bronze” co-driver Takahashi, and their Mooncraft Engineering-built Lotus Evora MC. This will be Katoh’s nineteenth Super GT season, his twelfth with Cars Tokai.
The team hope to rebound from a frustrating zero-score 2016 campaign plagued with race-ending accidents and recurring mechanical issues. Despite starting on the front row at the Suzuka 1000km last August with the assistance of rookie phenom Tadasuke Makino, Katoh and Takahashi failed to score a single points-paying finish last year.
Katoh has 135 career Super GT race starts, four career GT300 race wins, and is the all-time leader in recorded GT300 fastest laps (10) and second all-time for class pole positions (12). He and Takahashi finished runner-up in the GT300 championship in 2006 and 2007, losing out both times on a championship tie-breaker.