Super GT stars head to Silverstone for WEC opening round

This weekend, the FIA World Endurance Championship kicks off with the 6 Hours of Silverstone on Sunday, April 16.

Driving during the weekend are current Autobacs Super GT Series drivers Kazuki Nakajima, James Rossiter, and winner of the season-opening race, Ryo Hirakawa, who will take part in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone during the weekend on Saturday, battling for top honours against some of the top drivers in the world – including a few notable ex-Super GT alumni.

Nakajima will race for overall victory in the LMP1 category, driving the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid with former World Endurance Drivers’ Champions Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson.

He’s coming off a fifth-place finish in his return to Super GT action at Okayama, and is looking to kick his 2017 WEC campaign with Toyota Gazoo Racing off with a victory.

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© Toyota Gazoo Racing

“Personally I like Silverstone a lot,” says Nakajima, whose best finish at the Silverstone 6 Hours was second overall in 2014. “It’s a nice lay-out which is fun to drive and the combination of high-speed corners from Copse to Maggotts is one of the best sections on any circuit in the world.”

“We go to Silverstone with the clear aim of winning the race. It’s difficult to predict the competitiveness of the two LMP1 manufacturers but I’m excited by the challenge. I think we are ready to get the season started.”

The overall winner of the 6 Hours of Silverstone will be awarded the historic RAC Tourist Trophy, a prize that has been awarded previously to legendary racers including Sir Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Tazio Nuvolari, Dennis Hulme, and Tom Kristensen.

Kamui Kobayashi, who will make his Super GT debut this August in the 46th International Suzuka 1000km, will drive the #7 Toyota with co-drivers Mike Conway and José Maria López.

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© Toyota Gazoo Racing

James Rossiter, who drives the #36 au TOM’s Lexus LC500 alongside Nakajima in Super GT, will also be in the 6h Silverstone field in LMP1 – in the sole privateer ByKolles Racing Team ENSO CLM P1/01, powered by a turbocharged three-litre Nissan V6 engine.

Rossiter comes in as a last-minute replacement for Robert Kubica, and will partner Oliver Webb and Dominik Kraihamer in the #4 CLM P1. After a difficult run of form and poor pre-season testing results, just finishing the six hours would be a huge victory for Colin Kolles’ squad, by their own admission.

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© Porsche

There’s a few former Super GT drivers in the field, including two-time GT500 champion, three-time Le Mans winner, and former World Endurance Drivers’ Champion, André Lotterer – who makes his Porsche debut in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, joining reigning Le Mans/WEC champion Neel Jani, and 2015 Le Mans winner Nick Tandy.

In the revamped LMP2 category, former Lexus Team SARD driver Oliver Jarvis will be in the #38 Oreca 07 for Jackie Chan DC Racing, with co-drivers Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent.

And in the GTE classes, former Suzuka 1000km champion Frédéric Makowiecki will drive the #91 Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz in the GTE-Pro category, while in GTE-Am, former GT300 race winner Keita Sawa will drive Clearwater Racing’s #61 Ferrari 488 GTE with Weng Sun Mok and Matt Griffin.

Hirakawa begins second ELMS campaign

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The European Le Mans Series will also kick off its season with the 4 Hours of Silverstone, on Saturday, April 15 – and fans of the Super GT series will be keen to see how Ryo Hirakawa fares in his second season in Europe.

He’s driving the #22 G-Drive Racing/DragonSpeed Racing LMP2 entry, with co-drivers Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel. G-Drive Racing won last year’s LMP2 championship with the long-tenured Gibson 015S prototype, nicknamed “The Mighty ’38.” This year, they’ve upgraded to a brand new Oreca 07 prototype which has proven to be the best of the current new breed of LMP2 racers.

Hirakawa won two races last year at Imola and Red Bull Ring with Thiriet by TDS Racing. He’s coming off a hard-fought victory in last weekend’s Okayama GT 300km Race with Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s.

Both the WEC and ELMS rounds from Silverstone will be broadcast live and free at RadioLeMans.com.

Makino begins road to Formula 1

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© Hitech GP

There will also be single-seater racing this weekend at Silverstone, starting with the season-opening European Formula 3 Championship round, consisting of three races at the Grand Prix circuit.

Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) prospect Tadasuke Makino will drive the Mercedes-Benz powered #11 Hitech GP car in his debut season in Europe. After an impressive rookie campaign in All-Japan F3, which parlayed into a half-season in Super GT and a GT500 debut at just 19 years of age, there are high hopes that Makino could become Japan’s first Formula 1 driver since Kobayashi, perhaps even, the first F1 Grand Prix winner.

Fellow Japanese driver Marino Sato also steps up to European F3 this season, driving the #33 car for Motopark-Volkswagen.

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