At 41 years young, Yuji Tachikawa still has the incredible speed, the resolve, and the ambition to keep creating a legacy as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the Autobacs Super GT Series.
The ace driver of Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo continued to re-write the history books thanks to a historic, milestone-setting week at the Fuji GT 500km Race a week ago, in which he helped lead his team to victory in last week’s Golden Week race at Fuji International Speedway.
With his record-tying 18th career win, Tachikawa, in his 21st JGTC/Super GT season and his 19th with Cerumo, may be the greatest driver the series has ever seen – especially in terms of longevity and sustained excellence.
Tachikawa surpassed these career milestones in his winning effort during the Fuji 500km race meeting:
FIFTH DRIVER TO START 150 CAREER RACES
Tachikawa made his first start at Fuji Speedway in 1996, driving a BMW M3 with another future GT500 champion, Masami Kageyama. Twenty-one years later, Tachikawa joined his former co-driver Kageyama in an exclusive club of drivers who have entered and started 150 races in Super GT.
With 151 entries and 150 starts (he was a DNS in the 1997 Golden Week race at Fuji), Tachikawa joins three-time GT300 champion Morio Nitta (162 starts), three-time GT500 champion Satoshi Motoyama (160 starts), two-time GT300 champion Manabu Orido (156 starts), and the aforementioned former GT500 champion Kageyama (151 starts) as one of only five drivers to get to 150 starts.
More impressive still is that Tachikawa has started all but five of those races with one team: Lexus Team Cerumo, for whom he has raced for since 1999 – a streak of 19 consecutive seasons, a record that will likely never be approached in the remainder of Super GT history.
AN UNTOUCHABLE POLE POSITION RECORD
When Tachikawa took pole position for the Fuji 500km on Wednesday afternoon, he extended the one all-time Super GT record that he holds by a commanding margin – the record for most career GT500 pole positions.
This was Tachikawa’s 22nd career pole position credited to him as an individual driver, extending his already whopping record margin even further. Second all-time is Takashi Kogure with 12 pole positions, who hasn’t taken a pole position since 2012. The GT300 pole record holder is Kota Sasaki with just 13 to his name.
It’s similar to the incredible Formula 1 record margin that the late Ayrton Senna held at the time of his untimely death in 1994: Senna had won 65 pole positions, 32 more than Jim Clark and Alain Prost, who tied for second at the time.
Tachikawa also has a record eight seasons with multiple pole positions (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015).
ONE THOUSAND POINTS ON THE BOARD
That pole position gave Tachikawa the single bonus point that he needed to score his 1,000th career championship point in GT500 competition, and then with his victory, he now has 1,020 career points to his name.
This puts Tachikawa into another elite group of drivers who’ve scored more than 1,000 points in either GT500 or GT300 competition. He’s just 37 points away from Motoyama’s all-time GT500 record of 1,057 points, and the all-time points scorer in all of Super GT is Nitta, with 1,178 points in GT300.
The difference between Tachikawa, and Motoyama and Nitta? Tachikawa has spent the entirety of his Super GT career to date as a GT500 driver, even in his forgotten 1996-1997 campaigns driving the Nissan 300ZX-GTS for Team LeMans.
In modern day Australian Touring Car racing (Supercars), Craig Lowndes is considered to be the greatest driver in the recent history of Mount Panorama Circuit, Australia’s most famous mountain circuit, with six wins in the Bathurst 1000km, and two in the Bathurst 12 Hour race.
Fuji International Speedway at the foot of Mount Fuji isn’t quite the same challenge, but in terms of being the man of the mountain, Yuji Tachikawa is to Fuji what Lowndes is to Bathurst.
His win at the 2017 Fuji 500km was his eighth in total at Fuji, and his fourth at the Golden Week race that he’d previously won in 2002, 2005, and 2008 – he’d also won the 2002, 2005, 2011, and 2013 300km races later in the year.
That gives Tachikawa the most wins ever at the Fuji 500km sports car race, including the Fuji Long Distance Championship and All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) eras of the event dating back to 1971. The previous record was three, which he held jointly with Kunimitsu Takahashi (1984, 1985, 1987) and Satoshi Motoyama (2007, 2009, 2011).
If we’re only counting the JGTC/Super GT events held at Fuji Speedway on Golden Week, since 1994, Tachikawa also has the record at this event as well.
THE RACE TO BECOME THE ALL-TIME VICTORY KING
Super GT is one of the rare series on the planet where, right now, fans can watch the history of the sport being written in real-time – as three active drivers, at or near the top of their game, race to become the all-time career wins leader in the series’ premier category.
The 2016 season started with Tachikawa, Motoyama, and Tsugio Matsuda deadlocked at 16 wins a piece. Matsuda broke clear with two wins to open the season, winning his 18th at last year’s Fuji 500km.
So it was only fitting that, at a track where Tachikawa has had so much success in his career, he moved back into a tie for the all-time lead with his eighteenth career GT500 class win.
Tachikawa was part of a generation of drivers who created their legacy solely upon their accomplishments in JGTC and Super GT. He, along with Satoshi Motoyama, Juichi Wakisaka, and Ryo Michigami all emerged on the scene in the late 1990s. Only Tachikawa and Motoyama are left on the grid in 2017, and of the two, Tachikawa has been in better form the last five-plus seasons.
And while there’s still six more rounds left to run in 2017, Tachikawa has as good a chance as any to win his fourth GT500 Drivers’ Championship, and tie the record that was recently set by NISMO ace Ronnie Quintarelli in 2015.
There’s always been a case to make that Yuji Tachikawa was one of the greatest Super GT drivers of all-time. As he continues to re-write the record books, the case should now be presented that he is the greatest of all-time.