The Super Taikyu Endurance Series returns to action on June 10th and 11th for the first of its two major events of the season. The Suzuka Super Taikyu 4 Hour Race will see all seven active classes, including the newest ST-TCR class, competing on track at the same time in a single long-distance event.
54 teams and over 150 drivers of all skill levels will do battle this weekend, and at Suzuka, there will be a few prolific teams and drivers making their season debuts – including the return of two Japanese racing legends in a single car, and a new machine making its Super Taikyu debut in ST-TCR.
54 teams will be entered, but at Suzuka, only 50 will get to run the main race on Sunday. That’s because on Saturday afternoon, after qualifying, the bottom three teams in ST-X, ST-3, ST-4, and ST-5 will take part in the “Second Chance 100” – a 1 hour, 40 minute last chance qualifying race. The top two teams from each category will then move on to join the rest of the grid for the 4 hour main event on Sunday, with the lowest-ranked team in each class going home for the weekend.
Nissan’s trio of GT-R GT3s are still the cars to beat in the ST-X category, headlined by the #1 ThreeBond Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R of Kondo Racing. Drivers Yuudai Uchida, Tomonobu Fujii, and Kazuki Hiramine have opened the season in perfect fashion, with wins at Twin Ring Motegi and Sportsland SUGO to kick off their championship defense.
Going back to 2015, Nissan have now won the last ten consecutive races in the premier class of Super Taikyu. But with a new Success Ballast system in place, inspired by the Autobacs Super GT Series, their run of success appears in serious jeopardy.
The ThreeBond GT-R will carry 60 kilograms of additional weight on board this weekend, and the #3 Endless Advan GT-R (Yukinori Taniguchi/Hideki Yamauchi/Yuya Motojima) also carries a 40 kilogram handicap after two straight second-place finishes. That presents a big opportunity for the third member of the GT-R trio: The #99 Y’s Distraction GTNET GT-R (Tadao Uematsu/Kazuki Hoshino/Kiyoto Fujinami) will only have 10kg of extra weight to worry about this weekend.
It also presents an opportunity for the rivals from the Ferrari and Porsche camp to finally end Nissan’s undefeated run.
The #8 ARN Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 has been fast in the hands of veteran driver Kota Sasaki, taking pole position in both races. He and Hiroaki Nagai now have support in the form of young Yuki Shiraishi, who joins the team for the first time this year as their third driver – and he might be the difference maker they need to stay up front on race day.
And the potential for the #777 D’station Porsche 911 GT3-R (Satoshi Hoshino/Seiji Ara/Tsubasa Kondo) to break through after two tough race weekends to open the season is still very real.
Making their season debuts in ST-X are the #112 Rn-sports Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Atsushi Sato/Ryosei Yamashita/Nobuo Kubo), and the new #999 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of CARGUY Racing (Takeshi Kimura/Naoki Yokomizo/Afiq Yazid) – the latter of which could put in a solid result if they can go the distance.
With just the sole #31 Nissoku apr Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Katsuhiko Ogawa/Masami Kageyama/Ryuichiro Tomita) entered in ST-1 yet again, they’ll look to disrupt the status quo of the ST-X runners and finish the race in the best overall position that they can.
ST-TCR has three major debuts this weekend at Suzuka, including the first-ever outing of Adenau’s new #10 RacingLine Performance Volkswagen Golf TCR driven by Shogo Mitsuyama, and Frenchman Philippe Devesa. In the hands of Super GT alumni Jean-Karl Vernay, the Golf currently leads the TCR International Series standings – and it’ll be fascinating to see how the car gets on in its Japanese debut.
The story of ST-TCR this year has been the outright speed of the two Audi RS3 LMS, offset by the race pace of the two Honda Civic TCRs which have won their first two races. Both Modulo Civic TCRs have an overwhelming edge when it comes to top-level racing experience for their driver lineups – and the all-new driver lineup for the #97 Civic brings even more experience to the table.
Former GT500 champion and Honda racing legend Ryo Michigami takes some time off from his World Touring Car Championship schedule to pilot the #97 Modulo Civic TCR with former one-make series champion Hidenori Kouichi.
The two will be joined by the legendary “Drift King” – Keiichi Tsuchiya, back in a major Japanese auto race as a driver for the first time in nearly 14 years. The 61-year-old, a pioneer of drifting, a race winner in touring cars and GT500, and a former overall runner-up at Le Mans, will be one to watch.
Together with the #98 Civic of Takuya Kurosawa, Keishi Ishikawa, and Le Mans returnee Hiroki Katoh, the Modulo Racing Project Civics will look to further distance themselves from the Audis of Birth Racing Project (Kouichi Okumura/Kei Akiyoshi/Daisuke Yamawaki) and Audi Team DreamDrive (Shozo Tagahara/Takuya Shirasaka/Naoto Takeda) – even with both Civics carrying a 30kg ballast penalty.
ST-2 will see the #59 DAMD Motul ED Subaru WRX STi of Manabu Osawa and Hitoshi Goto try and open up a decisive championship lead with a win over the Mitsubishi Lancers of Shinryo Racing Team and RS Ogawa.
ST-3 has plenty of star power involved, with prolific drivers like Satoshi Motoyama (Techno First/SKT Team Motoyama), Naoki Hattori (Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave), and young Super Formula rookie sensation Kenta Yamashita (Le Beausset Motorsports).
It’s also a competitive field – after the #38 muta Racing Lexus IS350 of defending champions Makoto Hotta & Ryohei Sakaguchi won at Motegi, the #15 Okabe Jidosha Rn-sports Nissan Fairlady Z (Masaaki Nagashima/Toru Tanaka/Tetsuya Tanaka) fired back with a win at Sugo, and with the top five teams covered by 12 points, we could see a drastic alteration of the title picture at the conclusion of the race.
On to the populous ST-4 category, and Nürburgring 24 Hours heroes Takamitsu Matsui and Naoya Gamou, weeks removed from their SP3 class podium for Toyota Gazoo Racing, will team up with young Sho Tsuboi as they look to win back-to-back races in the category aboard the #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86.
In the battle of “Hachirokus versus the World” that defines ST-4, the best non-86/BRZ by far is the #93 SKR Engineering Honda S2000 (Yuya Ohta/Masahiro Sasaki), winners at Motegi thanks in part to Sasaki’s outstanding driving.
And it’d be tough to overlook the defending ST-4 Class champions, the #13 Endless Advan 86 – anchored by lead driver Ryo Ogawa, who would love to pick up a victory just past the 25th anniversary of his father Hitoshi’s death in a racing accident at Suzuka. Ogawa will once again partner young Tsubasa Takahashi and Masato Narisawa for this round.
And the flyweights of ST-5 will have a blast as well. With a third place and a win to open 2017, the #88 Murakami Motors Mazda Roadster (Hiroyuki Murakami/Takeshi Wakitani) leads the standings over a fleet of cars that have been quick, but somehow starved for reliability.
Defending champions J’s Racing will try and regroup from two poor results at Sugo, and the #69 J’s Racing Honda Cars Hamamatsu North Fit (Takahisa Ohno/Junichi Umemoto/Hideaki Yamada) will try and get their season back on track after a frustrating start. So too will fan favourites Love Drive Racing, the #50 Love Drive Roadster (Marie Iwaoka/Enami Kitahira/Hiroko Komatsu) is still the only car in ST-5 that’s yet to finish a race in their first season.
Super Taikyu TV will have live coverage of all on-track sessions, along with commentary and interviews, and thanks to the RaceLive for Suzuka Circuit timing service, you can keep track of all the action in real-time! For newcomers to the series, Super Taikyu has also published an English-language overview of the series.
For the full list of entries, check out our unofficial translation of the official entry list!