Every year, Super GT World honours the most outstanding performers in the Autobacs Super GT Series with the Super GT World Awards.
The Shingo Tachi Memorial Award is given annually to the most outstanding first year driver in Super GT across both GT500 and GT300 categories. It is named after 1998 GT300 Drivers’ Champion Shingo Tachi (1977-1999), who in his first and only season in a tragically shortened career, won the championship and set several unmatchable rookie records along the way.
Here were the finalists, followed by the winner, of this prestigious award.
KIYOTO FUJINAMI [藤波 清斗]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 23rd Place (3 points)
- Best Finish: 8th (Autopolis)
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average: Okayama
While 22-year-old Fujinami wasn’t a championship fixture in 2017, he was pound-for-pound one of the fastest drivers in the GT300 category.
In his debut race at Okayama, he was on course to potentially score a podium finish as he ran down race leaders Takamitsu Matsui and Naoya Gamou. A costly spin left Team Mach down the order, but he still came away with the fastest top 10 race laps average amongst all rookies in the race.
He made good at Autopolis, however, when he qualified third, then held on to finish eighth place – to give Team Mach their best finish in seven seasons.
Fujinami still had another gear to find when he went fastest in Q1 for the Suzuka 1000km, a race where the Mach Syaken 86 had the pace – but unfortunately, not the reliability – to contend for the victory.
Outside of Super GT, Fujinami added a big win in the Super Taikyu 4 Hours of Suzuka for GTNET Motor Sports in June.
What Fujinami brought to the team in 2017, along with fellow rookie Natsu Sakaguchi, was a dependable lead driver that Tetsuji Tamanaka and his team can build around for many years to come – that is of course, assuming a front-running team doesn’t pick him up next year. His raw pace alone warrants a shot at a title contender.
SEAN WALKINSHAW [ショーン・ウォーキンショー]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 4th Place (61 points)
- Race Wins: 1 (Fuji 300km)
- Podiums: 3 (Autopolis, Fuji 300km, Motegi)
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average: Fuji 300km
Big things will always be expected when you’re the son of one of the most revered driver/owners in racing, Tom Walkinshaw, and especially when you debut in Super GT driving for Aguri Suzuki and his championship-winning team, ARTA.
Sean Walkinshaw, the former Nissan-affiliated driver and second-generation rookie, delivered on the expectations as he gave his team a fighting chance at the championship.
Often times, he was expected to drive on worn Bridgestone tyres in many of his closing stints as ARTA went big on aggressive pit strategies – and it paid huge dividends in getting the ARTA BMW into title contention as they rattled off five top-5 finishes, all of which were locked down by Walkinshaw.
Under the guidance of Shinichi Takagi, Walkinshaw got better as the season went on. At the Fuji 300km, he was in a class of his own as the fastest rookie, in a car that seemingly cannot lose the summer race at the mountain.
Best of all for Walkinshaw, it showed what he could do with a competitive car in a competitive field – and he did a damn fine job, all things considered.
JONO LESTER [ジョノ・レスター]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 8th Place (31 points)
- Podiums: 1 (Okayama)
- Top 5s: 3
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average: Motegi
There’s little that’s not to love about “The Octopus” – Lester is an energetic presence and a fan-favorite in the Super GT paddock.
Having finally realized his goal of a full-time Super GT drive, Lester went above and beyond the call of duty in his first full season
Few could have expected Gulf Racing with Pacific – who managed but a single 8th place finish all last season – to be fixtures at the front in 2017, but Lester helped propel the team to a podium finish to start the season at Okayama.
Any doubts of Lester’s out-and-out ability were quashed when he finished 5th at the Fuji 300km, 8th at Suzuka, and then 4th in Motegi – despite a crash in the warm-up – with Lester posting the fastest rookie top 10 race laps average.
It all propelled Gulf Racing/Pacific to their best-ever Super GT campaign, and for Lester, it’s in all likelihood about to make him a series fixture for years and years to come – and deservedly so.
SVEN MÜLLER [スヴェン・ミューラー]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 11th Place (28 points)
- Podiums: 2 (Fuji 500km, Buriram)
- Top 10s: 5
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average: Suzuka
Sven Müller has every single tangible quality of a driver who will be a centerpiece of Porsche’s global motorsport programme for the next 20 years.
Super GT was just one of a number of different challenges for the reigning double Porsche Carrera Cup champion, and newly minted factory pro driver. He played a big part in helping D’station Racing drive back from an early spin at the Fuji 300km to finish on the podium.
His commitments in Europe (in which he was stellar) guaranteed only a partial season would be had, but Sven didn’t miss a beat when he came back for Suzuka, when he posted the fastest rookie top 10 race laps average at the 1000km as he tried to fight back from a self-inflicted drive-through penalty.
Müller then led D’station Racing to another improbable podium at Buriram in another dramatic comeback – he finished every race in the points of the five he entered.
With a Le Mans debut set for next June, even if Müller is a one-and-done driver in Super GT, the series will have been better off with him in it in 2017.
And the winner is…
SHO TSUBOI [坪井 翔]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 3rd Place (61 points)
- Wins: 2 (Fuji 500km, Buriram)
- Top 10s: 7
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average: Fuji 500km, Sugo, Buriram
Sho Tsuboi is the latest in a line of recent Toyota Young Driver Programme (TDP) prospects since its 2014 reboot, and he was the consensus number one rookie in the field in 2017.
Across his two main championships, Tsuboi was stellar, winning in just his second race at the Fuji 500km to give the Lexus RC F GT3 its first-ever Super GT victory. He would add another at Buriram, matching what co-driver Yuichi Nakayama did in his rookie year with two wins in 2015.
In both those races, Tsuboi was the fastest rookie. He was also the fastest rookie in the drying final leg of the Sugo round. At the Fuji 300km, he was again quicker than his more experienced co-driver, and at Suzuka, he drove 90 laps and was again the quickest of his car’s two drivers.
Then there was what he did in the second half of the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship, pushed to the point of no return, Tsuboi won a series-leading 9 of the last 11 races, taking 8 pole positions, and from a deep points deficit, took the title fight to the final meeting against eventual champion Mitsunori Takaboshi.
“Showtime” is ready for the prime time stage of GT500 by no later than 2019.
He joins inaugural winner Jann Mardenborough as the second winner of the Shingo Tachi Memorial Award – which, fitting of its namesake, goes to a Toyota-affiliated young driver who has an incredible racing future ahead of him.
For 2018, the Shingo Tachi Memorial Award could have a rather more experienced winner – as 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, a true novice to endurance sports car racing, will be eligible for the award next year, as will gentleman racer Takeshi Kimura, and potentially, the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Felix Rosenqvist, Narain Karthikeyan, and Ritomo Miyata will be as well.