At this weekend’s Tokyo Auto Salon, Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) revealed their 2018 activities in the Autobacs Super GT Series in both GT500 and GT300 categories.
Former Team Kunimitsu driver Takuya Izawa was introduced as the new driver of the #8 ARTA Honda NSX-GT during Honda’s Super GT activities announcement, then joined the rest of his ARTA team during their own TAS panel.
Izawa and Tomoki Nojiri will drive the fabled ARTA NSX, while the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 will be driven by former champion Shinichi Takagi and second-generation sophomore Sean Walkinshaw.
After spending seven of the last eight seasons driving for Team Kunimitsu, of which six saw him partnered by co-driver Naoki Yamamoto, Izawa moves back to where his full-time GT500 career began in 2008, when he replaced Daisuke Ito in the ARTA NSX that dominated the previous year in historic fashion.
In just his third career start, and his second with ARTA, he scored a podium finish at Okayama, and then went on to win two races in 2009 for ARTA – including the last for the first-generation NSX – before moving on to Team Kunimitsu.
Izawa, 33, has 75 career starts, four victories, and 22 podiums during his GT500 career, and finished 7th in the 2017 GT500 Drivers’ Championship with Yamamoto in the Raybrig NSX. He also raced in the GP2 (now FIA Formula 2) Championship in 2014, partnering future McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne at ART Grand Prix.
His co-driver Nojiri is entering his fifth Super GT season, and his fourth as the driver of the ARTA NSX. Last year, Nojiri took two pole positions and a victory from pole position at the Fuji 300km, and went on to finish 9th in the GT500 Championship.
Nojiri and Izawa were teammates in Super Formula in 2017, driving for DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing – this will be the first time they’ve driven a GT car together.
Working with team director Aguri Suzuki will be chief engineer Satofumi Hoshi, in his third season with the team.
On the GT300 side, ARTA confirmed the continuation of their partnership with BMW for 2018, after over a year of speculation that they would switch to a unified front with the Honda NSX GT3.
The news comes with the announcement that they will retain the lineup of Takagi and Walkinshaw, who finished 4th in the GT300 Championships with a win and five top-5 finishes in 2017.
Takagi, 47, is joint-holder of the record for the most GT300 class race victories with his long-time co-driver of years past, Morio Nitta (who was confirmed at K-Tunes Racing LM Corsa this weekend) with 18 victories. He has 151 career starts, one of only six drivers with at least 150 or more starts, and is second all-time with 12 career pole positions, and 44 podium finishes.
Walkinshaw, the only ARTA driver not present at the event, will remain with the team for his second season after a solid rookie campaign for the Belgian-born British driver, son of the late touring car racer and team boss Tom Walkinshaw.
Keiichi Tsuchiya, the Executive Director at ARTA, will serve as the de facto team director of the #55 BMW, with Hiroyuki Ando returning as the team’s chief engineer. Both the ARTA NSX-GT and ARTA BMW will run Bridgestone Potenza tyres in 2018.
With this lineup announcement, it also confirms that Takashi Kobayashi, who has driven for Autobacs Racing Team Aguri since his Super GT debut in 2010 between both GT500 and GT300 categories, will not return to the organisation after eight years. He will remain an Autobacs supported driver for 2018.