The field in the Autobacs Super GT Series is starting to come together, following a raft of driver and team announcements during the Tokyo Auto Salon in January.
This edition of the Hot Stove League updates comes courtesy of the upcoming February 2nd issue of auto sport Magazine, with a focus on a GT300 field that projects to see thirty cars on the grid for 2018 – perhaps more – and also focuses on what the future brings for three GT500 drivers from 2017 who seem destined for a hard-luck relegation to what is, still, a very competitive GT300 category.
There will also be more shuffling within the ranks of the established GT300 players, as outlined in this latest batch of Silly Season rumours from the Japanese magazine.
So far, the confirmed GT300 driver combinations are as follows:
- Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO: Nobuteru Taniguchi & Tatsuya Kataoka
- Cars Tokai Dream28: Kazuho Takahashi & Hiroki Katoh
- CarGuy Racing: Takeshi Kimura 🔰 & Naoki Yokomizo
- Modulo Drago Corse: Ryo Michigami & Hiroki Otsu 🔰
- Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave: Taku Bamba & Shigekazu Wakisaka
- Autobacs Racing Team Aguri: Shinichi Takagi & Sean Walkinshaw
- LM Corsa – OTG Motorsport: Hiroki Yoshimoto & Ritomo Miyata 🔰
- K-Tunes Racing LM Corsa: Yuichi Nakayama & Morio Nitta
- EIcars Bentley: Yuji Ide & Ryohei Sakaguchi
BMW Team Studie are withdrawing from the series for the forseeable future, and B-Max Racing will vacate their GT300 entry as they line up a move to GT500 in place of MOLA International.
Hironobu Yasuda, after nine seasons in the premier class – the last four of which have come with Calsonic Team Impul – is expected to be pushed out of the GT500 frame at Nissan. But he will still remain with the manufacturer, as he’s expected to join former B-Max driver Kazuki Hoshino in the #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, a 2018 model running on Yokohama tyres.
Gainer will effectively step up to become Nissan’s main GT300 challengers, little surprise given they’re run by Nissan legend Tetsuya Tanaka.
Yasuda and Hoshino have experience together, in 2008, they won the GT300 championship for MOLA, winning their class at the Suzuka 1000km and taking the championship on a final-lap pass to defeat Morio Nitta & Shinichi Takagi for the overall crown.
Katsuyuki Hiranaka is virtually confirmed to drive the #11 Gainer GT-R, but Hiroki Yoshida is expected to replace Björn Wirdheim in the Dunlop-clad Gainer entry.
Kohei Hirate was the co-champion of GT500 and the equal to Heikki Kovalainen in 2016, sealing the championship for his team. But in 2017, he was involved in a number of on-track incidents that put Lexus Team SARD out of contention last year, many while running up in the points.
Despite his two championships, and despite his thrilling clash for the win at Sugo, it’s not enough it seems for him to stay in GT500 after nine seasons. The 31-year-old Hirate is expected to stay in the fold at Toyota Gazoo Racing however: He’s tipped to partner Koki Saga in the #31 Toyota Prius apr GT, which will use the RV8K engines for one final season in 2018. Hirate made his Super GT debut with apr Racing in 2008, winning in just his third career start at Suzuka Circuit.
Hiroaki Nagai and Kota Sasaki are pending official confirmation to return to the #30 Prius.
Takashi Kobayashi won’t be racing for ARTA after spending the last eight years with the organisation, bookended by a debut pole position in the 2010 Suzuka Summer Special, and taking the chequered flag in a double-pole-to-win at the Fuji 300km last August.
But he will likely find himself in a strong driver lineup for 2018: Partnering fellow Honda GT500 alumni Yuhki Nakayama in the #18 Upgarage Bandoh Toyota 86 MC. After two seasons with Nakayama partnered by rookie drivers – Shinnosuke Yamada in 2016, and Shintaro Kawabata in 2017, Kobayashi brings relevant experience to a team that’s tried for the last two seasons to break through to the front of the field on a consistent basis.
The 30-year-old won five races in his four seasons of GT300 competition from 2013-2016.
Elsewhere in the field…
- Sho Tsuboi is expected to replace Kenta Yamashita at VivaC Team Tsuchiya, alongside team leader Takamitsu Matsui. Tsuboi is likely to have a similar arrangement in place where he will run in GT500 at the Fuji 500km, to replace either Kamui Kobayashi or Kazuki Nakajima as they fulfill commitments in the WEC.
- Tomonobu Fujii is virtually guaranteed a return to D’station Racing – and Sven Müller might not be a one-and-done driver after his solid rookie season.
- With Jono Lester and Kyosuke Mineo both out at Gulf Racing with Pacific, the team are expected to bring in at least one “young driver with previous GT300 experience.” Gulf Racing Japan may scale back their involvement with the project as well.
- While Subaru and R&D Sport didn’t announce their drivers for GT300 in 2018, it’s all but certain that Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi will return.
- JLOC are expected to retain Manabu Orido and Kazuki Hiramine in the #88 car, and Shinya Hosokawa and Kimiya Sato in the #87 car.
- Social media posts from Arnage Racing hint towards them working with R’Qs Motor Sports in a combined effort, though they may also continue to operate separately. Both teams are linked to the Mercedes-AMG GT3. R’Qs are expected to keep veterans Hisashi Wada & Masaki Jyonai regardless of whether or not they combine efforts with Arnage.
- Audi Team Hitotsuyama are rumoured to sign former Suzuka 1000km class winner Ryuichiro Tomita to partner Richard Lyons as the team aims to rebound after a frustrating 2017 season.
- Panther Team Thailand are expected to confirm a switch from the Toyota 86 MC to the Lexus RC F GT3.
- Seiji Ara, after four seasons with BMW Team Studie, still does not have a tangible trajectory for his future after Studie’s withdrawal. He was previously linked to Audi Team Hitotsuyama.
- Similarly, there is no status update for Masataka Yanagida, the former GT500 and GT300 champion.
- This is not yet confirmed, but if MOLA do withdraw from GT500 as planned, they may be planning a return to the GT300 class – where they were class champions in 2008.
- Dome Racing aren’t returning to GT500, but they may get involved in the maitenance of an existing GT300 team in 2018.