On Tuesday, Audi Team Hitotsuyama announced their participation plans for the upcoming 2018 Autobacs Super GT Series, and also declared their entry into the 2018 Suzuka 10 Hours.
Following a dismal 2017 followup to their impressive 2016 season, Audi Team Hitotsuyama will once again re-tool their driver lineup around team leader Richard Lyons, who will now be joined by former Gainer driver Ryuichiro Tomita for the 2018 season.
Looking towards the future of Japanese motorsport, Audi Team Hitotsuyama have also drafted in 23-year-old FIA F4 graduate Takuro Shinohara as their third driver for the 2018 season, serving as an apprentice under the experienced duo of Lyons and Tomita.
Audi Team Hitotsuyama finally achieved a goal over 20 years in the making at the end of the 2016 season, winning their first-ever Super GT race in the first leg of the Motegi GT Grand Final at Twin Ring Motegi. Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii finished 3rd in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship, and much was expected from the team in 2017 as Audi sought to collect an elusive first Super GT title.
But despite adding two-time GT500 champion Masataka Yanagida to partner Lyons in 2017, the Hitotsuyama Audi R8 LMS regressed in 2017, with the two drivers mustering only two top-10 finishes, and a best finish of 8th, all season as they crashed to 21st in the Drivers’ Championship (19th in the Teams’ Championship). The lone highlight of the season was their pole position at Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
But 2018 will represent the hope of a renewal of form for Audi Team Hitotsuyama, with experienced engineer Pierre Arnaud returning from WRT Racing Team, and a new alliance with data analysis company GranValley Co. Ltd, who join the team as their Motorsport Analytics Partner for the season. The team will still continue their partnership with Dunlop tyres.
Replacing Yanagida for the 2018 season is Ryuichiro Tomita, who after three-plus seasons driving a Nissan GT-R, will switch to the four rings of Audi for the first time in his career.
The two-time champion of the Nissan GT-R Prestige Cup made his series debut at Buriram in 2014, where he set the fastest lap of the race on his debut. Partnering André Couto and Katsumasa Chiyo, he helped Gainer score a victory in the 2015 Suzuka 1000km – his first career victory. In 21 previous races, the 29-year-old Tomita has 3 podiums and 11 top-10 finishes.
Last year, Tomita only managed 18th in the championship, with two top-6 finishes driving the #10 Gainer Tanax GT-R with Hiroki Yoshida – but he was consistently one of the quicker drivers in the GT300 field in terms of his top 10/20 race laps averages. He also won the ST-1 Class championship in the Super Taikyu Series.
Tomita partners Richard Lyons, the 2004 GT500 and Japanese Top Formula Champion from Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, who begins his 16th season in Super GT, and his seventh as a driver for Audi Team Hitotsuyama.
In 43 career starts with the team (since 2012), Lyons’ only win so far is that victory at Motegi in 2016. He also has four podiums and 18 top-ten finishes, adding to his GT500 tally of 7 wins, 22 podium finishes, and 52 top-10 finishes from 2002 to 2012.
The Ulsterman is one of the few drivers who’s ever driven for all three of the major GT500 manufacturers during their career – Honda, Nissan, then Toyota/Lexus – and Lyons is also the third and most recent driver to win both the GT500 and Super Formula titles in the same calendar year.
The newcomer is Takuro Shinohara, from Yokohama, who is the latest graduate from out of the FIA F4 Japanese Championship into the Autobacs Super GT Series.
Shinohara was 11th in the F4 Japanese Championship in 2015 with VSR Lamborghini Junior Formula Team. For 2016, he moved to Media Do Kageyama Racing, under the guidance and mentorship of Masahiko Kageyama, and enjoyed his best season to date by finishing 8th in the championship with three podiums, a pole position and two fastest laps. In his third season, Shinohara dropped to 9th in the standings, with one podium finish at Motegi.
Audi Team Hitotsuyama also declared their entry into the 2018 Suzuka 10 Hours, as they join Goodsmile Racing with Team Ukyo, Modulo Drago Corse, D’station Racing, Gainer, Cars Tokai Dream28, and ARN Racing on the official entry list. Their driver combination for this event is to be determined.