One of Super GT’s oldest and most successful GT300 competitors, Team Taisan confirmed their 2018 plans for the Autobacs Super GT Series – and under surprising circumstances, in a press release marked for January 31 but only published this past week by their team partner, the Nagano Auto Sports Club.
Team Taisan announced that they would end their two-year collaboration with SARD Racing, with Yasutsune “Ricky” Chiba’s team reverting back to independent status and veteran driver Shinji Nakano joining the team as their managing supervisor.
They also announced that Shinnosuke Yamada would return to the team, to partner former Team Upgarage driver Shintaro Kawabata, in the #26 Taisan Audi R8 LMS for 2018.
Team Taisan can claim a share of 4 GT300 Drivers’ Championships (1996, 1998 with Tsuchiya Engineering, 2000, and 2012), 7 GT300 Teams’ Championships (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012) – and they are the only team to win both a GT300 and a GT500 Teams’ Championship (1995).
With their successes in Super GT, plus other championships including the Asian Le Mans Series, and class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Team Taisan are truly one of the most storied teams in Japanese sports car racing.
But it’s now been over five years since their last Super GT victory, and Team Taisan SARD endured a difficult 2017 season where their drivers, Shinnosuke Yamada and Jake Parsons, failed to score a top-10 finish with their Audi R8 LMS. This was also during a season where the team relocated their headquarters to the rebuilding Fukushima Prefecture.
Both Yamada and Kawabata are graduates of the FIA F4 Japanese Championship, both started their Super GT careers driving for Team Upgarage, and both turn just 26 years old this year.
Though Okayama-born Yamada struggled in his first year with Team Taisan, he did have a solid rookie season in 2016 with Team Upgarage, scoring 6 top-10 finishes and two career-best finishes of 4th place at the Fuji 500km and Suzuka 1000km.
This was after he graduated out of the FIA F4 Japanese Championship, where he finished 4th in the inaugural 2015 season behind Sho Tsuboi, Tadasuke Makino, and Hiroki Otsu, with a race victory at Autopolis.
Just as Yamada moved to Team Taisan after his first season, so does sophomore driver Kawabata, a protege of three-time GT500 Drivers’ Champion Juichi Wakisaka.
A race winner in FIA Formula 4, and a previous Porsche scholarship driver and race winner in Porsche Carrera Cup Japan, Osaka native Kawabata partnered Yuhki Nakayama to a 19th place finish in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship in 2017, scoring two top-10 finishes and a best finish of 7th at Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
As part of the team’s plans, Team Taisan have announced that ex-Formula 1 driver, Asian Le Mans Series champion, and former Super GT driver Shinji Nakano will join the team as their supervisor for 2018, helping to manage the racing side of the squad with team owner and director Chiba. Nakano drove for Team Taisan in the 2016 Suzuka 1000km.
Team Taisan also announced that they will forgo their participation in the Chang Super GT Race in Thailand, opting to run just the seven races held in Japan this season with their 2016-spec Audi R8 LMS, running on Yokohama tyres.