On Saturday, independent Nissan customer squad Tomei Sports and RunUp Sports announced their participation into the 2018 Autobacs Super GT Series.
Two-time GT500 and GT300 champion, Masataka Yanagida, joins the team as part of a four person driver rotation that also includes the returning Atsushi Tanaka, Yusaku Shibata, and 2001 GT300 champion Takayuki Aoki – who will all share driving duties in the #360 RunUp Nissan GT-R GT3.
Tomei Sports are a team whose history traces back to the founding of the Tomei Powered engine company, from which they spun off to create this team in 1985. They were part of the inaugural All-Japan GT Championship in 1994, and after taking a hiatus after the 1996 season, returned in 2007.
Since their return to GT300, Tomei Sports have not yet been able to capture a top-ten finish – though they have come awfully close to a breakthrough points-paying finish over the last two seasons, with the help of some experienced drivers to help support the pro-am squad. A best finish of 11th at Sportsland SUGO, and four finishes within one lap of the leader, carried Tomei Sports to 22nd in the GT300 Teams’ Championship last season.
Tomei Sports, along with fellow Nissan independents Dijon Racing, will go into 2018 using the previous-generation Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (2015-2017 spec).
The acquisition of 38-year-old Masataka Yanagida is a major step for Tomei Sports, and it marks Yanagida’s return to the Nissan racing family in Super GT – following a frustrating 2017 season at Audi Team Hitotsuyama, where he and fellow champion co-driver Richard Lyons only scored two top-10 finishes and finished 20th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Yanagida brings with him considerable experience over his 17-year Super GT career, winning the GT300 Drivers’ Championships in 2003 and 2010 with Hasemi Motorsport, then back-to-back GT500 Drivers’ Championships in 2011 and 2012 with MOLA International and co-driver Ronnie Quintarelli.
In seven seasons as a GT300 driver (2001-2004, 2009-2010, 2017) Yanagida has three career victories, seven pole positions including one at Buriram, Thailand last October, 16 podium finishes – adding to his GT500 tally of six victories, five poles, and 23 podium finishes. Entering 2018, Yanagida has entered and started 137 consecutive races.
The team also retain their entire 2017 driver lineup, which will be anchored by 44-year-old Yusaku Shibata (below, right) who enters his third full season as the lead driver of the #360 GT-R.
Shibata has one of the more unusual motorsport backgrounds: He is a six-time champion of the All-Japan Gymkhana Championships (2009 through 2014). In 1993, he made his All-Japan Touring Car Championship debut as a teenager, before taking a hiatus of over twenty years from top-flight circuit racing in Japan – returning at the end of the 2015 season with Dijon Racing. Shibata and his father operate the Arvou performance garage, based in his native Tochigi.
In the 2017 NISMO Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway, Shibata took a surprise GT3 class victory ahead of many of his more experienced GT300 peers on the grid.
53-year-old Atsushi Tanaka, president of the Forset company and RunUp Sports, returns as the team’s benefactor and amateur driver – this will be his ninth season with this team. Tanaka has run 39 races over the past eight seasons with Tomei Sports, and he has also raced in Super Taikyu – as well as All-Japan Formula 3, nearly thirty years ago.
Takayuki Aoki (above, left) is another experienced driver with strong ties to Nissan. In 2001, he won the GT300 championship with Team Daishin. Entering what will be his 19th Super GT campaign – all in the GT300 category – Aoki has 139 career entries and 134 starts, 12 career victories (4th all-time), 9 pole positions (also 4th all-time), 24 podiums and 67 top-10 finishes.
Aoki also has three Super Taikyu titles to his name, three GT300 class victories in the Suzuka 1000km, and lately, the 45-year-old veteran racer has found joy outside the racetrack – as the owner and operator of a tactical airsoft field in the town of Yorii-Machi, Saitama.
Tomei Sports have not scored a Super GT championship point since finishing 3rd in what was then the GT2 class – at Central Park Miné Circuit, in October of 1994. With the lineup that they’ve assembled, this historic independent team led by Keikichi Nakano hopes to return to prominence in GT300.