On Friday, Team Mach announced their programme for the 2018 Autobacs Super GT Series.
Following a successful rookie test at Okayama International Circuit last week, FIA Formula 4 Japanese Championship graduate Yuya Hiraki has been named as the team’s second driver for the full 2018 campaign, partnering returning lead driver Natsu Sakaguchi aboard the #5 Mach Syaken MC86 Y’s Distraction.
In 2017, Team Mach revamped their squad and emerged as one of the most improved teams in the GT300 class. Following back-to-back last place finishes in the Teams’ Championship, longtime lead driver Tetsuji Tamanaka took over as team director, Team Mach struck a technical alliance with Tsuchiya Engineering, and brought in young drivers Natsu Sakaguchi and Kiyoto Fujinami to drive their Toyota 86 MC.
At the third round of the season in Autopolis, Sakaguchi and Fujinami drove the Mach Syaken 86 to an eighth-place finish – the team’s first points-paying finish since 2010. They also displayed impressive speed at Okayama and Suzuka, before issues ended solid top-5 runs early in the race.
The returning driver is 22-year-old Sakaguchi, who was announced as the team’s lead driver in February with the reveal of the 2018 entry list.
Sakaguchi, a former Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) prospect, and protegé of Ryo Michigami, returned to racing full-time in 2017 having spent the last two years out of the sport while finishing his schooling. The Fukuoka native’s eighth-place finish at his home circuit in Autopolis put him 22nd in the GT300 Drivers’ Championship with his former co-driver Fujinami.
The newcomer is Yuya Hiraki, age 21, another graduate of the FIA Formula 4 Japanese Championship – and the older of two racing brothers, with the younger Reiji Hiraki also competing in F4. In its predecessor, the JAF Formula 4 Championship, Yuya Hiraki won the West regional championship in 2014. In his debut FIA F4 campaign, Hiraki finished 5th in the championship, with 5 podiums and a pole position.
In 2016, Hiraki moved to Le Beausset Motorsports, picked up his first two victories at Fuji Speedway and at Twin Ring Motegi, and finished 6th in the championship. Last year wasn’t quite as successful, with Hiraki only managing 11th in the championship and a single top-5 finish in 2017. However, his experience gained in Formula 4 and the Super Taikyu Series was putting the Ibaraki native on the fast track to advancement.
Hiraki joined Team Mach for the Okayama test alongside Sakaguchi and Fujinami, passed his rookie test on his one and only day of the test, and has now replaced Fujinami for the full 2018 season.
Hiraki joins a notable list of drivers who’ve already graduated through FIA F4 to Super GT in the support series’ first three years of running: 2015 champion Sho Tsuboi, Shinnosuke Yamada, Shintaro Kawabata, 2016-17 champion Ritomo Miyata, and Hiroki Otsu – the latter of the two also joining Hiraki in this year’s 2018 rookie class.
With a combined average age of 21.5 years at the start of the season, Sakaguchi and Hiraki combine to form the youngest driver combination in all of Super GT.