This week’s Fuji SUPER TEC 24 Hours is the premier race on the calendar for the pro-am Pirelli Super Taikyu Series, one of the most diverse endurance racing categories in the world – featuring GT3, GT4, and TCR touring cars mixed with a wide collection of race-tuned production cars.
Super Taikyu is not a full professional series like the GT500 class of Super GT, or Super Formula, but in this race there are many accomplished racing drivers who have achieved stardom both in Japan and abroad. Even some of the less-heralded gentleman drivers have earned a great deal of respect for their contributions inside and outside of motorsport.
At Super GT World, we’ve broken down the entire entry list and highlighted the top teams from the top three classes, and the big-name drivers competing in the lower categories, to help you find a team to support in this weekend’s landmark endurance event.
#3 – Endless Sports: Their anchors are GT300 star Hideki Yamauchi, just weeks removed from his second class victory at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and Kyosuke Mineo, a former GT300 Drivers’ Champion. Tsubasa Mekaru was the undefeated Porsche GT3 Cup Japan champion in 2017. Shinnosuke Yamada is a third-year GT300 veteran and FIA F4 race winner. Jukuchou (Tomohiko) Sunako drove parts of ten seasons in GT300 and now races for BMW Team Studie in Blancpain GT Asia.
And even their gentleman driver, Yukinori (Yuke) Taniguchi, is a household name in professional wrestling: He’s the founder of the Yuke’s video game company that has developed wrestling video games for over two decades, primarily for WWE-licensed titles.
#81 – J-Fly Racing by Phoenix Racing Asia: The pro driver is André Couto, 2000 Macau Grand Prix winner, and veteran of over 15 Super GT seasons – including a GT300 championship in 2015. Couto is joined by second-year GT300 driver Shintaro Kawabata, a race-winning driver in FIA F4 and Porsche Carrera Cup. Jeffrey Lee of Taiwan has been a leading representative for his country and Audi in continental Asia, two-time Amateur Cup champion in the R8 LMS Cup.
Announced on race weekend was 24-year-old former single-seater standout and reigning Audi R8 LMS Cup champion, Alessio Picariello of Belgium.
#82 – Phoenix Racing Asia: The name most will be familiar with is ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, the Malaysian trailblazer who’s since found new fulfillment in sports car racing in Asia with Audi. Wei Fung (Shawn) Thong of Hong Kong is a rising star with blazing speed, a race winner in Blancpain GT Asia. Philip Ellis of England was the reigning and final Audi Sport TT Cup champion in Europe. The gentleman driver is Alex Au, a former Am Cup champion in the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
#83 – Phoenix Racing Asia: Marchy Lee anchors the 83 Phoenix Racing Asia crew, he of course founded Phoenix Racing Asia and may be Hong Kong’s most accomplished racing driver of all-time. Malaysia’s Melvin Moh was the ST-X champion way back in 2013 with the hometown Petronas Syntium Team that dominated Super Taikyu for several seasons. Max Hofer is an 18-year-old Austrian newcomer brimming with promise as a young GT racer. The gentleman racer is Lim Keong Wee of Malaysia.
#99 – GTNET Motor Sports: Leading the way are two former GT300 Drivers’ Champions, two-time champion Kazuki Hoshino (son of the great Kazuyoshi), and 2008 champion Hironobu Yasuda, who raced in GT500 for nine seasons (2009-2017) and won several races. Kiyoto Fujinami is a former Nissan development driver who raced in GT300 last year for Team Mach. Sun Zheng was a British F3 National Class champion in 2013. Gentleman driver Teruhiko Hamano has raced for years in Super Taikyu’s lower categories, but this is his first in ST-X.
#244 – Max Racing: Ferrari Corse Clienti driver Go Hayato, racing as “Go Max”, has Super Taikyu’s most interesting nom de plume on the grid. He also has a stacked roster of experienced pros with him: Super GT legend and a record five-time Tokachi 24 Hours winner Tetsuya Tanaka, another Super GT legend, Takeshi Tsuchiya – the 2016 GT300 champion who also supports the Max Racing team through his family’s racing team – and Kimiya Sato, the 2014 Auto GP World Series champion and current Team JLOC driver.
#777 – D’station Racing: Seiji Ara is one of only two Japanese drivers to score an overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is the platinum driver working with two young experts: 2015 Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion Yuya Motojima, and 2016 PCCJ champion Tsubasa Kondo, both of whom have GT300 experience as well.
Satoshi Hoshino (no relation to Kazuyoshi) is the founder and CEO of the Nexus Group that owns D’station, the pachinko & slot gaming franchise for which the team is named – and in his own right, a very solid gentleman driver – perhaps the best on this grid.
#51 – BEND: Just one GT4 team, but one loaded with some experienced Super GT veterans of recent memory. Shinya Hosokawa is the ace driver, a former GT500 vice-champion for Honda. Atsushi Yogo is one of the few Super GT drivers to eclipse 100 career races. Yuya Sakamoto is another GT300 veteran with plenty of pace. Daisuke Ikeda also has GT300 experience as an ex-Toyota young driver. They all compliment gentleman driver Masamitsu Ishihara, a business administrator, musician, and writer by trade.
#10 – Adenau: Appearing for one race only is three-time Super GT premier class champion and Japanese racing legend Juichi Wakisaka, on loan from his work as a Toyota Gazoo Racing ambassador and GT500 team boss. He anchors a lineup that also boasts experienced GT300 campaigner and owner/driver Shogo Mitsuyama, who themselves join French gentleman driver Philippe Devesa and Mitsuhiro Endo, who started in karting and single-seaters and, 25 years ago, was even a karting teammate to F1 star Giancarlo Fisichella.
#19 – Birth Racing Project: Kouichi Okumura is the owner/driver behind BRP, and an experienced campaigner back home and abroad in races like the Nürburgring 24H. There’s little big-time racing experience in BRP’s lineup, save for former GT300 journeyman and one-make racer Daisuke Yamawaki, and young Kei Akiyoshi, who’s raced everything from TCR to rally cars and even runs his own automotive fashion label. Gentleman drivers “Hirobon”, “Yossy”, and Masanobu Komiya complete BRP’s six-driver rota.
#45 – Audi Team DreamDrive: Perhaps the favorite of itasha car junkies in the field, they are Audi’s top team in terms of out-and-out pace. Their lineup consists of two former GT300 journeymen, Shozo Tagahara and Takuya Shirasaka. Tagahara was one of Goodsmile Racing’s original drivers. Shirasaka last drove the Love Live! McLaren for Pacific Racing and is their ace driver. Naoto Takeda is Shirasaka’s teammate in Blancpain GT Asia for KCMG/Audi, and Yoshiyuki Okumura is another experienced clubman-level racer.
#65 – Audi Team Mars: This is ST-TCR’s newest team, making their debut at Sugo in April. Masanobu Kato is the lead driver, bringing with him single-seater experience as high as Formula Nippon, and five years of prior GT300 experience. Toshihiro Yoshida is a long-time endurance racer for Subaru between Japan and the Nürburgring. Hiroshi Kokuzawa raced in the FIA F4 Japanese Championship. Daisuke Imamura steps up from the ST-3 class into ST-TCR this year.
#75 – Audi Team DreamDrive Noah: There’s only one expert-rated driver on this lineup, and that’s Yoshikazu Sobu, who first rose to prominence in time attack competitions. The Kazuyuki Matsumoto on this team is not the metal bassist performing under the stage name ka/yu, but a clubman racer – as are Toshiro Tsukada, Yuji Kiyotaki, Yukihiro Yamaji, and Tadashi Watanabe, who complete the DreamDrive Noah lineup.
#97 – Modulo Racing with Dome: This star-studded team boasts two platinum-graded drivers: F1 alumnus and well-traveled professional racer Shinji Nakano, and Super GT star Takashi Kobayashi, who’s won in both GT500 and GT300 classes during his career. Young Hiroki Otsu, a former Honda Formula Dream Project driver, is a touring-car debutant and a top rookie in GT300 this year. Keishi Ishikawa returns as the reigning ST-TCR champion with the sister team.
Tadao Uematsu has raced for many years, including a brief stay in GT300, but by trade he is the founder and CEO of several motorcycle dealerships across Japan.
#98 – Dome Racing: This is the team that won last year’s inaugural ST-TCR championship, anchored by the lead driver from that season, GT300 standout and superstar Hiroki Katoh. He has his long-time GT300 running mate Kazuho Takahashi, one of the most experienced gentleman drivers in Japan, with him, along with fellow GT300 journeymen Taiyou Iida, Hiroshi Hamaguchi, and Richard “The Rocket” Wee of Singapore, Katoh’s co-driver at Le mans last June.
Defending class champions apr Racing were meant to step up to ST-X, but are sticking around in ST-1 for the time being. Their lineup has the most star power with Super GT legend, former GT500 champion Masami Kageyama, and Audi Team Hitotsuyama driver Ryuichiro Tomita – plus Porsche Carrera Cup scholarship driver Yuta Kamimura.
But D’station Racing have a transcendent star to anchor their team, Manabu “Max” Orido – the two-time GT300 champion and drift/grassroots racing legend also very well-known as one of the co-hosts of the Best Motoring and Hot Version video car magazines.
Subaru’s Super GT ace Takuto Iguchi has been driving for the five-time and defending class champions TOWA INTEC Racing and their #59 WRX STI, and continues to bolster what is already the strongest team on the grid.
Tatsuya Tanigawa is a GT500 race winner and GT300 veteran with 14 years’ experience in Super GT (including a recent stint in 2015 with Tsuchiya Engineering), but with Team Nopro’s underpowered #17 Mazda Axela, he is a decided underdog in this class. Yasushi Kikuchi, one of Goodsmile Racing’s original drivers and a former GT300 journeyman, is the star driver in the #6 Shinryo Racing Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Unlike ST-2, ST-3 is absolutely stacked with star talent, most of it clustered at Le Beausset Motorsports and their #62 Denso Lexus RC 350.
Their full-season lineup includes GT300 standout Koki Saga, Toyota young factory driver and GT500/Super Formula star Kenta Yamashita, and 18-year-old Toyota protegé Ritomo Miyata. But for this race, they’ve also added two-time and defending Super Formula champion and GT500 race winner, Hiroaki Ishiura, and a two-time GT500 champion, Kohei Hirate.
Japanese racing legend Naoki Hattori is the lead man in Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave’s #68 Toyota Mark X sedan, and is also joined by two-time Suzuka 1000km winner Shigekazu Wakisaka (cousin to Juichi) and 2011 GT300 champion Taku Bamba. The #38 Lexus IS 350 of Tracy Sports has GT300’s most decorated and experienced driver, Morio Nitta, onboard with fellow GT300 standout Ryohei Sakaguchi, whose nephew Sena is a rising star with the Honda Formula Dream Project.
Arnage Racing’s Masaki Kano heads up the lineup in the #34 Techno First Racing Lexus RC 350, and Yasutaka Hinoi, a Super GT alumnus best known for his time at Team JLOC, is the best-known name at Okabe Jidosha Motorsports, driving their #15 Nissan Fairlady Z.
ST-4 is Super Taikyu’s biggest class, and has attracted many, many big names for the SUPER TEC 24h. The #86 TOM’s Spirit Toyota 86 has an all-pro lineup boasting Toyota young driver Sho Tsuboi, 2016 GT300 champion Takamitsu Matsui, Toyota Young Driver Programme graduate Yuichi Nakayama, and GT300’s pound-for-pound fastest driver, Naoya Gamou.
Meanwhile, newcomers Hayashi Telempu Shade Racing, run by Gainer GT300 drivers Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hiroki Yoshida – both of whom will also drive their #884 Toyota 86 – have also recruited GT500 star and 2016 Super Formula champion, Yuji Kunimoto, to join them.
Former GT300 champion Yuhki Nakayama joins the #13 Endless Sports crew which is already led by second-generation racer Ryo Ogawa, a two-time PCCJ champion and 2015 Formula 3 National Class champion. The #77 Cusco Racing Toyota 86 has two crossover stars in drift/circuit racing legend Eiji “Tarzan” Yamada, and prolific video game music composer Koji Endo, who’s also an aspiring racing driver.
Tatsuya Kataoka‘s T’s Concept team also has plenty of star power in their two Toyota 86es, including himself in the #28 car which he’ll also share with Goodsmile Racing apprentice driver and Formula 3 newcomer Shunsuke Kohno. There’s also a lot of star power in their #29 car: Akira Iida is a GT500 champion and Super GT legend, Masahiro Sasaki is a top-flight GT300 alumni who’s excelled in Super Taikyu in recent years, and Miki Koyama is one of the best young women in Japanese motorsport, coming in from the FIA F4 championship. Yuichi Mikasa, a Porsche Carrera Cup standout in recent years, is in Auto Factory’s #55 Toyota 86.
ST-5 is geared towards entry-level drivers, but there’s still a few recognizable names on the entry list, including former GT500 race winner Koji Yamanishi, and current GT300 driver Masaki Tanaka, in the #2 Team221 Mazda Roadster.
Prolific Honda tuner and racing driver Junichi Umemoto leads the way in J’s Racing’s #69 Honda Fit. Also in a Honda Fit for Dijon Racing is the eccentric gentleman driver Hiroshi Takamori.
Seven women are racing in this category, including Love Drive Racing’s all-female lineup of Marie Iwaoka, Hiroko Komatsu, Anna Inotsume, Sayaka Kato, Megumi Tsujita, and Yumiko Sekizaki in the #50 Roadster. apr Racing also has Junko Takahashi in their #32 Roadster.
Who will you be supporting in this year’s Fuji SUPER TEC 24 Hours?