Every year, Super GT World honours the most outstanding performers in the Autobacs Super GT Series with the Super GT World Awards.
The Shingo Tachi Memorial Award is given annually to the most outstanding rookie driver in Super GT across both GT500 and GT300 categories.
The award is named in honour of the late Shingo Tachi, who set numerous JGTC/Super GT records in his debut year in 1998, winning the GT300 Drivers’ Championship with Keiichi Suzuki, scoring five wins from six races and finishing with the first 100+ point season in series history. On March 11, 1999, Tachi passed away after injuries sustained in a pre-season testing crash at 21 years of age. This award is presented annually to honour the legacy of Shingo Tachi.
In 2016, Jann Mardenborough won the inaugural Shingo Tachi Memorial Award as he battled for the GT300 title. Last year, Sho Tsuboi won the award as he won twice on his debut season.
Three internationally-renowned GT500 drivers and six GT300 drivers were eligible for the award. Takeshi Kimura, for instance, did himself no harm as a rookie gentleman driver. Richard Bradley was a surprise addition to the Super GT grid for Dijon Racing, getting the maximum out of their aging last-gen Nissan GT-R GT3.
Yuya Hiraki was a revelation from the start of the season, winning the shootout with Kiyoto Fujinami for the second seat at Team Mach, posting the fastest overall race laps average on debut at Okayama, then contributing to Team Mach’s best finish since 2018 – a seventh place at their home circuit at Autopolis. In any other year, maybe one without three GT500 “Super Rookies”, Hiraki would have been a finalist for the award.
Six drivers stood out among the rest. Here are the nominees for the 2018 Shingo Tachi Memorial Award, and the winner.
6th: KAMUI KOBAYASHI [小林 可夢偉]
- GT500 Drivers’ Championship: 13th Place (27 points)
- Race Wins: 1 (Buriram)
- Top 10 Finishes: 4 (Buriram, Sugo, Autopolis, Motegi)
Kamui Kobayashi formed one-half of a “dream team” of former F1 heroes with Heikki Kovalainen at Lexus Team SARD. While the dream season never came together, Kobayashi did have a moment of brilliance at the fourth round of the season at Buriram.
Having missed the Fuji 500km due to WEC commitments and retiring at Suzuka before he could even drive at his home track from his F1 days, Kobayashi held off Yuhi Sekiguchi for the victory in just his fifth career Super GT race.
It’s strange that we never got to see quite the same dynamic pace from Kobayashi that we’ve seen in his F1 heyday and in his time as a top star on the LMP1 circuit in WEC. It’s a shame if he’s only going to be a one-and-done driver for now: When he’s at his best, there are few better drivers in the entire world than Kamui Kobayashi.
5TH: RITOMO MIYATA [宮田 莉朋]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 15th (23 points)
- Podiums: 1 (Buriram)
- Top 10 Finishes: 4
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average (GT300): Suzuka, Buriram
Ritomo Miyata arrived in Super GT as the next in a seemingly endless line of Toyota young drivers with championship potential. Even beginning the season at 18 years of age, co-driver Hiroki Yoshimoto and team director Akira Iida had nothing but praise for the polish and maturity of Miyata as a driver.
Miyata took his first career podium at Buriram after seeing off the more experienced Naoya Gamou in a heated battle for third place, and even took provisional pole position with a fastest lap in Q1 at Autopolis. The speed wasn’t always consistent, but Miyata has so much upside and so many years ahead of him that he will be allowed to develop for a while in GT300.
Outside of Super GT, Miyata was runner-up in All-Japan F3 and in the ST-3 class of Super Taikyu. Like Kenta Yamashita and Sho Tsuboi before him, Ritomo Miyata will soon be in the discussion as a GT500 star of the future, and with a second year of GT300 under his belt, expect a big jump in progression for next year.
4th: HIROKI OTSU [大津 弘樹]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 14th Place (24 points)
- Podiums: 1 (Autopolis)
- Top 10 Finishes: 4
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average (GT300): Fuji 500km, Autopolis
24-year-old Hiroki Otsu may not have the European single-seater pedigree of other Honda young drivers like Nirei Fukuzumi, Tadasuke Makino, or future International F3 driver Yuki Tsunoda – but he’s being tabbed as a future GT500 ace for Honda after an excellent 2018 season.
That included a last-minute lunge for a podium at Sugo, in a three-wide finish, where Otsu fell just a few hundreths short of knocking Nobuteru Taniguchi off the podium. At the next round at Autopolis, Otsu did take the podium place after passing veteran Katsuyuki Hiranaka for 3rd in the closing laps, one that also bagged him and his veteran co-driver Ryo Michigami a ¥500,000 best performance prize.
Otsu helped Honda and Dome dominate the ST-TCR class of Super Taikyu and won the title on his debut year in FWD touring cars, and with days to go until Honda announces their 2019 GT500 roster, Otsu will either be getting the call up, or he’ll be damn close to it – that’s how high his stock is for the future.
3rd: MARCO MAPELLI [マルコ・マペッリ]
- GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 13th Place (28 points)
- Pole Positions: 1 (Okayama)
- Fastest Laps: 1 (Motegi)
- Top 10 Finishes: 5
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average (GT300): Fuji 500mi, Sugo, Motegi*
*fastest overall Top 10 Race Laps Average
Of all the drivers here, Mapelli is the least rookie-like of all the rookies thanks to his years of GT3 experience – though Super GT’s GT300 class is a much different ballgame in certain areas. When he took pole position on debut at a wet Okayama International Circuit, Mapelli showed he was going to be a force in GT300.
He scored points in his first five starts in a row, and was cruising out to a comfortable, almost unassailable lead at Twin Ring Motegi before two punctures knocked the #88 manepa Lamborghini out of contention for even a top-10 finish. Mapelli also drove brilliantly at the Fuji 500 Miles, as he and Kazuki Hiramine went from the very back of the grid in 28th to finish 6th.
Mapelli was a Pro-Am Class champion in Blancpain GT Asia alongside Super GT veteran Hiroshi Hamaguchi, and was a big proponent of the series this year. He’ll be back as a Lamborghini factory driver in 2019, and hopefully, it’ll mean a return to Team JLOC next year as well – Marco Mapelli is an amazing addition to the grid.
2nd: FELIX ROSENQVIST [フェリックス・ローゼンクヴィスト]
- GT500 Drivers’ Championship: 10th Place (41 points)
- Podiums: 1 (Buriram)
- Top 10 Finishes: 6 (Okayama, Fuji 500km, Buriram, Fuji 500mi, Autopolis, Motegi)
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average (GT500): Okayama, Fuji 500km, Buriram, Autopolis, Motegi
It’s a bummer that Felix Rosenqvist can only stick around for one season, because, as an individual driver, he was a brilliant acquisition for Lexus and Team LeMans, fast from the very first day of pre-season testing, fast from his very first race at Okayama where he finished 4th, and in his second at the Fuji 500km on Golden Week where he qualified 2nd and finished 5th.
After the first podium at Buriram, a race where Rosenqvist and Kazuya Oshima were right in the hunt for the win at the very end, the Wako’s LC500 failed to score another top-10 finish – but even in that second-half malaise, Rosenqvist still drove very quick stints at Autopolis and Motegi to close out his first – and only – Super GT campaign.
If he is any bit the driver in IndyCar that he was in Super GT this year or Super Formula the year before that, with the support of Chip Ganassi Racing behind him, he’s going to be an instant Rookie of the Year contender and a future champion. The Super GT fan in all of us just wishes he had more time to spend here.
And the winner is…!
1ST: JENSON BUTTON [ジェンソン・バトン]
- First Driver To Win GT500 Drivers’ Championship On Debut Since 2005
- Wins: 1 (Sugo)
- Podiums: 4 (Okayama, Suzuka, Sugo, Motegi)
- Top 10 Fastest Rookie Race Laps Average (GT500): Suzuka, Fuji 500mi, Sugo
How does a 17+ year F1 veteran end up classified as a “rookie” in a national-level championship? By Jenson Button’s own admission, the switch to multi-class sports car racing is daunting, from the adjustment to driving in a closed-cockpit car to sharing a car with a second or third driver, to of course, managing traffic. Button’s 2018 campaigns in Super GT and WEC were his first full year of sports car racing, sharing grids with drivers almost half his age with much more experience at this than he had going into the year.
Button never gave the impression that he was going to win the title from his first day in Super GT just because of his F1 experience. In fact, many marveled at how slow JB looked in his first race stint at Okayama – come to find out, he was in tyre-save mode, and even then, the fastest ten laps he ran were 8th out of 30 drivers in the entire field!
Of course, his closing drives at Sugo to win the race, and at Motegi to win the title, were more indicative of what we’ve seen out of Button in his halcyon days in F1. Button joins fellow F1 alumnus David Brabham and Toranosuke Takagi in winning the GT500 title in his debut season, a massive accomplishment, even for a driver that’s driven the world over so many times.
Maybe the predictable choice in the end, but in a very tough field of incredible newcomers young and old, Jenson Button is our selection for Super GT’s Rookie of the Year, and winner of the Shingo Tachi Memorial Award for 2018.