2018 Super GT World Awards: GT300 Driver of the Year

Every year, Super GT World honours the most outstanding performers in the Autobacs Super GT Series with the Super GT World Awards.

We are proud to announce the GT300 Driver of the Year, honouring the most outstanding individual driver in the ultra-competitive second class of Super GT.

The two previous winners of the award were Takamitsu Matsui in 2016, a driver with very little high-level experience before his Super GT debut – who broke through with incredible speed and results to help lead Tsuchiya Engineering to the GT300 title.

In 2017, the award was given to Naoya Gamou, who demonstrated incredible and consistent speed throughout every race in the season, winning the Suzuka 1000km in dramatic fashion and clinching 2nd in the GT300 Championship for K2 R&D LEON Racing with another come-from-behind win at Twin Ring Motegi.

There are six finalists in the field, but first, some acknowledgement of drivers who just missed reaching the finalists’ stage.

Tatsuya Kataoka put in his fair share of long hero stints at the wheel of the Goodsmile Hatsune Miku AMG – but his best moment of the year might have come in the final hour of the Suzuka 10 Hours as he resisted the factory M-Sport Bentley team to finish 5th in a dramatic battle.

Hideki Yamauchi was so, so quick aboard the Subaru BRZ this season – especially at Sugo where he recorded a “hat trick” of a pole position, fastest lap, and race win – but a string of three retirements in four races ended any aspiration of a title bid for R&D Sport and for teammate Takuto Iguchi.

Katsuyuki Hiranaka was another really, really quick driver who gave the new 2018 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 a competitive first year on the circuit, winning at Buriram with Gainer and co-driver Hironobu Yasuda, who had a great bounceback year in his return to GT300 in his own right.

Marco Mapelli, was third in voting for the Shingo Tachi Memorial Award for Rookie of the Year, best of the GT300 drivers ahead of Ritomo Miyata and Hiroki Otsu – and looked every bit like a GT3 racing veteran because, well, he is one – and he impressed with his speed for Team JLOC.

Sean Walkinshaw will be missed in the Super GT paddock if he is indeed moving on after two years at ARTA – he progressed very well in 2018, helping them dominate the races at Fuji, driving to what should have been a podium at Buriram, and a heroic comeback at Autopolis from the tail end of the grid.

Yuichi Nakayama stands out as the likely “first man out” for K-Tunes Racing LM Corsa. Nakayama took pole position for the Suzuka 300km in a race that he and Morio Nitta won from pole position. He added another win at Autopolis thanks to a blistering 40-lap opening stint. The results weren’t consistently there for the K-Tunes RC F, but after many thought he wouldn’t see the GT500 promotion with Toyota, it looks like he might finally ascend to the top thanks to this past season.

Here are the six finalists, ranked in order, and the winner of the award…


6TH: HARUKI KUROSAWA [黒澤 治樹]

© GT Association
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 1st Place (68 points)
  • First Super GT Championship in 16 Seasons (2002-2003, 2005-)
  • Wins: 1 (Motegi)
  • Top-10 Finishes in all Eight Races

nominated by Geinou

When the black Leon CVSTOS AMG crossed the line at Twin Ring Motegi no one seemed happier than Haruki Kurosawa himself, who shed tears of joy after the race as he embraced his co-driver Naoya Gamou.

Kurosawa’s very first GT300 championship victory was a long time in the making after he finished as the runner-up twice before, in 2005 with M-TEC Racing, and just last year in 2017.

After a few years bouncing from team to team after the 2005 runner-up finish, Kurosawa helped the new K2 R&D Leon Racing team tremendously when he joined the joint venture that back then was known as Green Tec & LEON with Shift in 2012. At the time, his father Motoharu, the very first Japanese Top Formula Champion, was team director, but as time progressed, Haruki became more involved with the day-to-day operations of this family team.

The culmination of the hard work he put into it finally saw its fruition this year. They might have only won one race this year at Motegi, but in the end it was the most important one, coming back from a 12-point deficit going into the race to win the championship on the final day. In fact, part of their success was K2 R&D LEON Racing’s consistency, since they were the only team to score points in every race this season.

Haruki Kurosawa has traveled the world over, just like his more famous brother Takuya did in his heyday, and now, like his father Motoharu, he is a champion racing driver in his own right.


5TH: NOBUTERU TANIGUCHI [谷口 信輝]

© Goodsmile Racing
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 4th Place (56 points)
  • Podium Finishes: 3 (Fuji 500mi, Sugo, Motegi)
  • Top-10 Finishes: 7 (Okayama, Fuji 500km, Suzuka, Buriram, Fuji 500mi, Sugo, Motegi)
  • 2018 Toyota 86/BRZ Race Professional Series Champion
  • 5th Place in Suzuka 10 Hours – Asia Award Winner

nominated by R.J.

It’s hard to find a driver who has been both consistently excellent and consistently beloved by fans the world over as Nobuteru Taniguchi, in large part because he is more than just a racing driver, but a pioneer of drifting, a major automotive personality – there are Japanese automobile enthusiasts who might have never seen a Super GT race but know exactly who this man is.

And despite what seemed like a mediocre start to their title defense in 2018 through the first four races, Goodsmile Racing were quietly one of the more consistent teams in the field, and a lot of that had to do with their ace driver Taniguchi, one of the best drivers in terms of tyre management – a necessary skill needed for the very aggressive pit strategies called throughout the year by GSR.

The incredible display of defensive driving at the Suzuka 300km may not have paid off in the end as, eventually, a convoy of cars on fresher tyres were able to overhaul the Miku AMG in the end – but that Taniguchi was able to hold them off as long as he did on a set of double-stinted Yokohama tyres around Suzuka was extraordinary.

Often, Taniguchi was asked to manage tyres and hold position – and he had another great drive like that, 53 laps, to get to the end at Sugo and just barely hold off Hiroki Otsu and Marco Mapelli at the line for a crucial third-place finish that, if not for a horrifically botched strategy call for a two-tyre stop at Autopolis, might have put NOB & Tatsuya Kataoka in pole position for their fourth championships.

He showed he had the pace to hang with the world’s best GT3 drivers at the Suzuka 10 Hours as well, but to be truthful, Taniguchi was already in that category as one of the best GT3 drivers in the world, no qualifiers needed, even at age 47.


4TH: KOHEI HIRATE [平手 晃平]

© Toyota
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 3rd Place (61 points)
  • Podium Finishes: 4 (Fuji 500km, Buriram, Fuji 500mi, Motegi)
  • Fastest Top 10 Race Laps Average: Buriram

nominated by R.J.

The 2017-18 off-season saw three notable GT500 factory drivers moved down to GT300. Perhaps the most shocking was two-time GT500 Drivers’ Champion, Kohei Hirate, who just two years ago won the championship with Lexus Team SARD, and was involved in one of the most exciting finishes in recent Super GT history at Sportsland Sugo the year before.

It was always going to be hard to find room for a Lexus fleet that was already bringing in Felix Rosenqvist and Kamui Kobayashi and calling Kenta Yamashita up to full-time duty. There was suggestion that Toyota was unhappy with Hirate getting into a number of unforced accidents the year prior – we don’t know if that’s true. But with Hirate at apr Racing, one of GT300’s top teams, there was the chance that this step down was going to motivate Hirate to raise his game a couple steps.

In his first GT300 campaign since 2008, Hirate and co-driver Koki Saga scored four podium finishes, helping apr Racing rebound from a difficult 2017 season of their own (where they’d scored just one podium all season). Hirate was the man of the match at Thailand in capping off a comeback from 14th on the grid to 2nd, and he had another comeback drive at Autopolis from a pit start to 10th, saving their championship bid.

Hirate did it all with the poise of, well, a two-time GT500 Drivers’ Champion who was motivated to get back to the top flight. Had there not been the driveline failure at Okayama, had he not been punted off at Sugo, he might have taken the Toyota Prius and apr Racing to the title in the car’s farewell season.

The suggestion is that Hirate will be changing not only teams but manufacturers as well for 2019. He’s done enough on merit to warrant a move back to GT500, where he arguably should never have been demoted to begin with.


3RD: NAOYA GAMOU [蒲生 尚弥]

© GT Association
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 1st Place (68 points)
  • Wins: 1 (Motegi)
  • Pole Positions: 1 (Buriram)
  • Top-10 Finishes in all Eight Races
  • 2018 Nürburgring 24 Hours SP-Pro Class Winner

nominated by Geinou

Much like Haruki Kurosawa, Naoya Gamou contributed tremendously to his and K2 R&D LEON Racing’s very first GT300 championship win. From the last round of the 2014 season when he joined LEON Racing full-time, he’s ascended to become the team’s ace driver, surpassing the more experienced Kurosawa.

It was the 29-year-old Gamou, who was in charge of the final stint of the season at Motegi, when he perfectly defended a commanding lead while preserving his Bridgestone tyres, after the team decided to go with an aggressive fuel-only strategy.

Motegi was a true showcase of Naoya Gamou’s talent as a driver, who gained a lot of experience in the last four years, be it in Super GT, or with Toyota at the 24 Hours at the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife, where he recorded another class victory.

This year, unlike last year, there were no dramatic come-from-behind victories like at Suzuka or Motegi for Naoya Gamou. No fastest 10-lap stints. Just the one win and the one pole position at Buriram… and top-8 finishes in every single event. Gamou never put a wheel wrong all season.

He was, quite simply, consistently fast, over long stretches, of every race in 2018. And it helped capture him his first Super GT title with the team that gave him his first genuine opportunity at success in the GT300 category. Gamou is no longer the best-kept secret on the GT300 grid. He is an established, legitimate top man in the category, and will continue to be for a long, long time.


2ND: SHO TSUBOI [坪井 翔]

© GT Association
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 7th Place (39 Points)
  • GT300 Podiums: 2 (Okayama, Suzuka)
  • Fastest Laps: 1 (Autopolis)
  • Pole Positions: 2 (Fuji 500mi, Autopolis)
  • 2nd Place in GT500 debut at Fuji 500km
  • 2018 All-Japan Formula Three Champion – Single-season record 17 wins

Shohei Ohtani brought “Sho-time” to Los Angeles in Major League Baseball, winning the American League Rookie of the Year as a batter and starting pitcher. Another phenomenal “Sho-time” happened in Japanese motorsport thanks to Sho Tsuboi, the top prospect of the Toyota Young Driver Programme.

Even though his and teammate Takamitsu Matsui’s title hopes got crushed before the finale at Motegi, the 23-year-old Saitama native can look back at a very successful 2018, where he won the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship with a record-setting 17 race victories as well as back-to-back Super Taikyu titles in the ST-4 Class for TOM’s Spirit. The only blemish came right at the end when he was collected in Sophia Flörsch’s horror crash at the Macau Grand Prix F3 Race.

In his second year as a GT300 driver, and his first with Tsuchiya Engineering, he managed to grab two pole positions as well as two podium finishes. When Kamui Kobayashi had to miss out on the Fuji 500 km round due to a clash with the WEC season opener, Toyota rewarded Sho Tsuboi with a GT500 drive. And Tsuboi didn’t disappoint: Despite the lack of experience, he greatly contributed to a very strong second place finish together with Heikki Kovalainen.

Rally fans would argue that Toyota’s Ött Tanak was just a couple bad breaks away from snapping Sebastien Ogier’s streak of consecutive World Rally Championship titles this year. A similar argument can be made that a broken gearbox compressor at Buriram, a suspension failure at Sugo, and a late spin at Autopolis were all that kept Tsuboi from winning the GT300 title – before that deciding clash at Autopolis, Tsuboi had done enough that he and Matsui could have gone to Motegi with the points lead, instead of mathematically eliminated.

When asked about his experience after the race by J SPORTS pit reporter Jiro Takahashi, he just expressed his relief that everything went well. It certainly did – and turned a lot of heads. In a few short weeks, Sho Tsuboi will make the step up to GT500 and Super Formula with Toyota, bringing “Sho-time” to prime time, and, potentially, setting up a top-flight career brimming with championships.

And the winner is…!


1ST: SHINICHI TAKAGI [高木 真一]

© GT Association
  • GT300 Drivers’ Championship: 2nd Place (62 points)
  • Wins: 2 (Fuji 500km, Fuji 500mi)
  • Pole Positions: 1 (Fuji 500km)
  • Fastest Laps: 1 (Fuji 500km)
  • Fastest 10 Race Laps Averages: Fuji 500km, Fuji 500mi
  • Became first GT300 driver to win 20 career races

nominated by Geinou

Shinichi Takagi is one of the drivers of the generation that helped raise the profile of GT300, like his long-time running mate Morio Nitta, and crossover stars like Nobuteru Taniguchi and Manabu Orido. He may be 48, but Takagi has not lost a single increment of speed or competitive spirit.

Takagi swept both races at Fuji Speedway in 2018, the Fuji 500km on Golden Week, and the new Fuji 500 Mile Race. He and Sean Walkinshaw didn’t just win those races, quite frankly, they crushed their competition with dominating drives, including Takagi’s “hat trick” of winning from the pole position, with fastest lap of the race, at the 500km.

Takagi and Nitta are still close even as rivals in other teams. Since 2004, Nitta was GT300’s winningest driver…until Takagi won his 19th career race and surpassed Nitta at the Fuji 500km. Nitta drew even again the very next race at Suzuka. Then two rounds later, Takagi surpassed Nitta again, and became the first driver to win 20 GT300 races – a feat Nitta eventually matched at Autopolis, but not before Takagi contributed two defining drives that really should have wrapped up the title for ARTA.

On 100 kilos of Success Ballast and at a track at Sugo where the ARTA BMW M6 GT3 never really flourished, Takagi led them from 23rd on the grid to finish 10th. Then they qualified 22nd at Autopolis and, for most of the race, looked like they would surrender the championship lead, until Takagi drove all the way up to 3rd place by the time he pitted, securing a 4th place finish that actually extended their points lead as others faltered.

After drives like that, it was astonishing to see the ARTA M6 fall short of the title at Motegi. But certainly not the fault of Takagi, who, when he was performing at his best, was downright untouchable as a GT300 competitor. He was the only driver to record the fastest 10/20 lap averages in multiple rounds, and at both of the longest races of the season. And it was a year where Takagi set career milestones in the category for race victories.

He was, quite simply, the most outstanding individual driver in a field filled with outstanding drivers both home-grown and international in GT300. And for all of that, Shinichi Takagi is Super GT World’s 2018 GT300 Driver of the Year.

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