Takashi Kogure: A Legend On the Crossroads

What comes next in the racing career of Takashi Kogure?

On Friday at the Tokyo Auto Salon, Honda presented their 2019 roster of drivers and riders for top-level Japanese motorsport – and with that announcement, Kogure was missing for the first time since 2003.

For the first time in over 15 years, the 38-year-old from Kanagawa, Japan will not represent Honda in either the GT500 class of Super GT, nor the Super Formula Championship. He is not the first veteran Super GT driver to step away this off-season, with João Paulo Lima de Oliveira leaving Nissan and Super GT after 13 seasons earlier this month, but like Oliveira, Kogure is seemingly ending a major chapter in his racing life – and now the question is where he’ll continue to race in 2019.

There is no shortchanging the fact that Takashi Kogure is a Honda racing legend. The potential was there from the day that Kogure won the All-Japan Formula Three Championship in 2002, winning 11 races.

In 2003, he made his debut in Formula Nippon and JGTC competition with Nakajima Racing. Just a few months into his top-line career, he had a massive rollover crash in the fourth round of the Formula Nippon season at Twin Ring Motegi. It was a crash that put his GT500 career on pause after a solid start: After top-8 finishes through the first three races André Lotterer came to Japan after deals in North America never materialized, and Kogure gave up his seat in the #64 Honda NSX for the rest of the season.

He spent 2004 focused on single-seaters only, and did win his first Formula Nippon race in the season-opening race at Suzuka. But in 2005, Kogure finally secured a Super GT return with Dome Racing, partnered with 2000 GT500 Champion, Ryo Michigami.

Over the next five seasons, Michigami and Kogure took ten podium finishes, and won at Okayama in 2006, Motegi in 2007, and Sugo in 2008. The 2006 saw Michigami and Kogure go to the season finale at Fuji Speedway seven points out of the lead – they would go on to finish third in the standings.

2007 was the year where Kogure established himself as a top man in Japanese motor racing, and in particular for Honda. With Lotterer defecting to Toyota and Tsugio Matsuda defecting to Nissan, Kogure was expected to be Honda’s star of the future. He racked up a series-leading seven pole positions from 2006 to 2008, four of them alone came in 2007, where he won at Motegi.

But Takashi Kogure is also one of the great uncrowned champions of Japanese Top Formula racing, and the year that the title should have been his was also in 2007. Reunited with Nakajima Racing, Kogure won three races, and took pole position for the season-ending race at Suzuka. He checked out to a massive lead and, with teammate Loïc Duval crashing out and Tsugio Matsuda running in fifth, Kogure with the win would clinch the 2007 Championship.

Kogure took the chequered flag, celebrated the victory, even lifted the champion’s prize cheque on the Suzuka podium. He’d won the Formula Nippon title by six points…only to be disqualified for a skid block violation. The win was revoked, and so were the points, and the title went to Matsuda. Kogure never got as close to that trophy as he did in 2007.

In 128 races, Kogure won seven races, fifteen pole positions, and twenty-three podiums in his Japanese Top Formula career that ran from 2003 to 2017.

2009 was the last year of the duo of Michigami and Kogure, as 2010 saw Michigami swap places, going to Nakajima Racing in exchange for Loïc Duval, the reigning Formula Nippon Champion. 2010 was also an important year as Honda replaced the legendary NSX with their front-engined concept car, the HSV-010. It was meant to resemble an NSX successor that never was. It was loud. It was fast. And Honda wanted to win the title with it.

Things didn’t exactly start great when Takashi Kogure wrote his HSV-010 off eleven laps into the season, he and Ralph Firman colliding into the sponge barriers going into Turn 1 at Suzuka in excess of 150 miles per hour. They got a little better when Kogure and Duval won the next race at Okayama from pole position. They finished 3rd in Sepang, and in the closest finish in Super GT history, 2nd by just 0.025 seconds at Sportsland Sugo.

Kogure didn’t have to win the season finale at Motegi from his third pole of 2010, once main rivals Daisuke Ito and Björn Wirdheim fell out of title contention during the race. But he wasn’t going to make it easy for Juichi Wakisaka to take the win for TOM’s either: The image of the two manufacturer mainstays clashing wheels through Turns 1 & 2 was the defining moment of the race.

Wakisaka and Lotterer won the race, but Kogure and Duval won the titles for Honda and for Dome, and for the new HSV-010. Finally, Kogure had his championship.

The duo would add another signature win in 2011 when they won the Suzuka Summer Endurance Race, and even when shortened to 500 kilometers in the wake of the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March, it was still a meaningful victory, the biggest individual victory of Kogure’s Super GT career.

Nearly two and a half years after Kogure was edged out at the line by Koudai Tsukakoshi’s Keihin HSV-010 at Sugo, the two drivers did battle again for the win at the 2013 season opener at Okayama. This time it was Kogure who took the victory, and this time, it was in his first race for Team Kunimitsu – ending a winless drought for Kunimitsu Takahashi and his Raybrig Honda that went back to September 2006.

Five years later, with Kogure and Tsukakoshi now teammates at Keihin Real Racing, and Kogure now the senior ranking driver at Honda with over 100 starts to his name, Kogure helped Real Racing end their own lengthy winless drought with a win from pole at Okayama – the first for the Keihin Honda since July 2010, that fateful day where Tsukakoshi beat Kogure by a nose.

After nine victories, 24 podiums, 81 top-10 finishes, and 12 pole positions, this looks to be the end of the road for Takashi Kogure as a GT500 driver. An emergency pit stop in the first lap of the season finale at Twin Ring Motegi meant he’d finish 15th in what may be his last race in the premier class. His last podium came at Fuji Speedway in the 500 Mile Race, a track that he never managed to win at in 28 attempts.

Masashi Yamamoto, head of Honda’s motorsport activities in Japan, said it was not an easy decision to leave Kogure off the roster for 2019. His place at Keihin Real Racing was taken by ex-Nakajima Racing driver Bertrand Baguette, and Narain Karthikeyan and Tadasuke Makino are moving in to where he and Kosuke Matsuura used to race in years past.

So what comes next for a driver who turns 39 in August, and still has the pace in bursts to compete at a high level?

The logical step would have been GT300. But Honda brought in young driver Nirei Fukuzumi to partner Shinichi Takagi at ARTA for their new NSX GT3 EVO, and Matsuura was brought in to Team UPGarage as they too switched to the NSX GT3. A reunion with Michigami at Modulo Drago Corse wasn’t to be when Hiroki Otsu re-upped for a second year with the team.

As for CarGuy Racing, Honda’s first Japanese customer team, they may be on their way out of Super GT as they look to shift focus on preparations for Le Mans, as well as participating in Pro-Am geared championships like Blancpain GT Asia – as opposed to the increasingly all-Pro GT300 class of Super GT.

Maybe he follows Michigami into a spell in touring cars in WTCR or Super Taikyu. Maybe there’s a few Intercontinental GT Challenge drives, such as the Suzuka 10 Hours, waiting for him later in the year.

And after 15+ years, Kogure wouldn’t want to take the unthinkable option of leaving Honda, where even after the decision to release him from the GT500 fleet, he is still on good terms.

So until then, let’s appreciate what Kogure has accomplished in over a decade and a half at the highest level of Japanese motorsport. For a time, he might have been the top man in Formula Nippon without the championship trophy to show for it. For 15 years, he was Honda’s rock in GT500, the co-author of some of Super GT’s most memorable finishes. And as time passes, we’ll remember him as one of the greatest drivers in series history.

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