It’s been over twenty years since Japan has held a short-form touring car championship of its own. The All-Japan Touring Car Championship (JTC/JTCC), in its heyday, was a top-level competition featuring the cars of the FIA Group A category from the late ’80s to the early ’90s, and later, the Super Touring (Class II) cars in the mid-90s.
This weekend, touring car racing in Japan is revived with the launch of the TCR Japan Series, promoted by Japan Race Promotion (JRP) as part of the Super Formula Championship support ticket.
TCR Japan is a new series which hopes to shine a spotlight on a different breed of racing drivers, and to further expand the TCR formula – the new world standard of touring car racing – to a new audience.
It’s time to meet those new heroes and give you the rundown on the inaugural TCR Japan Series for 2019!
TCR Touring Cars were introduced to the world in 2014 with the goal of bringing touring car racing to a wider audience. These front-wheel drive racing machines, each powered by a 2-litre, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing over 330 horsepower, are meant to be cost-effective for teams, and capable of being driven by drivers of all skill levels.
TCR first made its way to Japan by way of the introduction of a new ST-TCR category in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series in 2017. It wouldn’t have been long before the idea came about for a dedicated series for these new machines, to bring back the heyday of the JTCC.
In October 2018, the JRP and World Sporting Consulting (WSC) officially launched TCR Japan in advance of the series’ 2019 debut.
TCR Japan’s calendar consists of five double-header race meetings running alongside the Super Formula calendar. The first round at Autopolis on May 18-19, followed by Round 2 at Sportsland Sugo on June 22-23, and Round 3 at Fuji Speedway on July 13-14. Finally, Round 4 takes place at Okayama International Circuit on September 28-29, before the final round, during the JAF Grand Prix weekend at Suzuka, is held on October 26-27.
But most surprising with the launch of TCR Japan was the announcement that the series would not be open to professional drivers. Only drivers with an FIA Bronze or Silver driver classification, or those deemed by the series to meet those classifications should they not have an FIA Driver Classification of their own, will be able to race. So, unlike the JTCC of old, TCR Japan won’t be a battleground of the elite factory racing drivers and teams.
So without the big names from GT500 and GT300, Super Formula and All-Japan F3, the spotlight will instead be shone upon gentleman drivers, clubman racers, and a few experienced faces in the crowd who bring genuine talent despite not having achieved success in the sport’s highest echelons.
Of the 16 cars entered, there are five that have a significant deal more experience as Silver-graded drivers, and stand out as the overall championship favourites.
#5 – Yu Kanamaru: Tokyo-born Yu Kanamaru may be more familiar to followers of the European ladder to F1. For six years he raced overseas, winning races in EuroFormula Open and Formula Renault 2.0, and driving for two full seasons in Formula V8s.
The 25-year-old returned to Japan last year in the All-Japan F3 Championship for B-Max, and this year, he’ll drive for Team Goh in their signature black and pink colours – now applied to a Honda Civic Type R – alongside his current F3 Asian Championship campaign.
#18 – Matthew Howson: 35-year-old Howson, from Norwich, England, is the only European-born driver in the TCR Japan field. But he’s no stranger to Japanese competition, having previously competed in All-Japan F3 from 2011 to 2012 with KCMG.
Howson has been racing for KCMG for much of this decade, and that partnership culminated in the greatest triumph of his career when, in 2015, he won the LMP2 class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a KCMG Oreca-Nissan. This TCR Japan campaign is one half of Howson’s double dip in Japan alongside his Pirelli Super Taikyu Series efforts.
#21 – Takuro Shinohara: 24-year-old Takuro Shinohara was picked up by Audi Team Hitotsuyama in 2018 as one of their apprentice drivers. He was scouted after three seasons in the FIA F4 Japanese Championship, where he scored four podiums and two pole positions.
Mentored by GT300 race winner Ryuichiro Tomita, Shinohara has made great strides in 2019 already: Just a few weeks ago, he took his first ST-TCR victory in Super Taikyu at Sportsland Sugo. This underrated young hotshoe from Yokohama may be Audi’s new face of the racing future in Japan, and has the ability to become a champion this season.
#25 – Takeshi Matsumoto: Hiroshima-born Takeshi Matsumoto was breaking into single-seaters as a Nissan Development Driver this time ten years ago. While he never advanced higher than Formula 4, Matsumoto found success in Super Taikyu when he won the ST-2 class title for RS Ogawa in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Production-based race cars have since become the 31-year-old’s forté: He won a Honda Fit one-make series title in 2015, he’s raced in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia and the Toyota 86/BRZ Race, and just won his first ST-TCR race for Audi a few weeks back at Sugo. He may lack a lot of high-level experience, but Matsumoto is by no means a slouch at the wheel – as he may be the most underrated of the “non-Gentleman five”.
#52 – Shogo Mitsuyama: With over 100 races under his belt in Super GT over 17 seasons, plus several years in All-Japan F3 and even a brief spell in Formula Nippon, Shogo Mitsuyama is the most experienced driver in the field in terms of his CV – one which includes four GT300 class victories and a runner-up finish in the 2002 GT300 Drivers’ Championship.
Mitsuyama will be driving for Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave – but not in a Toyota, instead, it’ll be a Volkswagen – the car he brought to Super Taikyu’s ST-TCR category in 2017. He’ll also be fielding another VW under the banner of his own garage, Adenau, which he founded in 2008. At 42 years old, Mitsuyama has never won a major racing championship in Japan. Could this be his year?
While these five drivers stand out with their skill and experience, the eleven other Gentleman class drivers aren’t to be discounted in the battle for overall victory.
Take, for instance, Howson’s KCMG teammates: Paul Ip, the founder of KCMG, is himself a racing driver from Hong Kong who has found his purpose as the architect of one of the proudest privateer racing teams in the world.
Yukinori Taniguchi has experience in Super Taikyu, Blancpain GT Asia, even the WTCC of old. Taniguchi is probably best known as the CEO of Yuke’s, the developers of several professional wrestling video games over the last 20 years, and once-owners of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Resshu Shioya also drives a Honda Civic TCR for his G-Motion team, and was quickest of the eligible drivers in pre-season testing. 51-year-old Shioya won the ST-4 title in the 2011 Super Taikyu Series, the high mark of a racing career that began in the grassroots level nearly 30 years ago!
Jun Sato drives a Volkswagen out of Shogo Mitsuyama’s Adenau team – he comes from the Clubman Class of the 86/BRZ Race series, where he drove for the GreenBrave team last season.
Little is known about Birth Racing Project’s driver under the nom de course Hirobon – apart from that he’s 38-year-old sportsman racer who’s a specialist in FWD cars, a Honda Fit 1.5L Challenge champion from 2017 and already experienced in TCR cars in Super Taikyu. He drives the other Gentleman-class VW Golf.
Masayuki Ueda is a known commodity and the top gentleman racer out of the Audi camp: The 58-year-old has spent a number of years as a gentleman driver in Super GT’s GT300 class, has raced in Super Taikyu for much of the last 20 years across a number of classes, and won the Independent Trophy in last year’s FIA F4 Japanese Championship.
Jun Makino drives the NILZZ Racing entry, a newer gentleman driver who’s driven the purpose-built VITA-01 prototypes last year in clubman races.
Team N-Speed field two cars for the drivers known only as Yoshiki and Kenji (Kenji Nakahara). Nakahara’s last notable racing endeavor was in the GT Asia Series, while Yoshiki – not the X Japan lead singer – is a relative newcomer.
Lastly, there’s two Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCRs – making their Japanese Championship debuts. 55-year-old Shuji Maejima drives one of the Alfas for Go&Fun Squadra Corse. In a Super Taikyu career that began all the way back in 1992, Maejima is best known in recent years for winning the ST-3 class championship in 2017 with Tracy Sports.
The Unicorse team was part of the original JTCC in the mid-90s as Alfa Romeo’s representative team. They’re back now was 55 Moto Racing, with gentleman racer “Mototino “- who’s driven for Unicorse in a number of club races over the last several years.
And the best part is that every race will be available to watch, live and free, on Super Formula’s official YouTube channel – starting Saturday evening with the first-ever TCR Japan race from Autopolis!