Here’s the second part of Super GT World’s Suzuka 1000km Hall of Fame feature, this time looking at the overall winners before the GT500 era. if you missed Part 1, which focused on GT300, you can see it here.
So, here’s a look through the first 27 runnings of the event from 1966 to 1998 (available on Super GT World here) – a span of over 30 years that encompasses many landmark eras of endurance sports car racing, including the Group C sports prototypes that starred in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Non-Championship Era I: 1966-1973; 1980-1982
The very first Suzuka 1000km was held on June 26, 1966, and won by the legendary Toyota 2000GT of Sachio Fukuzawa and Tomohiko Tsutsumi. The two Toyota young stars completed the first 1000km in 8 hours, 2 minutes time.
In the first few years of the race, the Porsche Carrera 6 and Carrera 10 prototypes were the cars to beat in all of endurance sports car racing, Suzuka included, winning three of the first six runnings of the race. So when one of the Japanese manufacturers pulled off the win, it was considered a great achievement.
The infamous Toyota-7 Mk. I would win it in 1968, giving Hiroshi Fushida his first win at the event, and making Fukuzawa the first two-time winner of the race. By the following year, however, the popular French-Japanese pilot would lose his life testing the next iteration of the fabled Toyota-7.
Fukuzawa, Tsutsumi, and Fushida would be the first drivers to win multiple Suzuka 1000kms over the first years of the race itself. In 1973, Kunimitsu Takahashi began his legend at this race with a win in his Nissan Fairlady 240Z – the second win for Nissan, after a privateer-led victory in 1970.
After that ’73 race, the 1000km would take a lengthy hiatus due to the global energy crisis. It would return in 1980, and would see a March-Mazda 75S prototype from the Fuji Grand Champion Series win the event in its return year. In 1980, the race also began anew with its now-traditional late August date on the calendar.
By then, the race was piquing the interest of teams abroad, and European racing stalwarts Kremer Racing brought a bright pink Porsche 935 – the greatest of the cars from the Group 5 super touring era – to the 1981 race. There, the French duo of Henri Pescarolo and Bob Wollek, two legendary figures of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, stole the win on a dramatic final lap pass to become the first foreign team and drivers to win the Suzuka 1000km.
1982 saw another Group 5 icon, the BMW M1, win the race outright with Auto Beaurex Motor Sports. The tide was turning for endurance sports car racing in Japan, and the following year, the Suzuka 1000km would become a crown jewel event of its very first professional sports car racing championship.
1966: #2 Toyota 2000GT – Sachio Fukuzawa & Tomohiko Tsutsumi
1967: #6 Porsche Carrera 6 – Shintaro Taki & Kenjiro Tanaka
1968: #1 Toyota 7 – Sachio Fukuzawa & Hiroshi Fushida
1969: #1 Tudor Porsche Carrera 6 – Tomohiko Tsutsumi & Jiro Yoneyama
1970: #19 Nissan Fairlady Z432 – Kawakami Nishino & Koji Fujita
1971: #12 Porsche Carrera 10 – Yoshimasa Kawaguchi & Hiroshi Fushida
1972: #1 Toyota Celica 1600GT-R – Harukuni Takahashi & Kenichi Takeshita
1973: #3 Nissan Fairlady 240Z-R – Kunimitsu Takahashi & Kenji Tohira
1980: #12 Red Carpet Racing Team March 75-S/Mazda – Hironobu Tatsumi & Naoki Nagasaka
1981: #6 Kremer Racing Porsche 935 K3 – Bob Wollek & Henri Pescarolo
1982: #1 Auto Beaurex Motorsports BMW M1 – Fumiyasu Sato & Naoki Nagasaka
All-Japan Era: 1983-1991
The All-Japan Endurance Championship, later to become the All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC), was established in 1983 and is the forerunner to what is now Super GT. The JEC/JSPC was founded at the zenith of the new Group C prototype category, considered by many to be the golden age of endurance racing around the world.
And in those years of Group C’s heyday, Porsche were the gold standard. The 956 and 962C were the winningest, most celebrated cars of their day, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans six years in a row from 1982 to 1987, the latter simply an evolution of the former, together, they’re still regarded as the greatest endurance racing cars of all time by many.
So when Toyota, Dome Racing, and Team TOM’s won the 1987 Suzuka 1000km, to break what could have become a seven-year winning streak for Porsche at this event, it was a landmark moment – that a Japanese-built Group C prototype could beat the mighty Porsche teams. Geoff Lees, Masanori Sekiya, and Hitoshi Ogawa made history that day in late August ’87, in one of the most celebrated moments in Suzuka 1000km history.
Still, Porsche were the dominant force of the ’80s, winning six of the first seven runnings of the JEC/JSPC era. Nova Engineering were the dominant team, winning five times under the Advan Team Nova and From A Racing banners.
And the man who became “Mr. Suzuka 1000km” was Kunimitsu Takahashi, the Iron Man of Japanese Motorsport. He won back-to-back years in 1984 and 1985, to become the first three-time winner of the race, aboard the black and scarlet Advan Porsche prototypes.
But it was in a memorable 1989 race – held in December due to a typhoon earlier in the year – that truly cemented Takahashi’s place as the greatest performer of this era of sports car racing. In a battle of attrition in the cold of winter, Takahashi scored his record-setting fourth victory at the event, and in addition, he took the JSPC Drivers’ Championship in the final race of the season – also a record, his fourth in a span of five years – after entering the race fifth in the standings.
There was a persistent international presence in the race throughout the ’80s. Vern Schuppan, Geoff Lees, Stanley Dickens all went on to win this race in the JSPC era, with Lees becoming the first “gaijin” to win the race more than once, and Dickens becoming the first to win the race back-to-back years.
In 1990, Nissan Motorsports, after years of trying, finally broke through with their first win at the Suzuka 1000km, with the Nissan R90CP of Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Toshio Suzuki. It was Hoshino’s only win at the 1000km, in a year where he dominated both the Japanese Formula 3000 and Japanese Touring Car Championships – the latter aboard the mighty R32 Skyline GT-R.
And in 1991, Toyota took another victory, this time via Toyota Team SARD, and led by Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger – with veteran driver Naoki Nagasaka winning the race for a third time as well, for three different manufacturers in three different types of cars.
However, by 1990-91, the JSPC was starting to show signs of decline, reflective of Group C as a whole. The category had simply gotten too expensive to be viable for the long term. Porsche left Japan, Kunimitsu Takahashi turned his interest towards touring car racing, and in ’91, just 12 cars entered the Suzuka 1000km, down from 42 in 1984-85.
1983: #1 Trust Racing Team Porsche 956 – Naohiro Fujita & Vern Schuppan
1984: #18 Advan Team Nova Porsche 956 – Kunimitsu Takahashi, Kenji Takahashi, & Geoff Lees
1985: #25 Advan Team Nova Porsche 962C – Kunimitsu Takahashi & Kenji Takahashi
1986: #27 From A Racing Porsche 956 – Jiro Yoneyama, Hideki Okada, & Tsunehisa Asai
1987: #36 Minolta Team TOM’s Toyota 87C-V – Geoff Lees, Masanori Sekiya, & Hitoshi Ogawa
1988: #27 From A Racing Porsche 962C – Hideki Okada & Stanley Dickens
1989: #25 Advan Team Nova Porsche 962C – Kunimitsu Takahashi & Stanley Dickens
1990: #23 Calsonic Nissan R90CP – Kazuyoshi Hoshino & Toshio Suzuki
1991 – #38 Denso SARD Toyota 91C-V – Roland Ratzenberger, Pierre-Henri Raphanel, & Naoki Nagasaka
International Era: 1992-1998
For 1992, the FIA World Sportscar Championship took over the Suzuka 1000km, but it was now apparent – with a record-low 11 cars taking to the grid – that Group C racing was in its death throes. It doesn’t diminish the record-setting performance from Peugeot that year, with Derek Warwick & Yannick Dalmas, two months removed from a Le Mans victory, setting the all-time record for the fastest 1000km at 5 hours, 30 minutes.
1993 was the final hurrah for Group C, as NISMO and Team Le Mans won it all with Takao Wada and Toshio Suzuka at the helm of a pink Nissan R92CP. The ’93 race was an oddball – it was actually part of the very first All-Japan GT Championship season that same year, 13 years before the Suzuka 1000km became a permanent fixture of the Super GT calendar. The ’93 season, however, is considered “non-canon” by the GT Association and by a number of Super GT fans as well.
For 1994, the race switched hands to the newly-founded BPR Global GT Series, founded in part by Stéphane Ratel – the precursor to the current SRO that will take over the race next year.
After Larbre Compétition – a name still relevant in endurance racing today – captured Porsche’s then-record 11th win in the race in ’94, two iconic GT1 cars of the ’90s rose to the forefront in succession: The McLaren F1 GTR, and the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR.
Masanori Sekiya became the first Japanese driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995, driving a McLaren F1, and two months later, his homecoming to the Suzuka 1000km, also saw him take a victory in a similar-liveried McLaren. J.J. Lehto was his co-driver at Le Mans in ’95, he’d go on to win it in ’96, in a Gulf Racing-liveried McLaren.
BPR Global GT evolved into the FIA GT Championship for 1997, with the Suzuka 1000km being its longest event. The ’97 race saw an emotional triumph for Italian driver Alessandro Nannini: Eight years after his only F1 victory at Suzuka in a career shortened by a freak off-track injury, Nannini won the Suzuka 1000km for Mercedes, the only man ever to win a Japanese GP at Suzuka, and the 1000km at the same venue.
And in 1998, Mercedes-AMG won it again, with two future legends of the sport: Bernd Schneider, and a 21-year old Australian rookie, Mark Webber, who would later star in Formula 1 for twelve seasons, and become a World Endurance Drivers’ Champion in 2015.
1992: #1 Peugeot Talbot Sport 905 – Derek Warwick & Yannick Dalmas
1993: #25 NISMO Team Le Mans Nissan R92CP – Takao Wada & Toshio Suzuki
1994: #86 Larbre Compétition Porsche 911 Turbo LM – Jean-Pierre Jarier, Bob Wollek, & Jesús Pareja
1995: #1 Ueno Clinic McLaren F1 GTR – Ray Bellm, Maurizio Sandro Sala, & Masanori Sekiya
1996: #6 Gulf Racing McLaren F1 GTR – Ray Bellm, James Weaver, & J.J. Lehto
1997: #10 AMG Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR – Alessandro Nannini & Marcel Tiemann
1998: #1 AMG Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR – Bernd Schneider & Mark Webber
All photos © Suzuka Circuit / Mobilityland Corp