Legendary Japanese racing outfit Team Taisan are expected to withdraw from the Autobacs Super GT Series after the 2018 season, as the team are putting several of its cars up for auction at a special event at Suzuka Circuit the week after the season finale at Twin Ring Motegi.
Several prolific race-winning cars from Team Taisan’s storied racing history will go up for auction on 17 November during the Suzuka Sound of Engine festival, a tribute to vintage racing cars from all eras.
“In many ways, this is an auction of my entire life – because racing has been my life itself,” said team founder Yasutsune “Ricky” Chiba, who founded Team Taisan in 1983, and has been a constant presence in Super GT since the very beginning of the series in 1994.
And in the lead up to the auction, Chiba-san is quoted as saying: “My 36 years of complete devotion to racing activities are now complete.”
These comments from Chiba-san confirm that Team Taisan will no longer take part in Super GT, and could be on the way to ceasing operations all together.
It was in 1991 that Team Taisan first came to prominence in their own right. In the heyday of the Group A touring car era and the dominance of the Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R, Team Taisan backed a “dream team” of Kunimitsu Takahashi and Keiichi Tsuchiya: Tsuchiya, the “Drift King” who innovated a new form of motorsport, and Takahashi, the legend of endurance sports car and motorcycle racing whose driving techniques inspired Tsuchiya to pioneer drifting as we know it today. Four years later, Takahashi and Tsuchiya would win the GT2 class of the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1994, Team Taisan made the jump to the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship, or JGTC, with a race-modified Ferrari F40, and a heavily-modified Porsche 962C – the last link between the Group C era of old, and the future of what was to come of the GT500 class.
Anthony Reid and Masahiko Kondo won their first race in the Fuji Special GT Cup in August 1994 with that power and weight-restricted 962C, and in October in the season finale at Central Park Miné Circuit, the Ferrari F40 of Tetsuya Ota and Oscar Laurrauri scored the victory, Ferrari’s only win in the premier class of Super GT.
It is that road-legal, race-modified 1988 Ferrari F40 of Laurrari and Ota, the latter of whom survived one of the most savage racing accidents at the Fuji Golden Week GT Race on 3 May 1998, that is one of the cars up for auction, expected to retrieve as much as ¥75,000,000 JPY (or just north of £500,000 GBP) as a collector car. The ‘91 Skyline GT-R of Takahashi and Tsuchiya may go for ¥48,000,000 JPY (or just south of £325,000).
Team Taisan won the 1995 GT1 (GT500) Teams’ Championship as two of their three Porsche 911 GT2s won three out of the six races in ‘95. Afterwards, Team Taisan would enjoy many years of success in the new second class, known as GT300.
Keiichi Suzuki and Morio Nitta drove their Porsche 911 RSR (964) to a dominant championship victory in 1996, and followed that up with a runner-up finish in 1997. Two years later, in a partnership with Tsuchiya Engineering, Team Taisan fielded a Toyota MR2 SW20 for Suzuki and 20-year-old rookie Shingo Tachi.
The duo won a record five races in 1998, setting many unbreakable records along the way, the first 100+ point season, and the largest championship-winning points margin. This was to have been the first of many great seasons for the rookie Tachi, but his life was taken all too soon when he was killed in a pre-season testing accident at Okayama International Circuit on 11 March 1999.
In 2000, the new Team Taisan Porsche 996 GT3-R of Hideo Fukuyama and Hideshi Matsuda won the GT300 championship and in that same year, Team Taisan took that same 911 GT3-R to its first ever appearance in the Grand Prix d’Endurance, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was there that Fukuyama, along with Atsushi Yogo and Bruno Lambert of Belgium, recovered from a heavy shunt in Thursday time trials, repaired the car in time to start the race, and finished 16th overall and won the LMGT class.
That class-winning car from 2000 will be another of the cars being auctioned off.
A hat trick of GT300 Teams’ Championships followed in 2001, 2002, and 2003, as well as three more appearances at Le Mans. They returned to the great race in 2006, and again for the final time in 2014, as an auto-qualifier thanks to their LMGTE class championship in the 2013 Asian Le Mans Series.
In 2012, a new partnership with Endless Sports led to their last GT300 Championship triumph. Their new Porsche 911 GT3-R (997) came into the final race of the season trailing by 9 points, but in a wet race, drivers Kyosuke Mineo and Naoki Yokomizo overcame the rough conditions to take the win, and overturn the deficit to win the championship. This is also, to date, the last win and championship title for Porsche in Super GT competition.
Since returning from their first sabbatical at the end of the 2015 Super GT season, Team Taisan have competed for the last three seasons as an Audi Sport customer team with the second-generation R8 LMS GT3. They recorded three top-10 finishes in 2016 during the first year of a two-year partnership with SARD, and at the season-opening race in Okayama International Circuit this year, Shinnosuke Yamada and Shintaro Kawabata took a 9th-place finish.
In 2017, Team Taisan moved their racing operations to Fukushima Prefecture in a bid to help the ongoing recovery efforts in the area after the devastating effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Team Taisan have won a total of 28 races between the first and second classes of the JGTC/Super GT from 1994-2014 and 2016-2018, and can claim at least a share of four GT300 Drivers’ Championships, seven GT300 Teams’ Championships, and one GT1 (GT500) Teams’ Championship.
To go along with their LMGT class win at Le Mans in 2000, they have a third-place finish in class in 2002, and three other top-five class finishes in 2001, 2003, and 2006.
Among the other cars that will be auctioned off at Suzuka Circuit will be a first-generation 1997 Dodge Viper GTS-R that competed from 1997 to 2000, driven by the likes of Hideshi Matsuda, as well as Matsuda’s Team Taisan-sponsored Lola T6/00 chassis that finished 8th in the 1996 Indianapolis 500.
The two-time race-winning 2007 Porsche 911 GT3-R (996) driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi, Dominik Farnbacher, Kazuyuki Nishizawa, and the late Shinichi Yamaji will also go up for auction, as will their 2014 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 driven by Naoki Yokomizo and Shogo Mitsuyama, with its STP retro livery loosely derived from the early ‘90s R32 Skyline GT-Rs.
Lastly, there will be a 1924 Bentley Speed 3.0, replicas of the Jaguar D-Type and Bentley EXP Speed 8, and a Formula Drift-spec Dodge Viper driven by current Super Taikyu star Eiji “Tarzan” Yamada, as well as parts from many other Team Taisan-entered vehicles.
Team Taisan’s future is very much in limbo after this weekend’s Motegi GT 250km Race “Grand Final”, and the upcoming auction at Suzuka Circuit. It’s said that Chiba-san is wanting to pursue further opportunities in electric vehicle racing, having been involved in the upstart All-Japan EV Series since 2011.
The team have not made any definitive decision on plans for 2019 and beyond, and are primarily focused on preparing for this final race of the 2018 season – their final race in the series that they have helped to build into the most popular national racing series in Japan.
Everyone at DSC would like to wish Mr. Yasutsune Chiba and everyone at Team Taisan the best wishes in their future pursuits.
Images courtesy of: Audi Japan, Nissan, BH Auction, Mobilityland Corporation, Toyota, Nobuteru Taniguchi Official Website, and the GT Association (GTA).