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GT300 Offseason Notebook: Up To Speed, Through the Tokyo Auto Salon

With announcements prior to TAS 2019, and big announcements anticipated in the weeks to come!

Kurosawa, Gamou return to defend GT300 titles for LEON Racing

Early Friday morning, K2 R&D LEON Racing confirmed their 2019 Super GT activities. The defending GT300 champions will retain drivers Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou, who led LEON Racing to their first-ever GT300 title in 2018.

Pyramid Corporation, a Japanese textile company, will take a more prominent sponsorship aboard the newly-christened #65 LEON Pyramid Mercedes-AMG GT3.

Tadashi Mizota returns as Team Director & Chief Engineer, and K2 R&D LEON Racing will continue their partnership with Bridgestone tyres which began in 2016.

New livery, same veteran drivers for Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO

Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO were the first team to confirm their car and driver combination for the 2019 season, in December. Three-time champions Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka will return to pilot the #4 Goodsmile Hatsune Miku Mercedes-AMG GT3, driving together for the eighth consecutive year.

GSR’s 2019 Super GT livery was unveiled at TAS 2019, featuring the new Racing Miku design from The Idolm@ster character designer Annin Doufu.

In addition, GSR & Team UKYO will return to the Suzuka 10 Hours in 2019, with Kamui Kobayashi rejoining Taniguchi & Kataoka – the trio who finished fifth overall in last year’s running of the race.

apr Racing unveils new Prius PHV GT to the world; Nakayama joins #31 crew

The highly-anticipated successor to apr Racing’s previous-generation, mid-engined Toyota Prius apr GT was finally unveiled in full, the new 2019 Toyota Prius PHV GT. As anticipated, the new Prius PHV GT will be front-engined, powered by a 5.4 litre V8 engine sourced from the Lexus RC F GT3, connected to a capacitor-driven hybrid system. The new silhouette is based on the current-generation Prius PHV plug-in hybrid sedan.

The #31 Prius will have a new driver lineup for the 2019 season, as 2013 GT300 Drivers’ Champion, Yuhki Nakayama, transfers from Team UPGarage to join apr Racing mainstay Koki Saga, in his 10th year with the team. The #30 Prius retains the lineup from the end of the 2018 season – gentleman driver Hiroaki Nagai, and two-time GT300 champion and drifting star Manabu “Max” Orido.

Like previous years, the #30 Prius will carry Yokohama tyres, and the #31 Prius will carry Bridgestone tyres.

K-Tunes Racing gets a new livery, Morio Nitta stays on for 2019

More announcements came from the Toyota/Lexus Gazoo Racing camp as a new livery was revealed for the #96 K-Tunes Racing Lexus RC F GT3.

They also announced that three-time GT300 Drivers’ Champion Morio Nitta will return to the team for the 2019 season. Nitta, who turns 52 later this month, is tied with Shinichi Takagi for the most career GT300 class race wins at 20, adding two wins this past year at Suzuka and Autopolis.

Nitta’s co-driver, replacing GT500-bound Yuichi Nakayama, will be announced at a later date, presumably in early February with the rest of Toyota’s Super GT teams and drivers. 19-year-old Toyota young drivers Kazuto Kotaka and Ritomo Miyata are both linked to the drive.

Refreshed Lotus Evora MC for veteran drivers Takahashi & Katoh

Cars Tokai Dream28 will continue to field the Mooncraft Engineering-designed Lotus Evora MC in 2019, with a fresh design and a return to a predominantly white livery for the #2 Syntium Apple Lotus – now one of no more than four Mother Chassis cars left on the grid with Team UPGarage switching to the Honda NSX GT3 this year.

Kazuho Takahashi and Hiroki Katoh will once again race for Cars Tokai Dream28 together, as they have for most of the last 13 years. At 66 and 51 years old respectively, by the start of the season, they will again form the oldest Super GT driver combination in the field.

Takahashi and Katoh also confirmed earlier this month they will race together in the Pirelli Super Taikyu Series, driving a new KTM X-Bow GT4 in the ST-Z class.

CarGuy Racing in Buriram

The #777 CarGuy ADA Honda NSX GT3 that competed in last year’s Super GT Series was on display at the floor of Tokyo Auto Salon.

Of course, the team itself are a few thousand kilometers away from the Makuhari Messe convention center – they’re out competing in the third round of the Asian Le Mans Series at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. Having won the first two rounds on the trot, CarGuy Racing are in pole position to win the GT class title and, with it, automatic entry into the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans.

As for their Super GT activities, Honda themselves announced that “Contiguous participation of CarGuy Racing is still under discussion” for 2019. They are expected to remain in the series – but the question being asked now is will it be with Honda, or another manufacturer, such as their AsLMS partners at Ferrari?

The GT300 grid at a glance

There are at least three Honda NSX GT3s – from Modulo Drago Corse, and new customer teams Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) and Team UPGarage (pictured, below). There are the two new Toyota Prius PHV GTs from apr Racing, at least one Lexus RC F GT3 from K-Tunes Racing LM Corsa, and the two Mercedes from LEON and GSR.

Phoenix Racing Asia confirmed their plans to enter Super GT at Macau in November, but have yet to announce their 2019 car for drivers Marchy Lee and Shawn Thong. Conversely, Kondo Racing have a new Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 ready to race in the GT300 class, but have not announced their drivers for their Super GT campaign, supported by the student mechanics of the Nissan Automobile Technical College.

And Pacific Racing Team announced a new sponsorship with virtual YouTuber Mirai Akari – securing another anime-inspired itasha livery on the 2019 grid alongside the Miku AMG – they’ve yet to announce their drivers, but are expected to keep their Porsche 911 GT3-R. That makes 11 entries confirmed in whole or in part for the upcoming season, out of an expected 30.

What’s still to come?

The story of the off-season in GT300 is the prospective arrival of two brand-new GT3 challengers: The second-generation Aston Martin Vantage GT3, and the new McLaren 720S GT3.

Aston Martin’s new turbo-V8 Vantage GT3 is expected to land with an established team on the GT300 circuit that is yet to be announced. It will mark Aston Martin’s return to the series for the first time since 2014.

As for McLaren’s new customer team, the reports out of Japan have pointed towards a new team led by a former JGTC championship-winning team director and Le Mans-winning team owner, with one of the drivers from that Le Mans effort as lead driver of the 720S GT3.

The owner being Kazumichi Goh, and the prospective lead driver being Seiji Ara, winners of the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours. Multiple sources are reporting this as a done deal already, but we’re still awaiting official confirmation (or de-confirmation) of this big-ticket prospective McLaren GT300 effort with Team Goh.

Offsetting the addition of Aston Martin and McLaren, the BMW M6 GT3 will not take part in the 2019 Autobacs Super GT Series, with the announcement of ARTA switching their GT300 efforts to the Honda NSX GT3. There is talks that EIcars Bentley will leave the series after two years, which would remove the Bentley Continental GT3 from the grid as well.

Toyota will make an announcement of the remainder of their factory-supported GT300 efforts in February, and Nissan will announce theirs later in the same month. Subaru confirmed at a TAS press conference their GT300 BRZ will return for 2019, but will not announce their drivers until no later than March.

Privateers Tsuchiya Engineering will make their announcement on February 5, matching their car number (2/5), where we’re expected to learn who will replace GT500-bound Sho Tsuboi in the #25 Toyota 86 MC alongside Takamitsu Matsui.

And there will be many more announcements to come in the weeks leading up to the first race of the season on 14 April at Okayama International Circuit, as well.

Images courtesy of: Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO, apr Racing, Pierre-Laurent Ribault (Twitter: @plribault), Mooncraft Engineering, Aston Martin, McLaren, and the GT Association