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Tsuchiya Engineering Faces Uncertain Future

2016 GT300 Champions may be forced to suspend operations due to budget issues

Tsuchiya Engineering are one of the most successful privateer teams in the history of the Autobacs Super GT Series, maybe in all of Japanese motorsport. But as the third round of the 2019 season approaches, Team Director and Chief Engineer Takeshi Tsuchiya has gone on record as saying that they do not have the budget in place to finish the season, leaving them in a position where they may be forced to suspend operations for the rest of the year.

In speaking with Japanese reporter Tomohiro Yoshida for the Motorsport Network, Tsuchiya has stated that his team does not have the budget to run their #25 Hoppy Toyota 86 MC for the full 2019 season, and even he does not know how many races the team will be able to run after next weekend’s Suzuka GT 300km Race.

Tsuchiya explains that the potential suspension of operations for 2019 is a long-term strategy to ensure the survival of his family’s racing team, founded in 1970 by his father Haruo.

If they are able to run the full season in 2019, they may be forced to suspend operations for all of 2020 instead, and that would jeopardize the team’s long-term future. Tsuchiya has stated that shutting down for the rest of 2019 would allow them to return for 2020.

The team suffered a big blow when new recruit Kimiya Sato crashed on the opening lap of the rain-soaked season-opening round at Okayama International Circuit, striking the concrete barrier at the inside of the first corner. Sato was uninjured, but the team were left with a hefty repair bill.

The assistance of Team UPGarage, who loaned the team several spare parts from their now-disused Toyota 86 MC, helped Tsuchiya Engineering get on the grid for the Fuji 500km on May 4th – where they qualified 3rd before slumping to a disappointing 18th-place finish. Tsuchiya once again thanked the staff at Team UPGarage for their sporting assistance.

The crash at Okayama didn’t help things for the Fujisawa-based GT300 standouts, but according to Tsuchiya, the financial crunch at the team has been a pain point prior to the start of the season – that “tens of millions of yen simply aren’t enough to compete,” according to Tsuchiya himself.

It’s not the first time that Tsuchiya Engineering have been faced with financial difficulties and putting their Super GT activities on an extended pause.

After winning back-to-back GT300 Championships in 1998 and 1999, Tsuchiya Engineering competed in GT500 as a Toyota-aligned team for nine seasons. They were forced to suspend operations after the 2008 season – as they were one of many teams impacted by the global recession, known in Japan as the “Lehman Shock” of 2008.

They returned in 2015 with the new Mother Chassis platform Toyota 86, taking their first pole position and first victory with the new car. In 2016, Tsuchiya’s final season as a full-time driver, he and his protegé Takamitsu Matsui won two of the last three races en route to taking the team’s third GT300 title, and they’ve been a consistent threat for podiums, pole positions, and victories in the two years since – with Matsui being joined by the likes of Kenta Yamashita in 2017, Sho Tsuboi in 2018, and Kimiya Sato this season.

But turbulence has been there as well: Haruo Tsuchiya stepped down as Team Director after being diagnosed with oral cancer just days after the 2016 season ended, which is now in remission. Former title sponsor VivaC went bankrupt in the 2017-18 offseason, leading Hoppy Beverage Company to take over as title sponsor.

Tsuchiya Engineering have spearheaded the development of the Mother Chassis platform as a cost-effective alternative to FIA GT3 machines over the last five years, the platform also used by Team Mach (with whom they share a technical alliance), Cars Tokai Dream28, and Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave.

Their racing garage is still based out of the back of their car care center in Fujisawa, one owned by the younger Tsuchiya, with Matsui working as a full-time garage hand, and the elder Tsuchiya, now in his 70s, still a presence in the shop.

It’s a critical time for one of Super GT’s most beloved and successful privateers: The entire team are determined to compete as hard and as long as they can, but time and money are starting to run out, and Tsuchiya Engineering face the prospect of once again pausing their involvement in Super GT, and an uncertain future afterwards.

Images courtesy of Pierre-Laurent Ribault (Twitter/Instagram: @plribault)