Masanori Sekiya, the legendary Japanese driver who became the first from his country to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright, has confirmed that he has left his position as sporting director of TOM’s Racing effective 31 March 2020.
This ends a 37-year relationship between 70-year-old Sekiya, and TOM’s, as Sekiya will dedicate his efforts henceforth on grassroots motorsport in Japan, accepting the position as chairman of the Toyota Motorsports Club (TMSC), and continuing his role in promoting the one-make Inter Proto Series and Kyojo Cup sports car championships.
“I regret to end my relationship with TOM’s after 37 years, but I decided to consider 2020 as the start of my next chapter in racing,” Sekiya said in an interview on Thursday. “I would like to express my deep gratitude to everyone who I’ve worked with over the years.”
“Looking back, being able to work with (TOM’s racing founders) Mr. Nobuhide Tachi and Mr. Kiyoshi Oiwa from 1983 made me very happy as a racing driver. Even after retiring from driving, I was engaged in TOM’s as a supervisor – and I thank them for their kindness.”
Sekiya first joined up with TOM’s for the 1983 All-Japan Endurance Championship, and from there he became a staple of the team in both Group C prototypes and later Group A touring cars. Of his eleven trips to Le Mans, Sekiya made seven appearances for TOM’s, finishing 2nd overall in 1992.
He then moved across to McLaren, finally winning the race outright with the McLaren F1 GTR in 1995.
Sekiya was also the ace driver of the now-legendary Castrol TOM’s Toyota Supra in the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC) from its introduction in 1995, giving Toyota their first win in the premier class of the series now known as Super GT.
After retiring from driving in the autumn of 2000, Sekiya completed his 18 years at TOM’s with two Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC) titles in 1994 and 1998. He was runner-up in the 1991 All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC), and runner-up in the 1999 JGTC GT500 Drivers’ Championship – with multiple victories in all three series – and even drove for TOM’s in the All-Japan Formula 3000 Championship in 1993.
Upon his driving retirement, Sekiya remained with TOM’s and took the role of team director for their JGTC/Super GT programme, working with team founder Nobuhide Tachi. As a Team Director, Sekiya led TOM’s to the 2006 and 2009 GT500 Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships with drivers Andre Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka, then won the title again in 2017 with Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy.
Add in the 2008 GT500 Teams’ Championship, and that makes a total of seven GT500 championships won by TOM’s under Sekiya’s stewardship.
And, as the principal of the Formula Toyota Racing School (FTRS) for the past two decades, Sekiya has overseen the development of Toyota’s current group of international and national racing superstars, headlined by star graduates Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima.
He founded the one-make, pro-am Inter Proto Series sportscar championship in 2013, which features several top stars from Super GT and Super Formula. And in 2017, he established the Kyojo Cup, designed to give women racers a platform to race against their peers in equally prepared space-frame prototypes – not unlike the W Series.
As TMSC president going forward, Sekiya will organize driver training programmes and grassroots racing events for Toyota enthusiasts, when it is safe for such activities to resume. Sekiya will also have a hand in promoting the FIA World Rally Championship round in Japan.
Images courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation