Toyota Gazoo Racing have announced their driver lineups for the 2021 Autobacs Super GT Series, in a Friday press release.
The launch of the fifth-generation Toyota GR Supra GT500 in 2020 proved successful. In its debut race at Fuji Speedway last July, the GR Supra won from pole position and swept the top five positions in GT500; simultaneously, a GR Supra built to the GTA-GT300 (formerly JAF-GT300) technical regulations secured a double victory for Toyota in its debut in the GT300 category.
Having narrowly missed out on the GT500 Championships in 2020, Toyota will again enter a fleet of six GR Supras in the top category.
Rookie Racing, who made their Super GT debut last season, have undergone changes in the off-season. After a year in the FIA World Endurance Championship, 2019 GT500 Drivers’ Champion Kenta Yamashita has returned to full-time Super GT competition for 2021, making the decision to return home due to the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak. 25-year-old Yamashita will be reunited with his champion co-driver from 2019, Kazuya Oshima – a 13-year GT500 veteran and dual-class champion with over 100 starts to his name.
Japanese oil company Eneos returns to the category as a title sponsor for the first time since 2015, with the #14 Eneos X Prime GR Supra fielded by the team now officially listed as TGR Team Eneos Rookie.
TOM’s Racing have also shifted the driver lineups of their two entries, the #36 au TOM’s Supra (entered as TGR Team au TOM’s) and the #37 KeePer TOM’s GR Supra (TGR Team KeePer TOM’s).
Yuhi Sekiguchi, a veteran of eight seasons in GT500, will be joined by 25-year-old Sho Tsuboi in the #36 au Supra. Tsuboi will be with his third different team in as many seasons, having made started his full-time GT500 career in 2019 with TGR Team WedsSport Bandoh, and then moving to Rookie Racing in 2020. For 2021, Tsuboi will move to TOM’s flagship number 36 car, opposite Sekiguchi, who is in his fourth season in the #36 – and has his third different co-driver in as many seasons.
2017 GT500 Champion Ryo Hirakawa, who has finished runner-up in each of the last three seasons, also has a new co-driver in the #37 KeePer Supra – Sacha Fenestraz, the French-born, Argentine-raised phenom, moves over from the 36 to the 37 car to take the place of his fellow international star Nick Cassidy. Hirakawa won from the pole in the 2020 season opener at Fuji Speedway, kicking off another championship challenge that ended in devastating fashion at the final race at Fuji. Hirakawa’s new teammate Fenestraz picked up four podiums in his first year as a GT500 driver – including three in a row to start the 2020 season – marking him out as the next great international talent to arrive in Japan, succeeding the likes of Cassidy and fellow TOM’s alumni André Lotterer and Loïc Duval.
TGR Team ZENT Cerumo will again field the most experienced lineup in all of GT500 competition for their #38 ZENT GR Supra: 45-year-old Yuji Tachikawa stays with Cerumo for his record 23rd consecutive season as a driver of the number 38 car. The all-time leader in GT500 class starts, pole positions, podiums, and points will again be joined by Hiroaki Ishiura, a two-time Super Formula Champion and past GT300 champion, in his 14th season in GT500.
TGR Team SARD, meanwhile, retain the driver lineup of Formula 1 alumnus, and 2016 GT500 Champion Heikki Kovalainen – now in his seventh season – and Yuichi Nakayama, in his third GT500 campaign, driving the #39 Denso Kobelco SARD GR Supra.
SARD are the only team as of publication to confirm their management structure: Three-time GT500 Champion driver Juichi Wakisaka remains the Team Director, and Shigenori Ara has been promoted to Chief Engineer.
All of the Toyota GR Supra GT500s, save for one, will be supplied with Bridgestone Potenza tyres. The one exception is TGR Team WedsSport Bandoh, continuing a long-term partnership with Yokohama Advan tyres into 2021. The #19 WedsSport Advan GR Supra will again be driven by tenth-year GT500 driver Yuji Kunimoto, and sophomore Ritomo Miyata, the reigning Super Formula Lights Champion – and the only driver openly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to race in GT500 and Super Formula.
Toyota will support a fleet of seven GT300 entries, comprising of three unique models. Three naturally-aspirated, V8-powered Toyota GR Supra GT300s will be entered this year, all of them built to the GTA-GT300 technical regulations.
As previously announced, Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave, who developed the GR Supra GT300 in conjunction with Toyota Customization & Development (TCD) and apr Racing, will field their #52 GreenBrave GR Supra for Hiroki Yoshida and Kohta Kawaai. LM Corsa (Osaka Toyopet Group) have also switched to the GR Supra, their #60 Syntium LM Corsa GR Supra driven by Hiroki Yoshimoto and Shunsuke Kohno.
And a third GR Supra will be entered by second-year team Max Racing: The orange #244 Takanoko-no-yu GR Supra will be driven by sophomore drivers Atsushi Miyake and Yuui Tsutsumi – the same lineup that drove for Max Racing in the season finale at Fuji Speedway in November.
Saitama Toyopet are producing the additional GR Supra GT300s in-house at their GreenBrave factory in Sakado, Saitama Prefecture. The GreenBrave team will carry Bridgestone tyres, LM Corsa have switched to Dunlop, and Max Racing remain with Yokohama.
apr Racing, meanwhile, return with their two hybrid-powered Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV apr GTs, hoping for further improvement after a bounce-back season in 2020.
There’s no change with the driver lineups in either car: The #31, their “Pro” car, will again be driven by Koki Saga and past GT300 Champion Yuhki Nakayama. Their “Pro-Am” #30 car will be driven by Hiroaki Nagai, and two-time GT300 Champion Manabu Orido. Bridgestone will continue to supply tyres to the #31 Prius, while Yokohama will supply the #30.
That leaves only two Lexus RC F GT3s on the grid in 2021 this year, led by K-Tunes Racing, operated by Okayama Toyopet Group. The #96 K-Tunes RC F GT3 will keep the driver lineup of three-time GT300 Champion Morio Nitta – the series’ most experienced driver in any class of competition, and the all-time GT300 class wins leader with 22 victories. Sena Sakaguchi, the reigning Formula Regional Japanese Champion, stays in GT300 for 2021 (but has secured a full-time Super Formula promotion). Dunlop will be K-Tunes’ tyre supplier for a second season.
The other RC F GT3, running on Yokohamas, is last year’s #35 arto RC F. But the team name, sponsors, and drivers have yet to be decided for the organisation that raced as “arto Ping An Team Thailand” in 2020.
Though there are three different models, all of Toyota’s GT300 entries will be powered by the same 5.4-litre 2UR-GSE V8 engine that originated in the RC F GT3.