Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,

Print

Posted in:

2021 Super GT Field Guide, Part 2: GT300 Class

Written by R.J. O'Connell

The 2021 Autobacs Super GT Series features a 29-car field in the ultra-competitive GT300 class – a mixture of ubiquitous FIA GT3 cars, and the GT300 and GT300 Mother Chassis vehicles which are unique to Japan.

There’s a phrase that’s said throughout circles of people within Super GT – “The fans come for GT500, but they stay to watch GT300.” And that should continue to hold true into 2021, where the grid looks especially competitive this year: 14 models from 12 badges are represented, there’s a three-way tyre war between Yokohama, Bridgestone, and Dunlop, and there are so many high-quality pro drivers up and down the field, as well as a few amateur drivers still left in the ranks.

In this field guide, we’re going to through each manufacturer and their representative teams, in order – based on the results from the 2020 season. You can also read the GT500 Field Guide, published yesterday, by clicking on this link.

Nissan

Although Nissan’s GT3 customer presence has all but vanished from Europe and North America, the GT-R NISMO GT3 remains one of the strongest cars in the GT300 class. Last year, Kondo Racing won the first set of championships for the newest iteration of the GT-R GT3, and their teams combined for three wins and six podium finishes. This year, Nissan return with five GT-Rs.

Kondo Racing, fielding the #56 Realize Nissan Automobile Technical College GT-R for defending champions Kiyoto Fujinami and João Paulo de Oliveira, will once again be a factor in the GT300 Championship battle – especially after Oliveira set the fastest time over both days of official testing at Fuji.

Both Oliveira and his young Japanese co-pilot Fujinami are lightning fast, their styles contrasting perfectly: Third-year GT300 driver Fujinami has the focus and maturity of a 20-year veteran, and is regarded as a future GT500 star in the making. Oliveira’s hard-charging approach has made him one of the most successful “gaijin” racers to ever compete in Japan.

Not to mention, they found performance out of the Yokohama Advan tyres that few other teams could last season. And if Yokohama have brought a more competitive range of tyres for 2021, Kondo Racing – whose team is supported by the student and dealership mechanics from the Nissan Mechanic Challenge – should be among the favourites to repeat as champions.

Gainer return with a two-car lineup – and this year, both of their cars are supplied with Dunlop tyres.

The “senior” car in the Gainer camp is the grey and red #11 Gainer TanaX GT-R, piloted by veterans Katsuyuki Hiranaka, and Hironobu Yasuda. Hiranaka & Yasuda started 2020 strong, and will look to keep the momentum going for a full season this year.

Yasuda already has the experience of winning a GT300 Championship, and has rediscovered his winning form in the years since being dropped from the GT500 lineup at Nissan – to the point that Nissan even considered calling the 37-year-old back up this off-season. Of course, Hiranaka will be among a number of experienced drivers still seeking their first championship: He’s ranked either second or third in the standings five times, but has never won the Drivers’ Championship in GT300.

Gainer’s “junior” car is the grey and white #10 TanaX Itochu Enex with Impul GT-R, the car that makes the change from Yokohama to Dunlop tyres in an attempt to bring their performance to the level of the #11 team on a consistent basis.

The lineup remains the same as last season, with the experienced two-time GT300 Champion Kazuki Hoshino joining forces with 26-year-old Keishi Ishikawa – another driver being touted as a future GT500 prospect for Nissan.

There are also two “Pro-Am” entries from smaller teams in the Nissan GT300 camp.

Tomei Sports’ #360 RunUp Rivaux GT-R has proven to be a genuinely competitive car in the hands of professional drivers such as 47-year-old Takayuki Aoki. Aoki gave the RunUp GT-R a pole position, and scored the team’s first-ever podium finish in the series.

This year, the 2001 GT300 Champion Aoki will be partnered by two gentleman drivers: RunUp Sports president and team mainstay Atsushi Tanaka, and newcomer Yudai Uchida, who makes his series debut at Okayama. Uchida is regarded as one of Super Taikyu’s best gentleman drivers, with three championships across their GT3 and GT4 categories – and he wasn’t far off the pace of some of the pros in testing.

NILZZ Racing typically compete as an “Am-Am” team with two gentleman racers, Yuki Tanaka, and Taiyou Iida, piloting their #48 Shokumou/K’s Frontier GT-R. But like Tomei Sports, they are capable of breaking into the points if they can bring in a pro driver.

In the first race at Okayama, Suzuka 1000km class winner Ryuichiro Tomita – who was excellent in GT World Challenge Europe last season – will drive alongside Tanaka as NILZZ aims for their first top ten finish since 2016.

Mercedes-AMG

The Silver Arrows return with the same four customer teams as last season, but now all four of them will run with the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT3 “Evo” package. The Evo was a success in its first full year of racing, including a win in its first year in Super GT. They’ll be aiming for a third championship in five years, their first since 2018, led two extremely competitive all-pro entries.

K2 R&D LEON Racing have one of the strongest teams in GT300: The combination of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Bridgestone tyres, plus the electric young driver lineup anchored by 2018 champion Naoya Gamou, the swift sophomore sensation Togo Suganami, and the fearless tactics of second-generation driver and Team Director, Haruki Kurosawa.

Aggressive pit strategy almost led LEON Racing to their second championship in three seasons, but even though they fell just short of the ultimate prize in the end, they’re poised to make another strong showing in 2021 – this is a team that is built to compete for championships for many seasons to come!

Celebrating 100 races, and the tenth anniversary of their first GT300 championship, are perennial fan favourites Goodsmile Racing & Team UKYO. It’s been 31 races since GSR last won in GT300, but the always-vibrant Hatsune Miku AMG itasha car has still been competitive under the leadership of Team Director, Ukyo Katayama.

GSR’s pair of three-time champion drivers, “NOB & TK” – Nobuteru Taniguchi (who turns 50 in May!) and Tatsuya Kataoka – are still as quick and capable as ever, entering their tenth season as teammates. They’re eager not only to end that pesky four-year winless drought, but also to win a fourth championship and stand alone as the most decorated pair of drivers in GT300 history.

Two additional pro-am teams complete the Mercedes fleet.

© Arnage Racing

Fan-friendly independents Arnage Racing made a big change this off-season, partnering their longtime clubman driver Masaki Kano with one of Super GT’s most successful drivers, two-time GT500 and GT300 Champion Masataka Yanagida.

Last season, Yanagida helped end a ten-year winless drought for Cars Tokai Dream28. This season, he could be the catalyst for Arnage Racing to score their first points since 2018.

R’Qs Motor Sports return, with the oldest lineup in the GT300 field: Owner/driver Hisashi Wada, and teammate Masaki Jyonai, combine for over 50 years of racing experience. This year, R’Qs will finally have the AMG GT3 Evo at their disposal – but they still face a difficult challenge to score their first points since 2015.

Toyota

Toyota will have a total of five vehicles representing them this year, built to the original GT300 (formerly JAF-GT300) technical regulations. Front and centre are three GR Supra GT300s, each of them powered by Toyota’s 5.4 litre, naturally-aspirated 2UR-GSE V8 engine.

Saitama Toyopet GreenBrave took their first win in the GR Supra’s debut race, and finished 2nd in the Championship Standings in 2020. They still operate as they did when they first broke into Super GT, employing Saitama Toyopet dealership mechanics as full-time racing mechanics. But it’s safe to say that they’re no longer plucky underdogs – this is a team that’s been built to win numerous championships.

The combination of the #52 GreenBrave Supra and their Bridgestone Potenza tyres is one of the fastest pairings of car and rubber. The same goes for their ultra-quick pair of drivers – journeyman-turned-ace Hiroki Yoshida, and last year’s top rookie, Kohta Kawaai, who was incredibly impressive as he leaped from Formula 4 into GT300.

Saitama Toyopet have also constructed V8-powered Supras for two other teams this season.

One of those teams is LM Corsa, past GT300 race winners beginning a new chapter – changing from the Lexus RC F GT300 to the GR Supra GT300, and switching back to Dunlop tyres after just one year with Michelin.

The driver lineup remains the same, as veteran racer and rock singer Hiroki Yoshimoto – who’s been with LM Corsa since their 2014 debut – leads the way for sophomore co-driver Shunsuke Kohno.

© Max Racing

Also debuting with a new GR Supra is second-year team Max Racing. They didn’t get their new car ready until the second pre-season test at Fuji, but showed some pace once they were able to get on track.

Their drivers, Atsushi Miyake and Yuui Tsutsumi, are each in their second seasons. Miyake demonstrated race-winning pace in Max Racing’s old Lexus, while Tsutsumi drove for three different teams, including Max Racing, as a super-sub in 2020.

And of course, it just wouldn’t be GT300 without apr Racing and their pair of V8-powered Toyota GR Sport Prius PHV GTs, which looked stronger last season and are expected to improve again this year. It’s been nearly five years since apr Racing last won in GT300, with the previous-generation mid-engine GT300 Prius.

A new livery, but the same drivers for apr’s Pro car, the Bridgestone-clad #31 Prius: 2016 GT300 runner-up, apr mainstay, and driver introductions ceremony performer Koki Saga will again be partnered with 2013 GT300 Champion, Yuhki Nakayama.

The party piece of the #31 Prius is the capacitor-driven hybrid powertrain that is mated to their 2UR-GSE engine, featuring technology and experience inspired by Toyota’s hybrid-powered LMP1s of yesteryear. In fact, that’s what makes this car such a special attraction for Super GT on the whole!

The pro-am #30 Prius, on the other hand, runs with Yokohama tyres, and runs without the Hybrid system used in the #31 – in exchange for a lighter, less complex, but still capable vehicle for their drivers.

Hiroaki Nagai continues as the amateur driver, coming off his second career top-ten finish. Two-time GT300 Champion Manabu “Max” Orido is the pro driver, still effective even in his twilight years.

Honda

Honda’s three NSX GT3s took a step back in 2020, but all three of their customer teams have made big changes this off-season, changing drivers and even changing management in the case of one team.

Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA) took a step back in 2020 after winning it all in 2019, but they are glad to welcome back two-time GT300 Champion Shinichi Takagi to the cockpit of the #55 ARTA NSX GT3, after recovering from injuries sustained in a Super Taikyu crash in November.

Takagi, who is second on the all-time GT300 wins list – and still possesses immense pace as he turns 51 in May – will once again have a highly-rated rookie driver from the Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) as his teammate.

Ren Sato may be a sports car racing rookie, but the 19-year-old is a tremendous talent: Sato broke records on the way to winning the 2019 FIA F4 Japanese Championship, and returns to Japan this year after racing in France in 2020.

© Team UPGarage / Masakazu Miyata

Team UPGarage scored their first podium with Honda last season, and like ARTA, they’ve paired an experienced GT300 driver with a rookie in 2021.

The veteran is Takashi Kobayashi, who gave Team UPGarage their only victory upon his first race with the team in 2018. The rookie is former HFDP academy member Teppei Natori, the 2018 Japanese F4 runner-up behind future F1 star Yuki Tsunoda, and a tremendous talent in his own right.

© Fuji Speedway

A new look for Yogibo Drago Corse this year, securing new title sponsorship to stay on the GT300 grid. And it’s fantastic to have Misato Haga, the first woman to manage a GT300 championship-winning team, back in the paddock for the first time in thirteen years as Team Director for the #34 Honda.

Drago Corse president and lead driver Ryo Michigami is a Honda racing legend and 2000 GT500 Champion, entering the fourth year of his current GT300 run. His new teammate, Shogo Mitsuyama, is the 2002 GT300 runner-up, returning to the series for the first time since 2017.

Mother Chassis

The two remaining GT300 Mother Chassis in the field are being grouped together here. These are the silhouette cars built around a common CFRP monocoque, powered by a common 4.5 litre ex-Nissan “GTA V8” and a six-speed sequential gearbox.

Though these cars are dwindling in numbers with no word yet on when the Mother Chassis “Gen2” regs will come around, they are still very competitive against the rival GT3 and GT300 cars.

This year, INGING Motorsports (operating as muta Racing INGING) takes over the entry of the Mooncraft Engineering-designed #2 Lotus Evora MC. INGING’s acquisition of Cars Tokai Dream28’s entry gives the mid-engined Lotus a new sponsor, a new livery – and most exciting of all, Bridgestone Potenza tyres.

This reinvigorated squad has given Hiroki Katoh, now 53 years of age, his best chance to finally win his first GT300 Championship in his twenty-third season as a Super GT driver. It’s also an unexpected opportunity for 45-year-old journeyman Ryohei Sakaguchi, who had never even finished on the podium before last season, let alone have a genuine title chance.

The other Mother Chassis is Team Mach’s “Toyota” MC86 constructed by Dome, in its traditional livery resembling the Mach 5 from Mach GoGoGo/Speed Racer.

Yuya Hiraki has driven the Mach MC86 to podium finishes in each of the last two seasons. This year, he’s joined by his younger brother, Reiji Hiraki – last year’s F4 Japanese Championship runner-up, making his GT300 debut. It’s the first time that two brothers will race together as Super GT co-drivers since 2014, and this duo should be very fun to watch.

Audi

Audi Sport are represented by two R8 LMS GT3s this season. Last year saw one of them score a rare victory for the four rings – who haven’t enjoyed the consistent success in GT300 that they have elsewhere in the GT3-based racing world.

Audi Team Hitotsuyama will look to build upon their race win at Suzuka last October, by leaning on the strength of two emerging young Japanese drivers that have become home-grown Audi works drivers.

Shintaro Kawabata settled in as a worthy leader for Hitotsuyama last season. The fourth-year GT300 driver has a new teammate this season, 2020 TCR Japan Series champ Takuro Shinohara – who appeared in three races with two teams last season, and is gearing up for his first full-time GT300 campaign.

But one of the biggest stories of the entire season is the “Return of the King” – the return of Japanese racing legend Satoshi Motoyama, three-time GT500 Champion and four-time Super Formula Champion, to Super GT competition.

© Team LeMans

The now 50-year-old Motoyama returns – not with Nissan, but with Audi – as the star driver and part-owner of Team LeMans with Motoyama Racing. This also marks the return of Team LeMans, who won two championships in GT500, as a stand-alone team after supporting Hitotsuyama last year.

Motoyama is keen to keep expectations low this season for the newly reincorporated team, but his presence in itself is great news for GT300. His co-driver is former All-Japan F3 National Class champion Yoshiaki Katayama, a protegé of Motoyama’s old teammate Richard Lyons.

Subaru

Subaru and their partners at R&D Sport have big ambitions for the new second-generation BRZ GT300, which debuts this season, replacing the first-generation model after nine seasons.

Still powered by Subaru’s legendary turbo flat-4 EJ20 engine and using Dunlop tyres, the new BRZ will once again be driven by R&D Sport’s dependable lineup of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi, two drivers in their absolute prime – whose styles are a perfect contrast and match for their car.

Masahiro Ozawa is the new General Manager for the Subaru-R&D connection, a key figure from Subaru’s last years in WRC. He helped the BRZ make massive gains in reliability last season, which was a chronic issue that derailed a number of championship runs over the last few years. If they can continue to build on that consistency, all of the pieces are in place for Subaru and R&D Sport to finally capture their elusive first championships in Super GT.

Lexus

The aging, yet still-effective Lexus RC F GT3 is down in numbers this year, with two former Lexus customer teams switching to the newer Toyota GR Supra GT300 as discussed previously. The two teams left in the Lexus camp are both intriguing in their own right.

K-Tunes Racing are established front-runners who had a rough 2020 season. They stick with Dunlop tyres in 2021, and leading the team once again is Super GT’s iron man, the three-time GT300 Champion and career wins leader Morio Nitta – who became the first driver to reach 200 career starts last season, still chasing that record-breaking fourth title and his first since 2002.

Co-driver Sena Sakaguchi will be starting the season in GT500 as he fills in at TGR Team KeePer TOM’s for Sacha Fenestraz. That’s given 20-year-old Hibiki Taira from the Toyota Gazoo Racing Driver Challenge (TGR-DC) academy a golden opportunity to make his GT300 debut in Okayama. Taira dominated the FIA F4 Japanese Championship, taking 10 wins in 12 races en route to the championship.

arto Ping An Team Thailand are the only non-Japanese team left in GT300, still searching for a top-ten finish in their fifth full season in Super GT. Their lineup consists of two second-generation international drivers.

Sean Walkinshaw, the 2018 GT300 runner-up, returns for the full season after travel restrictions limited him to just three races in 2020. With Thai driver Nattapong Hortongkum likely to miss another year, former Ferrari academy driver Giuliano Alesi – the son of Jean Alesi and actress Kumiko Goto – will fill in and make his sports car racing debut, hoping to make an impact as he embarks on a new career in Japan.

Lamborghini

Once again, Lamborghini are represented by one of the few teams to be a part of Super GT since the very beginning, Isao Noritake’s Team JLOC – fielding two Huracán GT3s as they have for the past few seasons.

The number 88 is JLOC’s flagship entry, driven by 2010 GT500 Champion Takashi Kogure, and his teammate Yuya Motojima, who’s scored a podium in four straight seasons. Kogure and Motojima have won for JLOC before – in the Asian Le Mans Series – and now have their sights set on winning in GT300 together for the first time.

The other JLOC entry is the #87 Granseed Huracán, which has a completely different lineup from last year. Kosuke Matsuura, a veteran best known for his tenure as a Honda works driver, will partner former Team Mach protegé Natsu Sakaguchi – who set the fastest time in the two-day pre-season test at Okayama.

Porsche

Porsche have a long history of success in Super GT, but it’s now been over eight years since they last won a race in GT300 with the 911 GT3-R. They are represented this season by a single iteration of the “Typ-2” 991 GT3-R.

After spending 2020 as a learning year with a new car, Tsuchiya Engineering – entering as Hoppy Team Tsuchiya – vow to return to their winning ways in this, their 50th anniversary season.

Team Director Takeshi Tsuchiya sticks with his pair of drivers from last season: Longtime Tsuchiya driver (and full-time shop employee) Takamitsu Matsui, who won the 2016 GT300 Championship in their previous Toyota MC86, and co-driver Kimiya Sato, in his third year with the organisation.

Ferrari

Ferrari is back on the GT300 grid, with a full-season entry for the first time since the 2017 season. They’re one of the few foreign makes that has won in both classes, but their last win in GT300 came back in 2009.

© Pacific-CarGuy Racing

Privateer Pacific Racing Team have a completely new look this season as they partner with CarGuy Racing from the Asian Le Mans Series, to compete as Pacific-CarGuy Racing. They have a new car (replacing their previous Aston Martin Vantage), new tyres from Yokohama (replacing Michelin), and a new Pro-Am driver lineup for the 2021 season.

Gentleman driver Takeshi Kimura runs full-time for the first time since 2018 after two spot starts last season, while his regular pro teammate Kei Cozzolino ran six races last season with Pacific and previous partners D’station Racing.

BMW

2021 could be the last hurrah for the twin-turbo V8-powered BMW M6 GT3 in Japan, with the new M4 GT3 set to make its full-fledged debut next year.

© BMW Team Studie

BMW are once again represented solely by BMW Team Studie x CSL, who picked up two top-ten finishes as a Pro-Am outfit last season. They return with an unchanged lineup, anchored by veteran workhorse Seiji Ara, a winner in GT500, Super Formula, and of course the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Tomohide Yamaguchi embarks on his second year as the gentleman driver of the team.

Kazumichi Goh, through his Customer Racing Service Ltd. company, will be a key behind-the-scenes figure for the team, now managed by Team Director Takashi Kumagai.

Images courtesy of the GT Association (GTA) except where otherwise listed.