Team UpGarage Bandoh have confirmed their Toyota 86 MC will be piloted by the returning Yukhi Nakayama and series newcomer Shintaro Kawabata for the 2017 Super GT season. This after Masataka Bandoh led squad confirmed a GT300 entry for 2017 in the first entry list to be announced.
Yukhi Nakayama now enters his third season with UpGarage. The 29 year old (not to be confused with Toyota Factory Driver Yuichi) has been racing in Super GT since 2009, racing in the premier GT500 class for Honda over a 4 year period, with little success apart from 3 podiums in 33 races. In 2013 he remained a Honda driver but dropped down to GT300 to race a Honda CR-Z, winning the championship at his first attempt. In 2014 he had less success and so he left Honda and Joined team UpGarage. The 2016 season was promising for the team. Nakayama put the car on pole at the Suzuka 1000, and they led a number of laps with their Mother Chassis derived Toyota 86, however Nakayama, alongside Shinnosuke Yamada, were unable to muster a position higher than 4th.
Nakayama will be join 24 year old Shintaro Kawabata. He becomes the second driver to graduate directly from Japanese F4 to Super GT, after the aforementioned Yamada, who moves across to the Team Taisan Audi R8. Kawabata has failed to finish higher than 9th in his two seasons in Formula 4, however he has impressed, sweeping the opening weekend of last season with two wins and two pole positions. Furthermore in his first two years in car racing he had some success in Formula Challenge Japan. He also has GT experience, as he is a Porsche Carrera Cup Japan race winner. However the general consensus is that we are yet to see exactly how talented Kawabata is, and that while he has impressed he has lacked Consistency.
This announcement means that only 8 teams are yet to confirm their driver lineups for the 2017 campaign, as Pre-Season testing draws ever closer. It is also a very significant announcement. Team manager Masataka Bandoh has set the goal of winning a race this year, and ideally being in a position to compete for the championship. There is no reason why that can’t happen. Everyone knows the car is quick and reliable, as it won the GT300 championship last year. Nakayama is a GT300 champion and Kawabata certainly shows promise. This is doubtlessly a car to watch out for.
Image Courtesy of Super GT World