Promoted: Suzuka 10 Hours attracts star-studded cast
The Suzuka 10 Hours, the Asian leg of the Intercontinental GT Challenge series for GT3 cars, has attracted an impressive cast of drivers and manufacturers for its second-ever running this August.
Last year’s inaugural event attracted a very respectable 35 cars (representing 12 different manufacturers), but the entry list for the 2019 running represents an undeniable step forward in terms of quality.
Of the 36 cars set to do battle at the legendary Japanese Grand Prix venue come August, no fewer than 25 are nominated IGTC points-scoring entries, with eight different manufacturers vying to be crowned GT3 champions of the world this season.
For a track as idiosyncratic as Suzuka, it’s little surprise that several marques have entrusted Japanese teams with their IGTC success, while numerous line-ups have also been bolstered by local drivers who are intimately familiar with the demanding 5.8km layout.
Chief among these is Kamui Kobayashi, the ex-Formula 1 ace currently plying his trade in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Super Formula with Toyota.
Kobayashi, who will be eager to add another major endurance win to his resume after conquering the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, will share the IGTC points-nominated #00 Mercedes-AMG Team GoodSmile entry with Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka.
Elsewhere in the field, Honda protege Tadasuke Makino, a race winner in Formula 2, will race in Team UpGarage’s NSX GT3, while three-time JGTC/Super GT champion Juichi Wakisaka will be at the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 for the LM Corsa squad.
The Japanese stars will be pitted against a star-studded cast of IGTC regulars that have already done battle at Bathurst, Laguna Seca and Spa-Francorchamps this year, not least of all the drivers that came out on top at Suzuka last year.
Raffaele Marciello and Maro Engel will once more team up at the wheel of a GruppeM Mercedes AMG-GT3 as they look to add a second triumph at Suzuka to their CVs, joined this year by Maxi Buhk instead of Tristan Vautier.
Former IndyCar driver and current IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racer Vautier will also be back to defend his crown in a different factory-supported Mercedes team, Strakka Racing, alongside ex-Red Bull junior Lewis Williamson and HWA Formula E driver Gary Paffett.
Elsewhere in Strakka's two-car line-up is Christina Nielsen, another driver who is a regular on the IMSA scene. The Dane is a two-time title winner in that series' GT Daytona class, and is racing alongside fellow female racer Katherine Legge this season.
IMSA fans will also be sure to note the presence of Mazda factory ace Oliver Jarvis at Suzuka in a KCMG-run Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, as well as BMW's Augusto Farfus and Porsche's Mathieu Jaminet, both of whom are representing their usual brands in Japan.
Last but by no means least, Suzuka will mark the first international race appearance for a certain two-time Formula 1 champion, Mika Hakkinen, since he took part in an Intercontinental Le Mans Cup race at Zhuhai back in 2011.
The popular Finn will be flanked by two local experts - Super Formula and Super GT racer Hiroaki Ishiura, and historics ace Katsuaki Kubota - at the wheel of a McLaren 720S GT3 operated by Kubota's Planex SmaCame Racing operation.
How Hakkinen and his teammates fare will surely be one of the most intriguing subplots of the weekend, which promises to be an undoubted highlight of the GT racing calendar.
The 2019 Suzuka 10 Hours takes place on August 23-25. Click here to see the latest version of the entry list.
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