• 2023/01/30

Club MAZDA SPIRIT RACING Launches “Road to S-Tai” Challenge Program

On January 29, three new faces selected through a driver selection committee at the end of last year gathered at Suzuka Circuit, where traces of the heavy snow that fell a few days earlier still remain around the circuit. They are the drivers participating in the Challenge Program of the MAZDA SPIRIT RACING Club, which will start in earnest this year.


The six drivers selected by the selection committee were chosen from the top performers of the Roadster Party Race III and the Fuji Champion Race Series Roadster Cup during the year. Three of them were selected to participate in the opening round of the Super Taikyu Series, the Suzuka 5-hour Race, in March, and came here for their first practice session. Shohei Oda, a 28-year-old office worker, is last year’s Roadster Party Race III West Japan Series champion. He is the champion of last year’s Roadster Party Race III West Japan Series. Oda, who has competed in Thailand’s national championships, also has experience in Super Taikyu and helped win his class in the final round in 2021, the Okayama International Round, in his odula Roadster. On the day of the race, Oda completed the 30-minute running time, which was irregular due to a red-flag stoppage to clear crashed cars from the course, and said, “It had been a while since I drove the S-Taikyu car, but the car was even easier to drive than in 2021, and I was able to get used to it quickly and get a good feeling for the opening round of the season. Next, we will look at the three most successful drivers of the season.


Next up is Junji Ueda (a 54-year-old company owner), the oldest of the three. He has been racing for only 7 to 8 years, but he is the champion of the 2022 Roadster Party Race III East Japan Series and was ranked 3rd in the same Japan Tour. Before the race, he looked a little nervous alongside the two young drivers. Nevertheless, he managed to complete his laps smoothly during the 30-minute session, and finished the race without incident. I have raced in the S-Tai race atotegi in a Roadster before,” he said. I didn’t really feel it then, but today’s car was very quick, and I felt that it was very different from my party race car that I have been driving for the past few years, if anything, it had the exact opposite characteristics. When I turned the steering wheel into the turn-in, the nose went in earlier than I expected and I realized that it was not what I was feeling. I was still not fully accustomed to it today, but I will do my best to be able to drive my own way with this car at the opening Suzuka 5 Hours,” he said.


The biggest surprise of the day was the third driver, Takuya Minowa. He is a typical sim racer who has developed his skills in Gran Turismo, but in his debut season in real racing, he won the Roadster Party Race III North Japan Series in 2022, and he is also a champion in the Japan Tour. He is from Ibaraki Prefecture and is currently living in a boarding house as a third-year student at a science and engineering university. This is the first time for him to drive a real race car at Suzuka, and it is also his first experience with S-class cars and slick tires. However, he slid into the cockpit looking very calm as he said, “I have driven hundreds of laps in the simulator. As he started driving, Higuchi, who was checking his performance on the stand at the S-curve corner, said, “Even though this was all his first time, he drove confidently and aggressively from the out lap. I was surprised, to be honest,” said Higuchi. In terms of time, he set the top time of the day. After getting out of the car, Minowa said, “Since I was familiar with Suzuka (in Gran Turismo), I managed to adjust to the real race car and had a lot of fun. I am looking forward to the opening round. What a reliable new face!


Sugino, a senior driver, said, “The first day of test driving went well. We found some issues in a good way, and on the other hand, we also gained a lot of benefits. I think it was a very good first day for the next test.


The next test will be the second practice session at Okayama International Circuit, and from February 22nd, the event will move to Fuji Speedway, where the official Super Taikyu test will be held on the 23rd. Reserve driver Kikuchi Yoshi Katsuyoshi (2nd place in Fuji Champion Race), who came to observe the event, will also take part in practice sessions with the aim to make his race debut at the Fuji 24 Hours.


Text and Photos by MZRacing


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