Almost every country has one indisputable motorsport icon. In Australia the late Peter Brock was our “King of the Mountain”, in the USA it is Richard Petty with a long and colorful career in NASCAR. In Japan there is only one person who can lay claim to such title and his name is Keiichi Tsuchiya.
When it comes to legends of motorsport in Japan few can touch Tsuchiya-san not only for the number of cars he has driven to victory over the years but the sheer diversity of vehicles he has competed in. His depth of involvement in the auto enthusiast scene as a whole is unsurpassed and just to have him at WTAC as a guest would be an honour.
We can now officially confirm that not only will Keiichi Tsuchiya be attending WTAC, he will also be on track, driving, on both days! Before we go any further though, a little history lesson might be in order.
Back in 1977 Tsuchiya-san had been honing his skills on the togue courses in the hills of Japan before joining the Freshman series. At this time he also filmed the now famous Pluspy video skilfully drifting his Toyota AE86. Keep in mind this is all in a day and age where in-car video recording was almost unheard of.
It’s believed that these videos along with Tsuchiya-san’s expert driving inspired the whole sport of drift. By the late 90s many ametuer drift events were being held around Japan and in 2000 Keiichi Tsuchiya together with Daijiro Inada, founder of Option magazine and Tokyo Auto Salon founded the D1 Grand Prix.
This was the first professional Japanese drift series, effectively giving Tsuchiya the unofficial title of the “Founder of Drift”. Amazingly enough, this is only one small part of Tsuchiya’s incredibly eventful career.
Throughout the 1980s Tsuchiya-san competed in All Japan Touring Car Championship taking many class wins in his famous D2 Toyota AE86. It was during this time that he would often drift the car around the circuit for the last lap (even when in the lead) to entertain the crowd. This earned him the title of “The Drift King”.
He also competed in Civics, BMWs and Ford Sierras rapidly gaining a reputation as a formidable wheel man. It’s important to note that all along the way Tsuchiya competed against drivers who all came from wealthy backgrounds and thus enjoyed a considerable funding advantage.
By 1992 Tsuchiya-san had firmly established himself as a top racing driver and his services were in demand. He found himself driving the now famous Taisan GTR in Group A JTCC and was more often than not chasing for the lead. But this was still only a foundation for the greatness that would follow.
In 1994 Tsuchiya-san had received a call from Honda. They wanted to enter an NSX in the Le Mans 24 hour race and they wanted him to be one of the drivers. The team finished a credible 18th that year but returned the following year for a class win. With Tsuchiya behind the wheel, Honda also won the Tokachi 12 Hour race outright and finished 5th in the Suzuka 1000. This kicked off a relationship with Honda Racing that lasts until today.
Over the next few years Tsuchiya-san drove everything from Supras to Porsches and Dodge Vipers in JGTC. In 1997 he returned to Le Mans and qualified 10th in a Japanese-entered McLaren F1 but sadly the car failed to finish the race with mechanical issues, something that would make him a whole lot hungrier the following year.
By 1998 Toyota had launched a Sports Car development program to try to win in the LeMans 24hr. Despite being built by Team Toyota Europe, the car, known as the GT One, had an all-Japanese driver lineup with Keiichi Tsuchiya selected to drive alongside Ukyo Katayama and Toshiyo Suzuki. The team finished 9th outright on debut before returning the following year chasing an outright victory.
Once again Tsuchiya was selected to drive what was widely considered a winning car along with Ukyo Katayama. After battling for the lead with Mercedes and BMW, the car suffered a tyre failure forcing it into the pits. Consequently Katayama was unable to challenge for the lead and finished in second place behind the BMW.
From 2001-03 Tsuchiya-san competed behind the wheel of the Team Arta Honda NSX in Super GT. He retired from professional racing in 2003 but to this day remains heavily involved as the manager of Honda Racing Super GT.
In 2007 Tsuchiya-san was reunited with the legendary ARTA Honda NSX at Tsukuba circuit for a lap record attempt where he promptly lapped the circuit in 51.6 seconds some 1.2 seconds under the course record at the time.
Just like his Pluspy video 30 years earlier this clip was seen worldwide, this time serving as an inspiration to to the rapidly emerging sport of time attack racing. To date only one team has been able to better this time and that is Suzuki-san in the Scorch Racing S15 (it is worth noting the NSX time was set on slick tyres). The two Tsukuba champions will meet for the first at WTAC this year.
“We are both honoured and excited to have Tsuchiya-san at this year’s event,” said WTAC promoter, Ian Baker, “This is a once-in-a-life time opportunity to meet this legendary Japanese motorsport icon and see him in action.”
So what will Tsuchiya-san be doing at WTAC? When we spoke with him he said: I am keen to do anything, as long as it makes the fans happy!” And we intend to give him the tools to do just that! Stay tuned.
Images courtesy of Speedhunters.com
Yokohama World Time Attack Challenge. 14th – 15th October 2016. Sydney Motorsport Park.
Tickets go on sale June 1st. Don’t miss it!