Mugen joins ARTA for Two-Car Honda Super GT Superteam
Written by Gen Flauta, Edited by Simran Kanthi
It has been a month since the 2022 Super GT season has wrapped up. However, that doesn't stop teams and manufacturers from making bold announcements. Honda has announced its Super GT driver line-up for the 2023 season and the biggest shake-up happens to be Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA), which is run by ex-F1 driver Aguri Suzuki. Alongside its #8 NSX-GT car, ARTA is also taking over the #16 car run by Team Mugen (M-Tec Co. Ltd.), effectively joining forces as a two-car operation.
However, it isn't the first time that ARTA has run a two-car team effort as it has previously partnered with Dome under the short-lived "Honda Racing" banner during the 2005-2006 seasons. Both parties later went their separate ways after ARTA clinched the GT500 title in 2007. ARTA then partnered with Servus, which operated as a one-car team throughout its 15-year period and has never achieved its main goal of replicating the title success it had in 2007, with their best finish in the championship at 2nd during the 2020 season. Their last season together this year endured a very difficult campaign, with the team finished 12th in the championship standings despite winning a race in the 2nd round in Fuji during the Golden Week (Japan's week-long holiday) this May.
As they formed a new partnership with Team Mugen, ARTA will rejoin an elite club of two-car GT500 teams, as Nissan's NISMO squad runs the #3 and #23 Z GT500s, while TOM's from the Toyota umbrella running the #36 and #37 GR Supra GT500s. On top of that, the "superteam" will now be able to enjoy a new synergy between the two, while also effectively solving the separate issues that they encountered in the past. ARTA will finally gain new technical support from Mugen for the #8 car after losing its patience with the long-serving Servus, while Mugen and its #16 car will finally switch from Dunlop to Bridgestone that ARTA currently uses, following Mugen's growing frustrations with the Dunlop tyres for the past two seasons, where one of the incidents cost them a strong result in the third round at Suzuka this season.
Also, another major shuffle is its driver line-up, with the two-time Super Formula champion Tomoki Nojiri pairing with Toshiki Oyu for the #8 car, while Norei Fukuzumi will lead the #16 car along with his new co-driver Hiroki Otsu, who previously raced for the #64 car run by Modulo Nakajima Racing. This pretty much confirms the departure of Ukyo Sasahara from the Honda squad, who last drove for the #16 Red Bull Mugen car alongside with Oyu. The duo clinched their last podium in the sixth round in Sugo Sportsland this September. Sasahara is expected to transfer to Toyota Gazoo Racing and pair with Giuliano Alesi for the #36 car run by TOM'S.
However, as ARTA will now run two NSX GT500 cars next year, this effectively ends their GT300 operation, in which they have recently run the #55 ARTA NSX driven by Hideki Mutoh and Iori Kimura, where the duo clinched their first and only race victory in the final round of the season in Motegi this November after starting from pole position. This victory was the perfect way to celebrate the final race for ARTA in the GT300 class, as well as for Mutoh as he retired from the Super GT series this season. ARTA clinched its only GT300 title in 2019 when it was previously driven by Shinichi Takagi and Fukuzumi.
ARTA, together with Mugen, has now become the unofficial de-facto flagship team of the Honda squad, as they seek their GT500 title glory since 2007, as well as Mugen looking to taste its first title together with ARTA since 2000 under the All-Japan GT Championship (JGTC) banner with ARTA's previous partner Dome.