As RJN Motorsport prepare for their return to the Blancpain Sprint Cup at Misano this weekend, they do so with an important component of last year’s Endurance Cup-winning team absent. Much has rightfully been made of Wolfgang Reip’s departure and subsequent signing for Bentley, but it was the decision made by the NISMO hierarchy to promote Katsumasa Chiyo to a role in the brand’s GT500 line-up in Super GT that will perhaps resonate more with fans.
A softly-spoken figure out of the car he may be, but once inside it, the 28-year-old Japanese was a giant, who achieved near-cult hero status for propelling Godzilla to a mesmerising victory at Bathurst in 2015, before thrilling the Australian crowds again this year with a pass on the grass on Mountain Straight. Chiyo was also popular character within the RJN team, as RJN boss Bob Neville revealed to Racing.GT.
“He had that essence about him that people would get behind, and it didn’t matter whether you were a journalist, media, or a fan,” said Neville. “He is a really very pleasant and easy-going guy, he fitted in with the team and with the mechanics, so he will be missed. We really enjoyed working with him, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job in GT500.”
In his place, Nismo have placed 23-year-old Mitsunori Takaboshi with Alex Buncombe, and Neville is optimistic that his new charge can fill the void after an initial period of adapting to a completely different style of racing than he is used to.
“We certainly hope he can be [a like for like replacement], but you have to remember that Chiyo did two years and the first year was very much a learning year in Europe before he really came really good last year. Takaboshi is very young and this is his first year, so we’re not expecting miracles, but I’ve been to Japan and seen him testing, so I know he’s got great raw talent and speed; it’s not as if the car is new to him either as he’s driven GT300 in Japan.
“NISMO have a Driver Development Programme and they very much appreciate that European racing is a key point of furthering the careers of their young drivers, so we’re looking forward to helping in his career.”