Nissan’s Kohei Hirate supports Yokohama to win races

Nissan’s Kohei Hirate says he’s confident the Yokohama tire he’ll be racing in this year’s SUPER GT is capable of winning races following his surprise move to Kondo Racing.

Two-time GT500 Champion Hirate has spent the past three seasons racing for the No.3 NDDP/B-Max team on Michelin tires since joining Nissan in 2019.

However, for the 2022 campaign, Nissan has opted to place Hirate in Kondo while moving Mitsunori Takaboshi in the opposite direction to join Katsumasa Chiyo in the #3 car.

Yokohama hasn’t won a GT500 race since 2016 but showed improved performance last year, scoring two pole positions with the Racing Project Bandoh Toyota team and a front row lockout at Motegi.

That has given Hirate some hope that he and Kondo teammate Daiki Sasaki can enjoy a competitive season aboard the only of Nissan’s four all-new Zs in Yokohamas.

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“Honestly we’ve developed competitive tires and formed a good team over the last three seasons, so I wanted to continue for another season [in car #3] to see the results,” Hirate told Motorsport.com.

“But by switching to car #24 and using Yokohama tires for the first time, I thought it was going to be a very challenging year and I was able to take the news positively. When I ran a different tire last year, I could see the potential of Yokohama.

“The tire is fast in qualifying and at high downforce tracks like Suzuka they can handle the tires well. So I think if we can continue to develop those strengths then we will have chances to win.”

The highlight of Kondo Racing’s 2021 season was third place at Suzuka

Hirate also believes that SUPER GT’s anticipated move towards more endurance racing on the 2022 calendar could play to the strengths of the Yokohama tire.

“All three [450km] The races are held in relatively warm conditions, which is a strength of Yokohama, so I think it’s a positive format for us,” he said.

Takaboshi, meanwhile, is targeting a first GT500 win after being placed alongside Chiyo at NDDP for his first top-level campaign at something other than Yokohamas.

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“In four years with Kondo Racing, I feel sorry for the team that we only had one podium finish and didn’t win a race,” Takaboshi told Motorsport.com. “Personally, I felt powerless and disappointed.

“Nevertheless, I was rated high enough by NISMO to switch to car #3, so I want to use what I’ve learned at Kondo Racing and eliminate my regrets.

“First of all, the goal with the team isn’t so much the title as just winning a race. If we can’t win a race then the championship is a long way away so I want to win a race first and then the championship.”

Nissan COO Motohiro Matsumura also explained the rationale behind the Hirate and Takaboshi swap, noting that the move is part of a longer-term strategy for the brand.

“We didn’t make the decision based on performance over the last year, but based on the car development skills and career advancement,” Matsumura told Motorsport.com.

“Takaboshi has already ridden on Yokohama tires for four seasons and I think he needs the experience of a different tire. This is one of the main reasons to research this.

“At the same time, Yokohama still needs to develop their tires and I think Hirate is one of the strongest when it comes to development skills. We look at our long term success in terms of training, vehicle performance and everything.”

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