It seems a little hard to believe that an institution in Japanese endurance racing has finally come to an end. The eponymous RX-7 as campaigned by Isami Amemiya's RE: Amemiya Racing outfit recently ran its swansong event, the JAF Grand Prix Fuji Sprint Cup. The team will be back in 2011, though with a different (as yet unannounced) machine – expected to be an RX-8.
The RE: Amemiya-developed Mazda RX-7 first appeared in the JGTC (All-Japan Grand Touring car Championship) in 1995 and quickly became a fan-favourite.
Amemiya-san's never-say-die attitude, immense skill with Wankel engines (the man himself still works on each and every race engine) and relentless hard work has paid off massively, his team becoming known as giant-killers in SUPER GT's highly-competitive GT300 class.
Over the seasons the RX-7 went through a number of different liveries and driver lineups, though one constant was the steadily-improving race and championship table' results. The picture above is from the 2006 season when then-drivers Tetsuya Yamano and Hiroyuki Iiri won the GT300 title after taking 2nd at the Suzuka season-opener before winning at Sepang and then coming 2nd once again in Round 8 at Autopolis.
Three years into the rotary engine-powered RX-7's long SUPER GT career, 1997 saw drivers Shinichi Yamaji and Haruhiko Matsumoto take 7th in the hotly-contested class, before the same pairing earned their first race podium the following season.
In 1999, 13-time All-Japan Gymkhana Champion Tetsuya Yamano was drafted into the team, he and Matsumoto scoring a pair of 2nd-place finishes on the way to 5th in the title hunt, the team's best result to that point.
Yamano continued for two more seasons, netting another 5th in the championship in 2000 (with three podiums, including one 2nd place) before a huge breakthrough the following year when, in their third season together, the Yamano/Matsumoto duo took the team's first victory in Round 3 at Sportsland SUGO.
The 2002 season saw Nobuteru Taniguchi replace Yamano, appearing in Rounds 1, 4 and 7 – including victory at Sepang where he shared the car with long-time driver Hiroyuki Matsumoto.
2004 saw one of the team's original drivers Shinichi Yamaji back in the car, teamed up with Hiroyuki Iiri. The pairing had a hugely successful season together, winning both Rounds 3 (Sepang) and 6 (Autopolis) – two of the most challenging tracks on the SUPER GT calendar.
The Yamaji/Iiri pairing contunied in 2005, though the team's best result was in the season-opener at Okayama where they scored 2nd.
After taking the title in 2006 with returnee driver Tetsuya Yamano, 2007 saw Iiri joined by Ryo Orime. It was a less than successful season when the car ended the year 20th in the title fight.
A return to form was well under way as 2008 dawned, the team taking pole position, fastest lap and victory in the season-opener at Suzuka. They finished the season in 7th place.
In 2009 Hiroyuki Iiri was replaced by former driver Nouteru Taniguchi, and a new title sponsor in Malaysia's M7 Mutara Motors. The Taniguchi/Orime pairing provided the team with its most consistent season ever, taking six podiums from nine rounds, including three 2nd-place finishes. The RE: Amemiya squad took 2nd in the title chase.
This past season was the third for the Taniguchi/Orime duo. They finished 3rd in the Driver's standings after wins at Suzuka and Sepang, topping off a truly remarkable 16-season career for the Mazda RX-7 in one of the most demanding series the world over.
The success and longevity of the RE: Amemiya team in SUPER GT is proof positive that hard work can earn the ultimate glory. The team is one of the most consistent and well-respected in the GT300 class, no mean feat for a private outfit that acts and performs like a factory-backed squad every time they hit the track.
- Len Clarke