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The Dream Lives On

16 dicembre 2019

Tatsuya Otani

The Car Guy team from Japan won the Asian Le Mans Series at their first attempt, and are leading the table this year too. We hear team owner Takeshi Kimura's amazing story

Tokyo-based businessman Takeshi Kimura - owner of the Car Guy racing team – first entered the Asian Le Mans Series on what he describes as a whim. After winning his first race he didn't look back, winning all four races in the series. Just four months later he entered the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans, and placed. It was a kind of racing fairytale, one that began in October 2018, at Monza in Italy. Kimura, as the owner of a Ferrari 488 Challenge, had been invited by Ferrari to test the 488 GT3.

“The car’s stability was just wonderful” he recalled. “In the way it sticks to the surface of the road, it’s like a water beetle skimming across a pond.” At the end of that practise day, Kimura felt himself hanging around, not wanting that special occasion to end. In the hospitality area he spotted a copy of the Ferrari Yearbook laying on a table. Leafing through it, he found a piece on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And he was smitten. So he contacted Ferrari with a proposal: if he could enter the Asian Le Mans Series then he'd be willing to purchase a 488 GT3. Initially the Ferrari crew thought there was far too little time to prepare.

But, after thoughtful consideration, they accepted the challenge. So Kimura bought a 488 GT3 and entered the Asian Le Mans with the full backing of the AF Corse set-up. Kimura’s Italian-Japanese teammate and advisor, Kei Cozzolino, says, “Normally you buy a car, test it, do all the set-up, and then enter the race. But AF Corse was able to prepare everything perfectly from the start. We just had to drive normally without making any mistakes, and the results came naturally.”

Still, claiming the title at the first attempt seemed like some kind of miracle. After that, Kimura and Cozzolino made preparations for the Circuit de le Sarthe, home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There were new challenges. Unlike the GT3, the GTE spec 488 has no ABS, so the tyres can lock up if control of the brakes isn’t delicate enough. Nonetheless, Kimura was able to prepare himself with five days of testing at Monza.

The Le Mans course layout has almost no escape zones, with a distinctive road shape that is higher at its centre. With the additional presence of LMP1 cars that can quickly zoom up from behind on the straights, Kimura was overwhelmed by challenges that he had not faced in other races. To make matters worse, he came down with a bout of bronchitis. Nevertheless, Kimura, Cozzolino, and third driver Côme Ledogar, managed to drive for 24 hours at a constant pace with no misses, and finished in fifth place in the GT Am class, only two laps behind the winner. Kimura insists: “If I had been in better condition and a little more accustomed to the course… winning would have been possible.”

Now that he’d completed the 24 Hours of Le Mans, what was his next target? “I’d like to race in the WEC. Of course, I have a business to run so it won’t be easy, but it’s a dream I hope to realise some day.” This current ALMS season saw a disappointing first race in Shanghai last November. But, with typical tenacity, the Car Guy team made up for that in the second race of the series, in Australia in January, when they dominated the GT class at The Bend Motorsport Park, notching up a hard-fought victory. Car Guy currently lead the classification. The dream lives on.

16 dicembre, 2019