Natori replaces Fujinami at Kondo Nissan for Super GT 2023 season
Ex-FIA F3 racer Natori replaces two-time series champion Kiyoto Fujinami at the wheel of Kondo’s #56 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for the upcoming campaign.
It follows Fujinami’s surprise absence from Nissan’s initial driver announcement late last month, which came mere days after he had been seen at the wheel of Kondo’s GT500 car during manufacturer testing at Suzuka.
In that announcement, the identity of de Oliveira’s teammate in the #56 car was listed as ‘TBA’, suggesting that Fujinami was in danger of losing his Nissan drive entirely.
Natori was subsequently spotted driving for Kondo alongside de Oliveira in a GTA-organised test for GT300 cars at Fuji Speedway last week.
The former Honda junior driver returns to SUPER GT full-time after a year mostly spent on the sidelines, which followed the late collapse of a deal to race for the Trident team in FIA Formula 2.
Natori had previously driven for the UpGarage Honda squad in 2021, the same year that he won the Super Formula Lights title.
He is thought to have turned down the chance to drive for Nissan GT300 team Gainer last year as he pursued a drive in F2, but nonetheless forged a relationship with the marque last year with a series of outings in Super Taikyu.
Natori was also handed the chance to sample a Nissan GT500 car in the marque’s annual driver shootout test at Fuji in December.
NISMO has yet to issue any official comment on the status of its relationship with Fujinami, but is believed to have gone back on its initial decision to promote him to a GT500 drive amid allegations that the 27-year-old was involved in a violent incident with one of the drivers of his ‘KF Motorsport’ team.
Before that, Fujinami had been expected to step up to Kondo’s GT500 entry in place of Kohei Hirate, who has been handed a reprieve to stay alongside Daiki Sasaki for a second season.
#56 Realize Nissan Mechanic Challenge GT-R
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
The other three cars in the Nissan GT500 stable were all confirmed to have unchanged driver pairings for 2023 in last month’s announcement, in which Gainer’s line-ups for its pair of GT-Rs in the GT300 class were also confirmed.
Tomei Sport will continue in GT300 with an unchanged line-up of Takayuki Aoki and Atsushi Tanaka, while NILZZ Racing will also return to the secondary SUPER GT division for another season, but with its driver pairing yet to be announced.
Intriguingly, the famous Calsonic name has disappeared from the livery of the title-winning Impul GT500 team, with its new parent company Marelli taking its place on the ‘blue’ car.
There is a similar change at NDDP which will have a new title sponsor in Niterra – the rebranded NGK Spark Plus company – following the departure of its previous partner Craftsport. However, the car will continue to carry the famous red colour of NISMO.