Team SARD - more than three decades among the best


February 18, 2017
Featured, Spotlight
Ian McLeigh


  • Team SARD, racing since 1985
  • Sard MC8-R in 1996
  • Team SARD Morand, 2015 FIA WEC
  • Kohei Hirate and Heikki Kovalainen - 2016 Super GT champions

The Team SARD is a Japanese racing team which competes in different Japanese and international competitions since 1985. SARD is an abbreviated name for Sigma Advanced Racing Development.

The team SARD was founded in 1985, becoming an independent company from its mother-company Sigma Automotive. The greatest success in team’s history were two class wins at 24 hours of Le Mans (1993, 1994) and championship title in the 2016 Japanese Super GT Series.

Shin Kato founded Sigma Automotive in 1972

Sigma Automotive was founded in 1972 by Shin Kato, based in Toyota city in Aichi prefecture. Sigma acted as a racing team and builder of motorsport related parts and accessories. Sigma’s first competition was the Fuji Grand Champion Series, which was exclusively held at Fuji Speedway and lasted from 1971 to 1989.

Sigma Automotives Mazda at 1974 Le Mans 24h

Sigma Automotives Mazda at 1974 Le Mans 24h

1973 Le Mans debut for Japanese car

In June 1973, Sigma Automotive debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, running the Sigma MC73 prototype powered by Mazda 2.3-litre Wankel rotary engine. It was the first Japanese car to qualify for Le Mans, as well as the first Wankel-powered car to race there.

The #26 car didn’t finish the race due to electrical problems. The team returned to Le Mans two more times, in 1974 with the Wankel-powered car and in 1975 using Toyota’s engine, not scoring notable results.

Return to world’s motorsport scene in 1989

After participating in national competitions only for more than a decade, SARD returned to the international motorsport in 1989, entering the World Sports Car Championship as Toyota Team SARD. The team debuted in the first WSC round at Suzuka with Toyota 89C-V prototype. Drivers were Roland Ratzenberger and Keiichi Suzuki.

The #22 Toyota 93C-V took first class win at Le Mans for SARD

The #22 Toyota 93C-V took first class win at Le Mans for SARD

Two wins in the Japanese Sports Prototype Championship

It was SARD’s only WSC outing, as it continued to compete in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, with Ratzenberger and Suzuki as full-time drivers. Next year, in 1990 All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, the team scored its first victory, with Roland Ratzenberger and Naoki Nagasaka winning the season-closing race at Fuji Speedway. One more win was recorded in 1991 at Suzuka Circuit, with Pierre-Henri Raphanel as a co-driver to Ratzenberger and Nagasaka in the Toyota 91C-V.

Class victory at 1993 Le Mans 24h

In that period, between 1989 and 1992, Toyota Team SARD returned to Le Mans two times. In 1990, the #38 Toyota 90C-V didn’t finish the race. In 1992, the #34 Toyota 92C-V finished ninth overall and second in C2 class. The drivers were Roland Ratzenberger, Eje Elgh and Eddie Irvine.

In 1993, the great success at Le Mans followed. SARD raced at Circuit Le Mans with #22 Toyota 93C-V, finishing fifth overall and taking C2 class victory. Drivers were Roland Ratzenberger, Mauro Martini and Naoki Nagasaka.

SARD's Toyota 94C-V at 1994 Le Mans 24h

SARD’s Toyota 94C-V at 1994 Le Mans 24h

One more Le Mans class win in 1994

In 1994, SARD returned to Le Mans with Toyota 94C-V. Roland Ratzenberger was originally scheduled to drive for the team but he tragically lost his life at Formula 1’s San Marino Grand Prix, in the event when Ayrton Senna was killed too. Eddie Irvine took his place on the team, and Ratzenberger’s name was left on the car in tribute.

The #1 Toyota finished second overall, behind Joest Racing’s Dauer 962, taking a victory in LMP1/C90 class. Drivers were Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff.

Two different GT1 cars at Le Mans in 1995 and 1996

In 1995, SARD participated at Le Mans 24h with two different GT1 cars. The first one was the #27 Toyota Supra LM, which finished 14th overall, driven by Jeff Krosnoff, Marco Apicella and Mauro Martini. The second car was the #26 Sard MC8-R, the self-developed version of Toyota MR2. It lasted for just 14 laps.

A year later, in 1996, SARD came to Le Mans with the same cars. This time, MC8-R was more successful, finishing  24th overall, while another car retired.

Sard MC8-R in 1996

Sard MC8-R in 1996

Switching to JGTC from 1993

With the demise of World Sportscar Championship for Group C prototypes in 1993, SARD switched its focus on the newly formed Japanese Grand Touring Championship (JGTC), today is known as Super GT Series. The team is still active in that competition.

SARD’s first car in JGTC was Toyota Supra. The first success came in 1997, when Masami Kageyama won two races and finished second in the final GT500 standings, tied in points with champions Michael Krumm and Pedro de la Rosa.

Second place in the last JGTC season

During the years, some world known drivers competed for Team SARD in the Japanese GT championship, such were Ralph Firman, Romain Dumas, Andre Couto, Ronnie Quintarelli

After five years without wins in the JGTC, Manabu Orido and Dominik Schwager won the race with #39 Toyota Supra at Autopolis in 2003. With two more podiums, they finished sixth in the points. Next year, Andre Couto and Jeremie Dufour also won one race, at Sepang. At the end of the season, they were the championship runner-ups, behind Nismo’s Satoshi Motoyama and Richard Lyons.

Seven years of waiting for Super GT victory

The 2004 JGTC season was the last with an old name, as the series was renamed to Super GT in 2005. In 2009, the Team SARD switched from Toyota Supra to Lexus SC430. After many years of not so good results, with occasional podiums, the first Super GT victory came in 2012 at Fuji Speedway. Hiroaki Ishiura and Juichi Wakisaka won the race with #39 Lexus SC430. At the end of the season, they were 3rd in drivers’ standings.

In 2014, the new regulations were adopted and Team SARD switched to Lexus RC F, with Hiroaki Ishiura and Oliver Jarvis as full-time drivers. In 2015, both drivers were changed with Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate joining the team.

Kohei Hirate and Heikki Kovalainen - 2016 Super GT champions

Kohei Hirate and Heikki Kovalainen – 2016 Super GT champions

Kovalainen & Hirate – 2016 Super GT champions

The former F1 driver was adapting to new competition in 2015, finishing 13th in the points. Then, in 2016, Kovalainen and Hirate became the Super GT champions with Team SARD #39 Lexus RC F. They took the title with podium and victory at season’s finale at Twin Ring Motegi.

In the 2016 Super GT season, SARD was also a partner to Team Taisan in GT300 class, running the #26 Audi R8 LMS.

Team SARD Morand's car in the 2015 World Endurance Championship

Team SARD Morand’s car in the 2015 World Endurance Championship

2015 FIA WEC participation with Morand Racing

Besides racing in Japan, SARD  returned to international racing in 2015, partnering Swiss team Morand Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship season. The Team SARD Morand was running the #43 Morgan-Judd prototype in LMP2 class, debuting in the second round of the championship at Spa-Francorchamps.

Oliver Webb and Pierre Ragues were the full-time drivers, other drivers were Zoel Amberg, Archie Hamilton and Chris Cumming.  The team scored a podium in their debut at Spa, finishing in the third place. It was the only podium for the #43 team and they finished 5th among LMP2 teams. At 24 hours of Le Mans, the team retired after 162 laps.

Photos: motorsport.com, lemans.org,

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