- November 27, 1949
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A former racing driver Masanori Sekiya is one of only two Japanese drivers who won the 24 hours of Le Mans. Sekiya did it in 1995, partnering JJ Lehto and Yannick Dalmas in Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing's McLaren F1 GTR. Three years before that achievement, he finished second at Le Mans 24h in factory-entered Toyota TS010 prototype.
Besides being successful in the sports car racing, Sekiya is a two-time Japanese Touring Car champion, who won titles with Toyota in 1994 and 1998.
Late start of a racing career
Masanori Sekiya was born on November 27, 1949, in Ikawa, Shizuoka Prefecture. He started his racing career relatively late, competing in different series at Fuji Speedway (Fuji Long Distance Series or Fuji Grand Champion Series) between 1977 and 1981. His international career started in 1982, with his participation in the British Formula Atlantic Championship.
He returned to Japan in October 1982, to participate in Fuji 6 Hours, the seventh round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. He was driving Mazdaspeed's #14 Mazda RX-7, together with Tom Walkinshaw and Takashi Yorino, and they scored a victory in GTX class.
Daytona 24h debut in 1983
Later in the season, Sekiya and Hoshino were driving Team Tom's prototype in six races at Fuji and Suzuka, including a Japanese round of the World Endurance Championship. Sekiya had a similar program in 1984, but his partner in the FIA WEC race at Fuji, in the cockpit of Dome Motorsport's Dome 84C-Toyota, was the Swedish driver Eje Elgh.
1985 - first JSPC season and Le Mans debut with Toyota
In 1985, Masanori entered the full season of the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship for the first time, driving Tom's 85C-Toyota prototype and finishing sixth in the points. His partners were Satoru Nakajima and Kaoru Hoshino. In June 1985, the same trio participated at 24h Le Mans for the first time. They finished 12th in the general classification.
Tom's team returned to Le Mans in 1986, with Masanori Sekiya, Satoru Nakajima and Geoff Lees in the #36 Tom's 86C prototype. They retired after 105 laps due to engine failure. In 1986, Sekiya continued to drive in the Japanese Sport-Prototype Championship, but also participated for the first time in the Touring Car Championship, driving Toyota Corolla FX.
1987 - return to formulas, DNFs at Le Mans and Spa
One more disappointing Le Mans attempt followed in 1987. Sekiya, Kaoru Hoshino and Tiff Needel were racing for only 39 laps with Toyota 87C prototype before the engine broke. In the Japanese Sport-Prototype Championship, Sekiya scored two wins and finished 4th in the points.
Sekiya also returned to the open-wheel racing, participating in the Japanese Formula 3000 with Leyton House Racing, finishing 10th in the points after eight races. He also participated in the 24 hours of Spa, that was a part of the World Touring Car Championship. His co-drivers in the #113 Toyota Corolla GT were Tiff Needell and Phil Dowsett.
Combining three motorsport disciplines
In 1988, Sekiya was again involved in three different prototype racing series, Formula 3000 and touring cars. Le Mans race was again on his schedule, for the fourth time in a row with Toyota Team Tom's. This time, his co-drivers in the #36 Toyota 88C were Kaoru Hoshino and Geoff Lees. They were 12th in the final classification.
In 1989, prototypes, Formula 3000 and touring cars were again in the middle of Sekiya's interest. However, a big change happened when he left Toyota to join Porsche in the Japanese and World Sports-Prototype Championship.
Driving Porsche 962 CK6 in Japan and WSC
In Japan, he was driving Porsche 962 CK6 for Leyton House Racing, scoring one win and finishing ninth in the points. In the WSC races, but also at Le Mans, Sekiya joined Porsche Kremer Racing. His Le Mans adventure lasted for only 42 laps before #11 Porsche 962 CK6 retired after an accident. Sekiya's co-drivers at Le Mans were George Fouche and Hideki Okada.
In the 1989 Japanese Touring Car Championship, Sekiya took the 4th place with Toyota Supra Turbo. He was also fourth in the points in the 1989 Japanese Formula 3000.
Sekiya reunited with Toyota in 1990
For the 1990 season, Sekiya reunited with Toyota Team Tom's. With one victory, he finished 13th in the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship. At Le Mans, he was again in the #36 car. This time, it was a new Toyota 90C-V prototype. Together with Geoff Lees and Hitoshi Ogawa, he finished sixth in the overall classification, which was his career-best result at Le Mans in that time.
In 1991, Sekiya continued to push three parallel championships, driving prototypes and touring cars for Toyota, while in the Formula 3000 he was still driving for Leyton House Racing. He was very successful with prototypes, sharing the car with Hitoshi Ogawa and finishing as the championship runner-up, behind Nismo's Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Toshio Suzuki.
Second place for Masanori at 1992 Le Mans 24h
Sekiya missed Le Mans in 1991 but returned in 1992, scoring a sensational podium. His partners in the #33 Toyota TS010 were Kenny Acheson and Pierre-Henri Raphanel. They finished second, six laps behind the winning crew in the Peugeot 905 Evo. Out of three competitions, in which he participated during 1992, Sekiya was again the most successful in the Prototypes Championship, finishing third in the points, together with Raphanel.
One more notable result at Le Mans followed in 1993, with Toyota TS010 prototype and he finished in fourth place, behind three dominating factory-entered Peugeot 905 Evo prototypes. Sekiya's co-drivers in that race were Eddie Irvine and Toshio Suzuki.
Japanese Touring Car Champion in 1994
After many years of competing in multiple championships, Masanori Sekiya chose only one competition for the 1994 season. It was the Japanese Touring Car Championship. He was driving Toyota Corona E for Toyota Team Tom's, scoring three wins in 18 races and taking his first championship trophy in a career. He beat his main competitors Tom Kristensen and Steve Soper by one and three points respectively.
Next year, Sekiya repeated three wins in the Japanese Touring Car Championship, but the title went to Steve Soper. Sekiya also participated in the Japanese GT Championship, driving Toyota Supra. He won one race and finished sixth in the points.
1995 Le Mans victory with McLaren F1 GTR
The highlight of the 1995 season was Sekiya's return to Le Mans, as a member of Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing team, together with two former F1 drivers Yannick Dalmas and JJ Lehto. An international combination of youth and experience was victorious. The #59 McLaren G1 GTR crossed the finish line one lap ahead of Courage Competition's crew and two laps ahead of another McLaren.
Lehto and Sekiya scored their maiden wins at Circuit de la Sarthe but the success was even more special because Sekiya became the first ever Japanese driver who won Le Mans race. For a long time, he was the only one until Seiji Ara reached the top podium spot in 2004 with Audi.
Toyota's official driver in touring cars and GT championships
In 1996, Masanori competed with Toyota cars in the Japanese GT and Touring Car championships, scoring no wins. He also joined Opel Team Joest for three races of the FIA International Touring Car Championship, driving the Opel Calibra V6. At 24h Le Mans, Sekiya joined Team SARD Toyota, alongside two fellow Japanese drivers Hidetoshi Mitsusada and Masami Kageyama. They were driving GT1-class Toyota Supra LM and they retired after 205 laps.
In 1997, Sekiya was the most successful in the Japanese GT Championship, finishing third in the GT500 class. He was driving Toyota Supra together with Toshio Suzuki. In the Japanese Touring Car Championship, he reached only one podium and finished 13th in the points.
Last Le Mans participation with McLaren F1 GTR
The 1997 Le Mans 24h was his last race at Circuit de la Sarthe. Sekiya was again in the cockpit of McLaren F1 GTR, driving for Gulf Team Davidoff. His co-drivers were Ray Bellm and Andrew Gilbert-Scott, they retired after 326 laps.
In 1998, Masanori Sekiya and Norberto Fontana were sharing Toyota Supra in the Japanese GT Championship, but without victories, they were only sixth in the points.
1998 - one more Japanese Touring Car Championship trophy
Sekiya's main competition in 1998 was the Japanese Touring Car Championship, with Toyota Chaser of Toyota Team Tom's. He won six out of eleven races, clinching his second championship title at the age of 49.
With a championship trophy in his pocket, Sekiya left touring cars and focused only to GT racing in 1999. Together with Takuya Kurosawa, he was one of the front-runners, winning two races and finishing second in the final classification of GT500 class. The champion was Nismo's Erik Comas.
Managing duties and racing school in a post-race career
The 2000 Japanese GT Championship season was Sekiya's last year of racing. His co-driver in the final season was Takeshi Tsuchiya. They missed podiums and wins with #36 Toyota Supra and finished seventh in the points. At the end of the season, Masanori retired from professional racing. After that, he was working as a team manager for the Toyota Team Tom's but he also runs a racing school at Fuji Speedway.
It's interesting that Sekiya has good memories from Le Mans not only because of his victory but also because he got married there in 1987, prior to the race.