JGTC Champion Richard Lyons
dailysportscar.comAt the recent JGTC-USA race, it was difficult to be allowed the time to speak with the drivers, but Nissan was 'generous enough' to offer 10 minutes with one of the 2004 JGTC Drivers Champions, Irishman Richard Lyons – writes Gary Horrocks.

Besides winning the JGTC title in 2004, Richard was also the Formula Nippon (F3000) series champion. So, why race in Japan?

“I went to Japan to get the opportunity to work with a manufacturer. There (here), they feel it is important to promote their product with racing and it gives me the opportunity to live with a good life style. It’s been quite good for me.”

Lyons also feels that racing in Japan is a more fair or level playing field. “Here in Japan, it all depends on how good a driver you are. In Europe, you need funding to compete.”

About the JGTC, Richard feels that “this is the best in the world. There is nothing close in GT racing anywhere. The manufacturer interest is strong and because of that, their backing is very strong.”

dailysportscar.comBut, no matter how strong he feels the JGTC to be, he still wants his career path to be directed towards open wheeled cars. “I’m only 25 years old. I feel I have a healthy future for me, as I’m still young enough. I think I have the time and ability to still make it into F1 or into Champ Cars in the really near future.”

He got his start in open wheeled cars in 1996, after starting in karts when he was nine. This path has brought him to be the champion - in an open wheeled series that has seen the likes of both Michael and Ralf Schumacher perform.

It was in 2001 that he first tried his hand at sportscar racing, when he drove a McLaren F1 GTR in the Suzuka 1000km. From that start, he signed for a full season in 2002 with the Dome-Mugen team, in the JGTC. In 2003, he signed with NISMO and co-drove with Masami Kageyama, when Masami won the Drivers Championship.

That season was the last year Nissan raced the all conquering Skyline. While racing that machine, they were also developing the 350 Z, which took over as the car for 2004. In essence, owing to allowances in the rules, the Z is a front / mid-engined car with a transaxle, motivated by a 2.5 liter, twin turbo V-6, restricted to 500 HP. The development obviously went well, as the results indicate.

Despite the California race only being an exhibition, Richard stared that “this is a big event for us. It is the first time for the series to race in the United States and we need to show who’s boss. In fact, we were told to win, no matter the cost.”

Unfortunately for those of us watching, we never got to see how competitive Richard could be in the race, as damage put the #1 out very early. He was quickest in every practice and qualifying session though, demonstrating the confidence that a championship title (or two) can bring.

It is stating the obvious that the US market is very important to the Japanese manufacturers, and by all indications, the series will be back again next year, under the Super GT name. Whether Richard will be part of that is yet to be seen, but given his ambition, that could be doubtful (on the top step after Round 6 of the JGTC, below).

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