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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Mariani: Two-Year JAS/Honda Factory Effort “Reached” Targets

JAS Motorsport satisfied with outcome of two-year Honda factory entry; future IGTC options open…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

The JAS Motorsport-run Honda factory race program “reached” its targets in two planned seasons of Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli competition, according to team principal Alessandro Mariani.

JAS Motorsport is prioritizing its support of European Honda NSX GT3 Evo customers and a young driver program this year after directing the single-car factory Honda IGTC effort in 2019 and 2020.

The deal to run the works Honda only covered the two most recent IGTC campaigns, while JAS CEO Mariani has declared that the venture met its main targets of challenging for top results and showcasing the car to potential customers around the world.

Honda finished fifth in last year’s IGTC manufacturers’ standings behind the multi-car setups from Porsche, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-AMG, while its full-season drivers Renger van der Zande and Mario Farnbacher placed fifth in their championship.

The season included a podium at the inaugural Indianapolis 8 Hour, a second consecutive top-ten finish at the Total 24 Hours of Spa and a dominant run at the Kyalami 9 Hour where the Honda team led from pole until a dramatic storm upturned the order late on.

“Originally in the end of 2018, when Honda decided to enter the Intercontinental championship, the program [was] approved for two years,” Mariani told Sportscar365.

“So we already knew before, last year in Kyalami it was the last race.

“They made the two years campaign just to show to all the world the real potential of the car with a factory team.

“Despite some unlucky events – Kyalami last of all but not only – we showed that the car could stay in the top quite easily.

“Of course we had a lack of experience at the beginning because JAS had never attended a 24-hour race in GT3 before. So the first race in 2018 with the Pro-Am team, with [Riccardo] Patrese and [Loic] Depailler, was just the beginning.

“Without any pressure we could start to understand the long-distance races which are of course totally different from WTCC, WTCR and sprint races.

“So we had to create our background about that, and I am proud to say that in Kyalami the driver management and strategy worked very well and we did a massive job to prepare ourselves to compete with the top teams with much more experience than us.

“The target has been reached. Now I think Honda is considering a new strategy for the future considering the Formula 1 position, and we are waiting for some programs for the future. But nothing has been decided yet up to now.”

Mariani explained that the factory IGTC program was a “good challenge” to “prove” the NSX GT3 and its Evo variant’s capabilities in front of potential customers, considering Honda’s 2017 category debut came much later than the other established GT3 brands.

“We matched a difficult situation in the market, because the market was already full of good cars,” he suggested. “It was a good challenge to prove the car.

“We have shown that the NSX GT3 is a really good car: reliable, strong. We showed it. In Europe, for 2021, we are much better than before. So it works.”

JAS, which is responsible for building and distributing Honda’s GT3 cars in Europe, has gained two new NSX customers for this year.

Nova Race has two cars signed up for the Italian GT Championship, while German competitor Dominik Fugel is contesting ADAC GT Masters. There is also a full-season International GT Open entry confirmed for returning customer driver Jens Reno Moller.

The Nova Race and Reno Racing projects will integrate members of the JAS Motorsport ‘Driver Development Programme’ which was launched last summer for GT3 and TCR.

“Our main mission is to service our customers on behalf of Honda,” said Mariani. “We support the teams with personnel and knowledge.

“To increase the attention about our car, we invented the Driver Development Programme.

“Last weekend at Monza [Italian GT] we had the confirmation that the program is a good idea because the drivers were very competitive. Of course they are young drivers, so you can modify and improve their career working on all sides which are important.

“Talent is common now. The difference is the preparation, commitment and dedication in the training.”

Honda’s Future IGTC Presence Unclear

The end of the two-year Honda factory team commitment has raised questions about whether the manufacturer will be represented in the global IGTC series at all this year.

Mariani suggested that the shortened 2021 calendar, which has forgone the traditional February trip to Bathurst and includes a Gulf round in place of the Suzuka 10 Hours, provides a more attractive proposition for a single team to run a full-season program.

However, he stressed that nothing is confirmed at this point on both the factory and customer racing fronts, with any JAS activity ultimately hinging on a call from Honda.

When asked if there might be the potential for JAS to support a customer-oriented Honda IGTC entry, Mariani said: “Now it’s becoming a bit late, but this is an opportunity.

“Remember that GT3 is a customer program generally, and we are not Honda. We service Honda. So the final decision has to be taken by Honda.

“For instance, Honda is very happy with the customer programs. The main target was to sell as many cars as possible and we did it, so again this is our target.

He added: “If they say, ‘this is a good idea’, we go. We are ready. But it’s not our position to race as a private team. It’s not our mission.

“First of all we [would] race against our customers, so it’s no good. IGTC was a good opportunity because it’s the only GT3 competition where you are allowed to race with a factory team.”

In addition to its three active customer outfits in Europe, Honda has several North American clients competing with Acura-badged NSX GT3 Evos in IMSA and SRO America, as well as three teams in Japan’s Super GT series.

So far a total of four brands have announced their commitments to the 2021 IGTC as points-paying manufacturers.

Porsche will return to seek a third straight title, alongside challenges from Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and triple champion Audi Sport. The first round is at Spa in late July.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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