Even seasoned observers of Japanese motorsport knew little about Okusa when he was introduced as one of many drivers for the #10 Gainer entry for the 2022 season alongside Ryuichiro Tomita, however he shortly made himself recognized.
Qualifying third for the Okayama opener, Okusa aggressively despatched it up the within of the Okay-tunes Lexus of veteran Morio Nitta to seize second at Flip 1 when the race started.
Though that race solely yielded sixth place, Okusa wouldn’t have lengthy to attend to financial institution his first GT300 class win, which got here in Spherical 2 at Fuji. He went on to qualify on pole for Spherical 3 at Suzuka, just for that to be taken away for a technical infraction, however on the collection’ return to Suzuka at Spherical 5 he made up for that by grabbing the highest spot once more.
The upshot is that Okusa heads into the ultimate race of the season at Motegi subsequent weekend simply six factors away from the highest spot within the standings and in with a sensible probability of turning into SUPER GT’s first solo GT300 champion since Andre Cuoto in 2015 (Tomita missed the Autopolis race and thus can’t beat Okusa’s factors complete).
So simply how did the 22-year-old from Kanagawa Prefecture emerge from near-total obscurity to being one of many hottest properties on the SUPER GT grid?
Riki Okusa, #10 TANAX GAINER GT-R
Photograph by: Masahide Kamio
The everyday route for Japanese drivers after they graduate from karting is to enter Japanese System 4, which helps SUPER GT and was the place the place drivers like Sho Tsuboi, Tadasuke Makino, Ritomo Miyata and even present AlphaTauri System 1 man Yuki Tsunoda lower their enamel.
As an alternative, on the recommendation of his mentor and now-Gainer stablemate Hironobu Yasuda, Okusa realized his craft within the second-tier Tremendous Taikyu sportscar collection, profitable the ST-3 class title in 2019 on the wheel of a Lexus IS350.
“I began racing in Tremendous Taikyu after I turned 18,” Okusa advised Motorsport.com’s Japanese version. “Yasuda-san advised me, ‘overlook about FIA F4, it’s best to practice in Tremendous Taikyu’.
“Giving method to sooner vehicles and how you can maintain a way of distance are issues you could’t study in F4, so I’m glad I acquired to expertise this in Tremendous Taikyu.”
- Stream each qualifying session and race of the 2022 SUPER GT season solely on Motorsport.television.
Okusa wasn’t executed with single-seaters nevertheless. In a one-off All-Japan F3 outing at Fuji on the finish of 2018, he completed a really respectable fifth, after which the next 12 months he made it to the ultimate 4 within the battle for that 12 months’s Honda’s Suzuka Racing College scholarship.
Regardless of eschewing FIA F4, Okusa (45) stored his hand in single-seaters, impressing in System Regional Japan
However the high quality of that 12 months’s crop was excessive: present System 2 racer Ayumu Iwasa received the scholarship and a ticket to a paid drive in French F4, whereas Okusa’s different rivals have been Iori Kimura, again for a second go after lacking out on the ‘18 scholarship to Atsushi Miyake, and Shun Koide. Kimura and Koide would go on to race in Japanese F4 as Honda juniors whereas Okusa was discarded.
“That 12 months the extent of the drivers was actually excessive, and it was a 12 months when loads of new fastest-ever laps have been set,” Okusa mirrored. “The very fact I even made it to the ultimate 4 gave me loads of confidence. I used to be upset to not be chosen [for a scholarship] however I simply tried to look ahead.”
In 2020, Okusa made a one-off outing within the all-new System Regional Japanese collection at Fuji, scoring a podium, and the next 12 months he competed in three race weekends out of 5, taking two wins at Motegi and ending up third general.
That was what attracted the eye of Gainer, who invited Okusa to a shootout because it contemplated how you can go about changing the retiring Kazuki Hoshino and the departing Katsuyuki Hiranaka in its two automobile SUPER GT line-up.
#10 TANAX GAINER GT-R
Photograph by: Masahide Kamio
The #10 automobile by which Okusa has partnered Tomita is considered because the ‘junior’ automobile inside the Gainer set-up, however such has been the rookie’s performances that he’s outscored the ‘senior’ #11 squad of his mentor Yasuda and Keishi Ishikawa.
“The theme this 12 months was ‘stand out’, however I didn’t suppose I’d be capable to showcase my velocity this a lot,” stated Okusa. “Truthfully, I’ve been in a position to battle higher than I imagined. I’ve been the strongest rookie driver this 12 months, so I’m relieved.
“However I believe it’s due to Tomita-san, to [tyre supplier] Dunlop, to Gainer, and to the whole lot matching nicely that I’ve been in a position to present such a efficiency. I’ve nothing however gratitude.”
As a part of the Nissan GT300 line-up, Okusa must be considered a robust contender for a GT500 seat with the Yokohama marque in future seasons, even when 2023 is more likely to be a 12 months too quickly. However provided that Okusa has no official Nissan ties as such, Toyota and Honda could be doing themselves a disservice in the event that they didn’t not less than make enquiries about his availability.
Placing Okusa in a GT500 seat could appear to be one thing of a danger on the face of it, however given how shortly he’s tailored to the decrease class, and the very fact he has a stable basis of expertise in Tremendous Taikyu, he might change into a wonderful funding, to not point out the advantages of denying a rival marque one of many brightest younger prospects on the grid.
No matter the place he finally ends up, Okusa has marked himself as one to observe for the long run this 12 months. A rookie GT300 title at Motegi would merely be the cherry on the cake of a career-changing season.
Riki Okusa, Ryuichiro Tomita, #10 TANAX GAINER GT-R
Photograph by: Masahide Kamio