From Daytona to Suzuka: The 2006 Mooncraft Shiden MC/RT-16
Back in 1975, a man by the name of Takuya Yura founded Mooncraft Co. Limited. The company specialized in design and production, as well as maintenance of race cars. Mooncraft also offered restorations of racing cars, and had no clear signs of space equipment production in their future.
Two years later, Yura put out a car that could cast a shadow over the Dome Zero, and raced it. Named the Shiden 77, the sculpted body and wrap-around windshield were key elements to the car's high speeds. Despite the aero being properly developed, the 2.0l BMW 4 cylinder was prone to breaking down. After some wins in the Fuji Grand Championships Series, the futuristic 77 was shelved, and it was never shown again to the world.
The original Mooncraft Shiden 77
Nearly thirty years later, Mooncraft decided to pay homage to the forgotten 77. This time though, it wouldn't be a completely national effort, as Yura joined forces with Riley Technologies from the United States to source a chassis. The chassis of choice was the Mark XI, Riley's tested platform. However, Yura took matters into his own hands, and set out to improve the chassis even more. After adding carbon-composite crumple zones all around the aluminum-steel chassis, it was wrapped up in a carbon-fibreglass composite of his own design.
Back in the US, the Mk XI enjoyed success with a plethora of engines behind the driver. From the locally-sourced GM power plants to the German Porsche units. However, the team back in the land of the rising sun had a Toyota 1UZ-FE V8 fitted, and raised the displacement o 4.2l. Now churning out 453hp, the engine was paired with an X-TRAC 6-speed sequential gearbox that sent power to the rear wheels.
Presenting a Daytona Prototype against a series of production-based machinery didn't sit well with rival teams. DTPs are regulated race cars meant to compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series, replacing the LMP cars previously racing. Built with safety and close racing in mind, the loosely based prototypes felt right at home with the silhouette-like field of Japan.
Regardless, the Japanese Automobile Federation deemed it acceptable, scheduled to debut at the 2006 SuperGT championship, racing in the GT300 class. After finding a team with Verno Tokai Dream28, it was decided that the car would adorn the colors of Privée Zurich, a broking company from Japan.
Debuting at the 300km of Suzuka, team founder Kazuho Takahashi, together with was paired with Hiroki Katoh to take up driving duties. After qualifying 22nd on the grid, Takahashi and Katoh finished 21st, good enough to start off the season 6th in the GT300 standings.
For the 300km of Okayama, the lone Shiden RT-16 was driven to 11th place. Things would get better in the following races, with the duo securing back-to-back poles in Fuji and Sepang. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t manage to translate the pole into a race win, finishing 4th in class in both races. Still, the Mooncraft kept up the momentum for the following race in Sugo. With a 3rd-place finish in class, the Shiden earned its first podium behind a pair of Nissan Z33s. The future was bright.
The following race in Sugo would mark the Shiden's first podium finish, taking up 3rd in class, behind a duo of Nissan Z33s. Going back to Suzuka for the 1000km, a third driver was mandated. In response, Japanese driver Hiroki Yoshimoto was asked to join Takahashi and Katoh. All in all, the trio finished 5th—just a second shy of a podium finish.
After a lowly 21st place in the Motegi 300km, the Shiden showed its true potential at the second to last race of the season. In Autopolis, after taking pole for less than a tenth of a second from RE Amemiya's RX7, Takahashi and Kirou took a pole-to-checkered win, catapulting them to the championship lead going into the final race at Fuji.
Starting off rough with the 13th grid spot, the race gave nothing but heartbreak for the team. Running outside of the points for the majority of the race, the lead GT300 car ran out of fuel in the final corner, gifting RE Amemiya's RX7 a free position into the points. With the sole point the RX7 took, the championship's standings were now tied with the Shiden. However, since Amemiya had won two races versus the Shiden's sole victory, the tie-breaker favored the yellow and blue RX7, taking the season championship out of Takahashi's and Hirou's hands.
Enter the 2007 season. Once again, only one car would be fielded throughout the 9-race season, with the Takahashi/Katoh duet returning behind the wheel. Opening the season with a 2nd place at the 300km of Suzuka, another 2nd place was locked down for the 300km of Okayama. With its strong start, things looked good for the Mooncraft.
For the 500km of Fuji, however, a 5th place was the best the team could manage. After another disappointing finish—a poor 11th place in Sepang—the Mooncraft had seemingly slashed their chances for the championship. But not all hope was lost, as Takahashi and Katoh were to able reel back some pace for a 4th place in Sugo before heading into the championship's most important race at the 1000km of Suzuka.
Just like Autopolis the year before, another perfect weekend saw the Shiden take the checkered flag after starting from pole, taking over the championship lead with only three races to go. The following month, starting from eighth in Motegi, two positions were made up, but that was to no avail as only the top four earned points.Just like the first Autopolis race from the year prior, another perfect weekend saw the Shiden take the checkered flag after starting from pole. With the win, the Mooncraft was back on top of the class standings with three races to go.
The Takahashi/Katoh/Yoshimoto trio celebrating their victory at the 2007 Suzuka 1000km
The following month, the Shiden was unable to move much from its starting position of 8th, only moving up two positions. Despite the 6th-place finish, the Shiden earned zero points for its finishing position, as only the top four earned points. However, the Shiden still held the points lead—though not for long.
After taking up the third grid spot in Autopolis, the Mooncraft once again dropped down the order, salvaging a 10th place. This, unfortunately, would officially give away the points lead to APR Racing MR2 of Kazuya Oshima and Hiroaki Ishiura. Heading into the final race at Fuji, just a single point separated the two teams.
Once it was all said and done, Takahashi and Katoh were only able to gain one more point on the pairing of Oshima and Hiraki. In the same fashion as the year before, the Shiden and the MR2 were tied for points at the end of the championship. Also just like the previous year, the tie-breaker favored the MR2's two wins over the Shiden's singular victory.
All was not lost though. Despite losing out on the driver's championship, Cars Tokai Dream28 were able to walk out with the Constructor's Championship.
Into the 2008 season, Dream28 started the year with a pole position for the 300km of Suzuka, eventually giving in to RE Amemiya's RX7 and settling with a second place. Things wouldn't get better at Okayama, where a 9th place was the best they could manage, before jumping back to a 3rd place finish at the 500km of Fuji.
For the rest of the season, the Shiden continued to battle around the midfield, taking a notable second place finish in Motegi, followed by a third place in Autopolis. Expectations to finally take a victory were high going back to Fuji, but no more than 11th was possible.
Going into 2009, a 6th place at Okayama was taken by the usual duo. From here onwards, however, team founder and first driver Takahashi stepped down from full-time racing, with Katoh taking the first driver role. To join him was Yoshimoto, who had raced alongside Takahashi and Katoh in the three previous races at Suzuka.
For the season's first visit to Suzuka, the newly-set duo took 7th place. They kept falling down the order as the season progressed, finishing 9th at the 400km of Fuji. But heading into Sepang, the new pair proved their worth. After starting from the back of the grid, Katoh and Yoshimoto climbed up the positions, crossing the finish line in 1st place—an incredible ten seconds ahead of the Lexus IS350 in 2nd.
Following the stellar performance in Sepang, back-to-back podium finishes were achieved in Sugo and the 1000km of Suzuka. Everything was pointing to yet another win at Suzuka, but losing the lead in the penultimate lap meant the honors were taken by the #46 Fairlady Z, with the Shiden settling for 3rd place.
The streak of podiums came to an end with an absolutely dismal 16th place at Autopolis, followed by a DNF at the finale in Motegi, due to problems with the exhaust pipe. Losing out on the battle for the championship, Katoh and Yoshimoto dropped to 6th place by the end of the championship.
Like the previous year, 2010 brought changes to the driver lineup, with Yoshimoto being replaced by Hiroshi Yamaguchi; Katoh, of course, would remain the first driver. Unfortunately, it was here when the Shiden was starting to show its age, as newer and faster machinery outgunned the dated prototype.
A DNF at Suzuka marked a rocky start to the season, with the team making up for it with a second place at the next race in Okayama.
Sugo would mark the peak of the season, with Katoh and Yamaguchi taking victory after starting from pole, with a dominant one minute difference over second place.
For the remaining part of the season, no notable achievements were secured by the team, scoring yet another DNF. A typhoon canceled the race at Fuji, and so the final race of the Cars Tokai Dream28 era gave a 2nd place finish to the blue and gold racer.
Once again, a new year brought in a slew of changes for the team. For starters, an unlikely linkup with Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion. Curiously, this gave the team a name change into Eva Racing, decking the Shiden with the colors of the Eva-01 robot unit from the anime, of all things.
Another big change took place when Takahashi returned to full time driving, replacing Hamaguchi. Katoh, meanwhile, retained the role of first driver throughout the season. Once again, things didn't start off well for Eva, with the engine giving up in lap 8 in Fuji.
After five consecutive finishes out of the podium, Takahashi and Katoh took the Shiden into the podium, finishing 3rd in the 250km of Fuji. Following an 8th place at Autopolis, it was clear that the Shiden's run had came to an end. Hoping to finish the season on a high note, the team headed to Motegi, where a respectable 4th place was locked down.
Soldiering on into a seventh season, Eva Racing fielded the Shiden in 2012, with the classic Takahashi/Katoh duet behind the wheel. Starting in Okayama, the pairing drove their ride to a 7th-place finish despite the barrage of European GT3 cars that had started to take over the series.
Despite the stronger rivals, the Shiden stil had some life left in it, giving Eva a second place finish in Fuji, followed by a 5th place in Sepang. In a circuit that the Shiden had great pace around, an accident ended the chase for victory in Sugo, after starting from second. Following a dismal second-to-last finish in Suzuka, a 13th place finish in Fuji marked the beginning of the end for the outlandish prototype.
The nail in the coffin for the Shiden arrived in Autopolis, the circuit that saw the drivers take to the top of the podium for the first time. There, they were shockingly unable to even qualify for the race start, giving the car its one and only DNS. Eager to finish the season on a high note, a low 16th place finish at the finale in Motegi marked the end of the Shiden's career. Ultimately, this was the last result the Shiden had added to its tally.
Following the end of the 2012 season, the GT Association brought in a set of rulebook changes that rendered purpose-built prototypes like the Shiden and others like the Vemac RD320R and the ASL Garaiya inelegible for competition.
Throughout its 7 year campaign, the Shiden MC/RT-16 gave the Dream28/Eva Racing team a total of four victories, 8 pole positions and nine fastest laps. Accompanied by two victories in SuperGT's crown jewel, the 1000km of Suzuka. Despite being denied the championship twice, the Shiden is one of the last cars to get away with such a left-field approach, whose likes we'll probably never see again.
Ever since its retirement in 2012, the car has been sent to Mooncraft's HQ in Gotemba City. Despite initial plans to make a production version of the Shiden, the idea never got too far and only one chassis was ever built and raced. Mooncraft continued racing after this project with an modified Lotus Evora, raced until the end of the 2018 season.