In just 11 months, Yuki Harata has transitioned from his career as a champion downhill skier – where his racing surface was slick and cornering traction was provided by a sharp metal edge – to auto racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, where the surface is grippy and traction in all directions is secured by sticky Pirelli rubber. And he did it relatively easily and quickly, moving from retirement PWC GT Cup champion and now GTA winner.
Driving Dream Racing Lamborghinis, Harata won the GT Cup title in 2017 in a Huracan Super Trofeo car – in which he also won the Am class in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series – and switched to the GT3 car to race in GTA for 2018. It took only three weekends for him to take his first pole and his first win, in Round 5 at America’s Monaco, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“It was great taking my first win in Long Beach,” said Harata, who resides in Las Vegas. “All my family was here. It was a really tough race for me, because the Bentley [of Alvaro Parente] was in front of me, and [Martin] Fuentes was behind me. I needed to take cars front and back.
“I lost both sides of the mirror because I touched the wall so many times,” he said, laughing. “You get so close to the wall. It was a super tough race and it all happened on the last lap.”
Fuentes, who congratulated Harata before the race on the top qualifying spot with a big smile, charged at Harata for the length of the race. Harata finished just 0.163sec ahead of the Ferrari driver, who will likely be among the key competition for a GTA title along with Rodrigo Baptista (K-PAX Bentley Continental) and Parker Chase (TruSpeed Audi R8).
The speed of auto racing is nothing new to Japanese native Harata, who spent years as a professional downhill skier. Like some other skiers before him, such as Luc Alphand or Phil and Steve Mahre, he made the transition to racecars look easy.
“I used to be a professional downhill skier and I was Asian champion for five years. I got really used to the speed and cornering. So I was kind of quick to transfer the control from foot to hands. It’s really close, to be honest – to design a line, feel the speed … for me it was a really quick transfer to driving,” he explains.
His first auto race was only last April in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series. He joined Pirelli World Challenge at Road America in June, and garnered sufficient points to be crowned champion. For 2018 he moved to GTA, and sticking with Lamborghini seemed like a natural fit.
“I started racing with Lamborghini for my career. I know the feeling. But I never tried another car!” he said with a laugh.
Harata is teaming up with Alessandro Bressan to compete in Pro-Am in SprintX. Bressan is also an instructor at Dream Racing, which, aside from fielding the race team, runs an exotic car driving experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Their next race together will be at VIRginia International Raceway on April 27-29.