Baguette finally achieved his long-standing goal of winning the SUPER GT crown in 2022, his ninth season of racing in the series, as he took honours alongside Impul Nissan team-mate Kazuki Hiramine.
The Belgian said that his strong desire to win the championship at least once during his time in Japan served as a major driving force during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the country’s strict travel restrictions limited the time he could spend with family.
Now that he has achieved that goal, Baguette — who turned 37 last week — says his focus has now turned to joining the likes of fellow international stars Erik Comas, Michael Krumm, Andre Lotterer and Ronnie Quintarelli in the pantheon of multiple GT500 champions.
«It’s a huge relief to me to win the title, because I would have been really angry with myself and disappointed if I couldn’t win it at least once with all the years I have spent in Japan,» Baguette told Motorsport.com.
«Now that box is ticked, so that’s something I will always be proud of when I stop my career. But I am not ready to stop at all.
«I still feel fast, motivated, and I really love driving the cars. There is no equivalent to these cars anywhere else in the world. We have the best tyres in the world as well thanks to the tyre war, so it’s quite a unique championship.
«One day I will have to stop, it will be tough and I will miss it big-time. I am always discussing it with my family, but they are really behind me and pushing me to continue doing what I love. We went through two tough years with COVID, but now travel is back to almost normal, it’s a lot easier.
«It’s a relief to have won the championship, but I want to win it more than once. As long as I can do it, and while the motivation is still there, I will do it.
«Even during the winter break in Belgium, I missed it a lot and I was happy to be back in Suzuka [in late January] for the first test. Straight away I was reminded what an amazing car it is to drive.»
Impul goes into the new season with a virtually unchanged team structure led by legendary team founder Kazuyoshi Hoshino and his son Kazuki, with Baguette and Hiramine staying together for a second season.
However, the car that will now be known as the Marelli Impul Z will be carrying the #1 plate instead of the team’s usual #12.
Despite the change, Baguette says that last year’s success hasn’t made a noticeable difference in the atmosphere of the team ahead of the 2023 campaign, which kicks off in April at Okayama.
«It doesn’t really take the pressure off, because you want to win the championship again, of course,» he said. «We have high expectations, having the #1 means we are the guys to beat for sure. But the way we are preparing for the season is exactly the same as last year.
«From my side it’s a bit easier because I know the car well and I know the team, and the NISMO guys. But as a team we are pushing even more and trying to be even more prepared and stronger.»