Former Formula 1 driver Kamui Kobayashi will debut in the NASCAR Cup Series later this year, becoming only the second Japanese driver to race in the top level of American stock car racing.
The 36-year-old has spent over 10 years of his career as a factory Toyota driver, including three years in its F1 team before it exited the championship, after which he raced for the brand in the World Endurance Championship where he still races today.
His F1 career included one podium on home ground, while he has won 13 races and two titles in the WEC, won IMSA’s Daytona 24 Hours race twice, won in Super GT and claimed seven podiums in Super Formula.
“I think NASCAR is kind of like baseball,” said Kobayashi. “It’s something different in the culture of motorsports compared to Japan and Europe, and it’s NASCAR, and as a driver, it’s an American dream.
“I was lucky as I was able to race in [America’s top sports car series] IMSA the last couple of years. It’s a different way of racing, but I think as racing technology, it’s really at a high level. I really appreciate this opportunity from Toyota Racing Development USA, and of course, Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Gazoo Racing.
“For us, especially the Japanese people, Toyota has been in NASCAR for a while, and I don’t think any other Japanese driver has been in a Toyota racing in the Cup Series. I’m very proud of this opportunity.”
Japan’s first top-level NASCAR racer Hideo Fukuyama made all four of his starts across 2002-03 in a Ford.
Several other ex-F1 drivers have already competed in NASCAR this year. Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen both raced at Circuit of the Americas in March and will return at later rounds.
Button is also driving a Chevrolet Camaro from NASCAR in this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours race, while Kobayashi is going for overall victory in one of Toyota’s hypercars. Toyota is yet to confirm when Kobayashi will have the chance to test his NASCAR before making his debut.
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