WEC: Kobayashi set to make Toyota LMP1 debut at Le Mans

Jul 23, 2014

The unfortunate injury sustained by Kazuki Nakajima in Thursday practice for the WEC 6 Hours of Spa has opened up a major window of opportunity for Kamui Kobayashi, who has now been tipped to make his debut for the Toyota Racing LMP1 team at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.

During yesterday's practice session
, Nakajima collided with the Audi of Oliver Jarvis at full speed on the Kemmel Straight. Nakajima swerved to avoid an LMP2 car that had veered into its path, but was unable to see Jarvis' Audi concealed in heavy spray. X-rays confirmed that Nakajima had sustained a fractured vertebra in the accident, and Toyota Racing team director said on Friday that Nakajima would "need a miracle" to be fit in time for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

"Kazuki is in good spirits but he will be out for a while for sure," said Leupen. "We are supporting him and will help him to get fit as soon as possible. We will need a miracle for Kazuki to be at Le Mans, but you can't rule it out completely. I think though that we will get Kamui (Kobayashi) over to Europe as soon as possible. He has been informed to be ready."

A conservative estimate would see Nakajima requiring up to three months to recover from his injuries, by which point he should be ready for the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Nürburgring Grand Prix Circuit in August. Nakajima was the pole sitter for last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, in addition, he is the reigning champion of the Japanese Super Formula championship for Petronas Team TOM's, the winning co-driver of last year's 1000km Suzuka endurance race, and is best known for his three seasons in Formula 1 driving for Williams.

Kobayashi was named the primary reserve driver for Toyota Racing earlier this year, reunited with the factory who backed his ascension into Formula 1 after an ill-fated return to the series last season with Caterham F1 Team. He is expected to join Toyota this weekend, test the TS040 Hybrid prototype at Spa-Francorchamps later this month, before joining the reigning World Endurance Drivers' Champions and fellow F1 veterans Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson in the #1 Toyota at Le Mans.

Thus, Kamui Kobayashi will be making his second start at Le Mans. His first appearance in the great race was just two years ago, in which he, Toni Vilander, and Olivier Beretta piloted the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 to fifth in the GTE Pro class. The 28-year-old Japanese driver has competed in 75 Formula One events, scoring his lone podium finish at the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, and he was 7th in the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers in 2013.
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