Kamui Kobayashi says he’s keen to secure a Rolex 24 at Daytona drive next year for what could be his “last try” at the race if Toyota does not take its Le Mans Hypercar to IMSA.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans winner drives for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship but has made a handful of IMSA appearances in recent years, including at Daytona where he won in 2019 and 2020 with Wayne Taylor Racing.
He is also contesting this year’s Michelin Endurance Cup races in an Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
The Japanese star told Sportscar365 that he is hoping to return to the Florida enduro but is unsure whether outings beyond 2022 will be possible as more manufacturers arrive in the top categories of IMSA and WEC competition with LMDh and LMH cars.
The convergence agreement between IMSA and WEC organizer the ACO means that some brands competing in IMSA will become rivals for Toyota in WEC and at Le Mans.
Kobayashi’s IMSA appearances in recent years have come behind the wheel of Cadillac DPi machinery, but the GM brand is now set to be a competitor to Toyota from 2023.
Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe has stated that it will “obviously consider” running the Toyota GR010 Hybrid in major IMSA races, but Kobayashi has recognized that next year’s Daytona edition could present his last chance if the possibility does not materialize.
“I would like to go back to Daytona, definitely,” said the reigning FIA World Endurance champion.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future: the year after, LMDh and [Le Mans] Hypercar are racing together. I’m a Toyota driver, so maybe next year will be the last for joining IMSA races.
“The problem is the contract: if you are driving the Hypercar with Toyota and an LMDh in the United States with another manufacturer, maybe it’s not happy for them.
“So I’m thinking maybe next year can be the last try. It’s a big shame. I’d definitely be happy if I can be back in Daytona. I enjoy IMSA races a lot. It’s really cool racing there.
“I like the people who work there: they are very passionate about motorsport. When you’re going to the track as a spectator, there’s so much racing to look at.
“And I like the tracks in the United States. I raced here at Watkins Glen for the first time and it was a long time that I hadn’t had [such a] feeling. I enjoyed it a lot.”
Asked if he is pushing to secure a Daytona drive next year, Kobayashi said: “Personally, I want to do it as much as I can. I always try to speak with everyone.
“The point is more contract-wise between manufacturer and manufacturer when you consider 2023, when LMDh manufacturers are going to start. It’s hard to say what it’s going to be.
“For the moment we don’t know if we’re going to the United States with Toyota. I don’t know what it’s going to be. But maybe some drivers can get lucky.”
Kobayashi Not Interested in One-Off GT Outings
With a top-level prototype drive at Daytona looking less likely beyond 2022, an option for Kobayashi could be to compete in other IMSA categories such as GT Daytona Pro.
However, he has stated that he doesn’t hold the same interest in doing a one-off racee in a GT3 car, having experienced that last year during the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
Kobayashi, who drove for Ferrari’s WEC GTE-Pro team before joining Toyota, explained that he would want to do a full-season program in order to have a GT3 drive for a major endurance race.
“I don’t want to consider this because there are so many good drivers with experience,” he said.
“I know that because I did a few races in GT3. I worked hard in the car, but you need such different skills and the feeling is so hard.
“I worked hard, but I’m doing [prototype] cars and I’m very limited in the chances of driving GT3. You need to be driving a lot and you need to be feeling the car well.
“Obviously doing this kind of thing with Toyota, you’re driving a prototype. It’s not easy to adjust, to be honest. That’s why I want to say that if I want to get a result, it’s better to be a professional GT3 driver.”