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Nakajima: Japan Options Useful for Keeping Sharp During Break

Toyota LMP1 driver Kazuki Nakajima on options for staying race-sharp as WEC season pauses…

Photo: Jamey Price/Toyota

Toyota’s Kazuki Nakajima says that he plans to use the Japanese racing season as a way of keeping sharp during the FIA World Endurance Championship’s dry spell enforced by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Nakajima, who lives in Japan, is taking part in the Super Formula pre-season test behind closed doors today and tomorrow, while the single-seater series is also planning to race at Autopolis in May.

However, the WEC is unlikely to be back in action the summer at the very earliest, following postponements to the 6 Hours of Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

While some Super Formula and Super GT races have also been postponed, others are scheduled to take place long before the WEC season is set to resume.

Nakajima’s Toyota LMP1 teammate Kamui Kobayashi and High Class Racing LMP2 driver Kenta Yamashita are two other WEC regulars also driving full-time in Super Formula.

“It has been quite tough to get ready, physically and mentally,” Nakajima told Sportscar365. “It’s very difficult to guess what happens.

“We have testing this weekend and the first week of April, so we can keep our fitness and general health levels up.

“Super GT testing is also going on. I’m not driving there this year, but at least in Japan there is a little bit of action, even without spectators. There is some driving going on, so we cannot complain too much about that.

“In Japan, the situation looks a little bit better than Europe, so I’m hoping to go back racing in May, at least in Japan. But we never know.

“It’s really nice to have an opportunity to drive the Super Formula car. At the moment, there are not really [social] restrictions, but we are trying not to have social events.

“It looks like it’s going to continue until at least the middle of April, at the moment. All we can hope is that [the infection rate is] going to stabilize and decrease as soon as possible, but it’s not easy to predict.”

Nakajima explained that life in Japan has been relatively unaffected compared to most European countries, which have enforced strict measures on people leaving their homes.

“It’s not too restricted at the moment,” he said.

“We can still have a normal life and go out for food and other things. Some places like gyms are closed, but we can more or less have a normal life.

“Basically, the places which are going on outside are open as normal. So for example, if you wanted to find an opportunity to practice karting, you could find one.”

While Nakajima and Kobayashi are currently testing at Fuji, Toyota’s other LMP1 drivers are spending time in isolation or under preventive measures.

Mike Conway is currently in the United States, while Sebastien Buemi is in Switzerland, Jose Maria Lopez is in Argentina and Brendon Hartley is in New Zealand.

Drivers “Waiting for the Next Call”

Nakajima said that he and his fellow WEC competitors can only wait to heed the championship’s advice on further changes to the schedule.

The postponement of the season finale at Le Mans to a date between the first two rounds of the 2020-21 campaign means that further calendar adjustments are almost inevitable.

For the canceled 1000 Miles of Sebring, which was due to be held last weekend, Toyota took extra precautions to ensure that its Japanese drivers could compete.

Teams and drivers across motorsport are having to adjust quickly to the rapidly-evolving global situation which has resulted in a mass cancellation of events.

“When they announced the cancellation of Sebring, I was in the U.S. already because we were scared to have entry restrictions from Japan to the U.S.,” said Nakajima.

“The team told me to go there one week early and I was spending time there, but finally the European countries were banned from coming to the U.S., so it was canceled.

“It has been quite tough to get ready, physically and mentally. At Sebring, they were telling us that they were trying hard to have the event right up until the moment they announced the cancellation.

“We just need to follow what they say, and as soon as they announce a cancellation we just need to wait for the next call.

“Now Le Mans is also postponed, so for WEC, we have nothing until September unless Spa happens before. As a driver, it’s very difficult to guess what happens.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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