Kazuki Nakajima will not be a part of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s race lineup next year, ending the manufacturer’s longest-running driver partnership in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 36-year-old Japanese driver, who was part of Toyota’s original LMP1 lineup in 2012, will not return as a driver for what would have been his tenth WEC season with the the team.
The news, confirmed on Wednesday ahead of this weekend’s season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain, adds fuel to the speculation that fellow countryman Ryo Hirakawa will take Nakajima’s seat in the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid next year.
Nakajima, who spent two full seasons in Formula 1 with Williams, joined Toyota’s WEC program at its onset, collecting three overall wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 2018-19 drivers’ world championship.
He currently sits second in this year’s drivers’ championship alongside co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
“The whole Toyota Gazoo Racing team thanks Kazuki for his immense contribution over the past ten years, not only as a top driver, but as a trusted team-mate and loyal friend,” a team statement read.
“Although his WEC race career is at an end, Kazuki will always remain a member of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WEC family and the team hopes he will continue to contribute to its development in the future.”
Nakajima, who was involved with the very first test of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid in January 2012, has collected 16 wins from 58 WEC races, second only to Buemi.
“It has been an honor to compete for Toyota Gazoo Racing for nine seasons and I feel so lucky to have won races, championships and Le Mans 24 Hours alongside so many talented, passionate and dedicated colleagues,” Nakajima said.
“I want to express my greatest thanks to Toyota Gazoo Racing for this 10-year journey in WEC.
“I have so many memories with this team, who have been a family to me in tough times as well as in happy times, and I will always feel like a Toyota Gazoo Racing team member.
“A new era is coming for endurance racing, with many Hypercar manufacturers joining in the next years, and it will be a new era for me.
“I will continue to support the team and I look forward to watching the start of a new, exciting time for endurance racing.”
Toyota says it will be announcing its 2022 driver lineup in the “coming weeks.”