Mika Hakkinen says he’s looking forward to the challenge of taking part in his first long-distance endurance race in this weekend’s Suzuka 10 Hours.
The two-time Formula 1 world champion has returned to top-level racing for the first time in nearly eight years, with the 50-year-old Finn set to share a McLaren 720S GT3 with Katsuaki Kubota and Hiroaki Ishiura.
Sunday’s race will mark Hakkinen’s longest-ever race and only second sports car race after contesting the Zhuhai 1000km Intercontinental Le Mans Cup round in 2011 in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3.
Hakkinen, a McLaren brand ambassador, explained that the opportunity to contest the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli round came through an invite from Suzuka Circuit, which he still holds close links with after a storied past.
The Finn clinched his two F1 titles with wins at the Japanese circuit with McLaren in 1998-99.
“I’ve been to Suzuka this year four times. On a couple of occasions it’s been an invitation from Suzuka Circuit to come here to celebrate different festivals,” Hakkinen told Sportscar365.
“There’s been a few occasions I’ve been here. During that time, the circuit organizers basically asked me if I’m interested in taking part in this 10-hour race.
“Looking at all of the different options, it was a good idea to come. That’s how it came about.”
Having completed several tests in the Planex SmaCam Racing-entered McLaren, Hakkinen said he understands the task at hand this weekend, in what will mark a number of firsts for the 50-year-old.
“To be honest, having not done any kind of race [in so long],” he said. “I’ve never done a ten-hour race. All of this is new for me so it’s going to be a new experience.
“I’ve spoken with the team a lot and McLaren on how this kind of racing works and what kind of risks there are in this kind of race and what you need to take care in a ten-hour race. It’s very tough. I’m aware of that.
“But the preparation, at the end of the day, if you don’t have the experience of doing the races, it’s very difficult to know what will happen.”
Hakkinen said he hasn’t set any expectations other to enjoy the weekend.
“I have not really put any kind of goal,” he said. “Of course the priority is to finish the race.
“In terms of position, I think we really need to see the practice tomorrow and Saturday and where we are and what our performance is and how we work as a team in all aspects. Then it’s easier to make some kind of plan.
“At the moment the priority is to have fun, make a good show for the fans, enjoy and do the best possible job myself for what I can. That’s what I’m expecting out of the rest of the team to do.
“I believe in that having a good car like McLaren we can expect a good run.”
Suzuka Race to “Influence” Potential Additional Endurance Races
Hakkinen said this weekend will play a determining factor on whether he could contest additional races in the future, having admitted there are “a lot” of options in endurance racing.
“I’m sure that weekend can influence a lot about that kind of decision,” he said.
“What is [my] future with endurance racing? There’s a lot of different categories in endurance racing. We have a lot of options to talk about if I would like to continue that.
“Let’s go through this weekend and then I’ll know more.”
Should he elect to having additional sports car racing outings, Hakkinen said it would be “very logical” for them to be in a McLaren.