One of the most prolific and beloved racing drivers from Japan will make his Autobacs Super GT Series debut this year, as Kamui Kobayashi has joined Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh as the third driver of the #19 WedsSport Advan Lexus LC500 in the 46th International Suzuka 1000km.
Kobayashi’s Super GT debut will come as part of a busy 2016 campaign where he will represent Toyota Gazoo Racing on the grand stage of the FIA World Endurance Championship, while embarking on his third season in the Japanese Super Formula Championship with KCMG.
Kobayashi was spotted testing the #19 WedsSport Advan LC500 at Okayama this past week, and he’ll be in the same car on March 18 and 19 during the first official Super GT pre-season test, also at Okayama.
He’ll join regular drivers Yuhi Sekiguchi, and defending Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto, in the final Super GT-sanctioned, 1000 kilometer running of the Suzuka summer sports car endurance race.
Kobayashi, 30, is best known for his brief yet memorable career in the Formula 1 World Championship. In 75 Grand Prix starts over five seasons from 2009 to 2014, he drove for Toyota, Sauber, and Caterham, scoring 125 championship points with a best championship finish of twelfth in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
It was during that 2012 season when Kobayashi became only the third Japanese driver to score a World Championship podium finish, doing so at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, in front of a raucous home crowd.
2016 was a year of shockingly mixed fortunes for Kobayashi between WEC and Super Formula. In WEC, Kobayashi had a fantastic season for Toyota Gazoo Racing in LMP1, he and his co-drivers Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin finishing third in the World Endurance Drivers’ Championship with a win in the 6 Hours of Fuji and six podiums.
In Super Formula with Sunoco Team LeMans, Kobayashi finished a perplexing 17th in the championship, failing to score a point until the final race of the season at the JAF Grand Prix Suzuka. This year, he moves to Hong Kong-based KCMG, a force in global sports car racing – but have yet to finish better than sixth in a Super Formula race in seven seasons.
Kobayashi joins a WedsSport Bandoh team with real championship aspirations in 2017, anchored by the aggressive tenacity of Sekiguchi and the collected, confident Kunimoto driving for team director Masataka Bandoh, who has led the team steadily up the rankings in GT500 since their class debut in 2011.
They scored their first GT500 victory last October at the Buriram Super GT Race in Thailand, and finished fourth in the 2016 GT500 Championship with a 100 percent point-scoring rate.