Le Mans winner Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut

Le Mans winner Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut

Former Formula 1 driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in August.

Kamui Kobayashi is bringing his illustrious sports car background to the field of stock car racing. At a press conference on Wednesday, Toyota revealed that he will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13 while piloting the #67 Toyota Camry for 23XI Racing.

His presence confirms the Cup Series’ rising global status as the most prestigious stock car racing division in the world.

Kobayashi is recognized as one of the top sports car racers presently after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021 and two FIA World Endurance Championships for Toyota Gazoo Racing, which he also manages as team principal.

The Japanese driver and his team are currently rank second in the WEC’s Hypercar rankings with two victories at Sebring and Spa and a recent second-place finish in the 2022 Le Mans.

Kobayashi also has two 24 Hours of Daytona overall victories to his credit. His most recent triumphs came in 2021 and 2022 teaming up with fellow Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and legendary NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, who are also competing in a Cup car at Le Mans as part of the Garage 56 program.

“NASCAR is something different in the culture of motorsports compared to Japan and Europe,” Kobayashi said. “As a driver, it’s the American dream.”

“I was lucky to be able to race in IMSA the last couple of years. It’s a different form of racing, but I think the racing technology is at a high level.”

In addition to racing sports cars, he has experience in open-wheel cars as well. From 2009 to 2014 Kobayashi raced in Formula 1 for Toyota, Sauber, and Caterham. He achieved his only podium finish in the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.

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The 36-year-old has has been racing in Super Formula events consistently since 2022, placing 17th in the championship that year and running 13th currently after four races in 2023.

Kobayashi is set to be the second Japanese national to compete in the Cup Series following Hideo Fukuyama, who participated in four races in 2002 and 2003. He joins Shigeaki Hattori, Kenji Momota, Kenk Miura, Akinori Ogata, and Toshio Suzuki as the seventh national representative to race in any international sports racing series.

Kobayashi is the first Japanese to race for Toyota at the Cup level. This comes after Ogata and Miura raced Toyotas in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series, while Ryan Ellis, an American-born driver of Japanese ancestry, is the first to drive a Toyota in NASCAR Cup series.

23XI Racing additionally launched the #67 car for special one-off entries along with running the #23 and #45 for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. The third car made its debut at the season-opening Daytona 500 in February with action sports veteran Travis Pastrana, who placed 11th in his debut Cup race.

The seasoned Japanese driver follows the recent exploits of Formula One champions Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen, who both made their Cup Series debuts at road course races within the previous calendar year.

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