Kamui Kobayashi has quite the task ahead of him this weekend. Stepping into the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GTD PRO entry as a substitute for the injured Jack Hawksworth, Kobayashi will be racing the RC F GT3 car for the first time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. He’ll be co-driving with someone new, Ben Barnicoat, at a Canadian Tire Motorsports Park circuit on which he’s never raced. And, while he was at Watkins Glen last week in the No. 48 Cadillac DPi car, he had to go back to Europe in between, so he arrived too late to do the track walk on Thursday afternoon. His only experience is on the simulator.
“I’ve been at the simulator in Charlotte and been around the track,” he says. “Of course, I drove the RC F GT3 car and I felt quite familiar. I’ve driven in GTD with Ferrari and AMG, and it was the first time in the RC F, but I know GT3 pretty well, so I’m quite familiar with the car to adjust. The most challenging part will be on the track — I did a track run on the simulator but still, a real car on a real track could be different. I try to do my best out of it, but for sure with the team support we can do it on short notice.”
Kobayashi’s regular role when he’s not running the No. 48 Cadillac in the Michelin Endurance Cup races is as driver and team principal for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the World Endurance Championship — the reason for his trip back to Europe. Given the relationship with Toyota, he was a logical choice to step in for Hawksworth. And it may come in handy as Toyota is developing its next generation of GT3 car. His previous experience in an RC F was in Japanese Super GT which, while similar, has enough differences that the experience doesn’t directly transfer over.
“Super GT is quite a special category. We have competition in the field for tires; obviously this makes very special tires with a lot of grip. So we don’t work a lot in setup, but we work more on setup of tires — it’s quite strange,” he relates. “Super GT has quite a lot of downforce; in terms of downforce, it’s quite different. In GT3, we’ve got ABS, we’ve got traction control, the Super GT doesn’t have ABS, we don’t have any traction control as well.”
So with little recent GT experience, it’s going to be a big adjustment from prototypes, Kobayashi says. But he’s ready for the challenge, and admits to being a fan of GT cars.
“I grew up in the open-wheel car — I did Formula 1 and then I came to sports cars and I’m more familiar now with sports cars,” the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans winner says. “When I jump into a GT car, it’s different. There are a lot of good drivers in the GT field. Obviously, it’s not easy to be straightaway quick, but I think it’s something I’ll need to run at one point. I think this is a very important category.
“I love it because this car, visually you can see the road car and changing it to a bit of a different visual. It looks like a race car and I think that’s quite ideal for motorsports in the future. I think the (Toyota) sports car is a good car and very high competition but from the road car, the visual is different. This GT car is the same as a road car. I really like the idea of what we are doing here.”