Kenta Yamashita is no longer involved in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s FIA World Endurance Championship driver development program and will not race in the series this year.
The 2019 Super GT champion had been on the Toyota ‘WEC Challenge’ initiative since 2019 but now looks set to concentrate on a domestic racing program in Japan.
Toyota Gazoo Racing team director Leupen explained that travel difficulties between Japan and Europe played a significant part in the decision not to include the 25-year-old in the GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar program.
He also suggested that Toyota will be looking for a new young driver to work with during the early stages of its project in the WEC’s new Hypercar category.
“Unfortunately Kenta will not race in LMP2 and he’s also not part of the program anymore,” Leupen said during a press conference held after Toyota launched its hybrid-powered LMH car.
“The corona pandemic is the main reason: we have seen the travel difficulties between Europe and Japan for Kenta, who is also involved in other race series in Japan such as Super Formula. This made it very difficult.
“He needs to get mileage. On the car it’s different to [what] we do with Kazuki [Nakajima] and Kamui [Kobayashi]. They are working on this on a more permanent basis.
“Unfortunately for us, Kenta – a very talented driver – is now remaining in Japan.
“At the present moment we have thoughts as to who we should add to the program, but due to the pandemic, it will take some time before we can announce something in that direction.”
Yamashita made his European racing debut under Toyota’s watchful eye, driving for LMP2 outfit High Class Racing in the 2019-20 WEC campaign.
High Class has already assembled an all-Danish lineup for the upcoming season, with former Corvette Racing star Jan Magnussen and Bronze-rated driver Dennis Andersen joining the retained Anders Fjordbach.
Yamashita’s Japanese programs for this year have yet to be confirmed.
Last season his WEC program took him away from a full-time Super GT seat, although he did appear in a handful of races as a substitute for unavailable Toyota drivers.
Yamashita also competed in Super Formula and finished seventh in the championship.
De Vries Eyeing Future LMH Race Seat
Continuing test and reserve driver Nyck de Vries hopes to secure a Toyota LMH race drive “in the near future” as he continues his association with the manufacturer.
The Dutchman sampled the GR010 Hybrid during its second test at Portimao, where he developed several first impressions about the car’s new front-hybrid powertrain.
“I’m very happy to be continuing as a test and reserve driver at Toyota, especially going into this new era of Hypercars,” said de Vries.
“The future of endurance racing is really bright, with new manufacturers coming in and a lot of competition. The new regulations are providing a very competitive platform.
“It’s a very powerful car with the electric engine on the front axle. That’s a slightly different experience because previously [in the TS050 Hybrid LMP1] you had them on the front and rear.
“It’s quite a lot heavier, and you only have one aero package. It’s a bit trickier to drive, but ultimately the most important thing is that it’s going to bring everyone closer together and provide close racing.
“I’m looking forward to witnessing that this season, and I won’t deny that I’m hoping to step up in a race seat in the near future to give my real contribution fighting against the competitors.”