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Kobayashi seeks third Rolex before starting WEC leadership role

Daytona Beach, Fla. ( Associated Press) — Kamui Kobayashi, one of the world’s top endurance racers, returns at the Rolex 24 in Daytona as the current world endurance champion and defending winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A successful outing this weekend in the round-the-clock race at Daytona International Speedway will give Kobayashi a third Rolex watch in his final tour of the United States.

Kobayashi has driven for Toyota Gazoo Racing at the WEC since 2016 and was given additional duties in December: Kobayashi was named as the president of his new team. Toyota Gazoo’s Technical Director and Team Director both now report to Star Driver, who will again team up with Mike Conway and Jose María López to defend both the WEC Series Championship and their Le Mans victory.

The Japanese driver also plans to race in Super Formula this season, and has a four-race deal with Jimmy Johnson and Action Express Racing to run IMSA sports car endurance events starting in Daytona. Action Express fields a Cadillac and Kobayashi and now both drive and drive for the Toyota team; Changes in the 2023 regulation will make both cars eligible to compete in the same race.

So when the seven-time NASCAR champion asked Kobayashi to drive the No. 48 Cadillac again this year, he eagerly added it to his schedule. Johnson, Kobayashi, Mike Rockenefeller and Simon Pagenaud finished second at Daytona last season.

“I think this is the last chance, probably, to race here because next year there will be hypercars and it will be complicated,” Kobayashi told the Associated Press. “But I love racing in the United States because the atmosphere is great, the spectators, they’re always enjoying their time. It’s very different from European racing.

“I enjoy when you’re in the paddock, I like people, people are kind, they talk openly and it’s so important for me to enjoy it because at the end of the day I’m here because it’s a job But at some point, I’m here for the passion in motorsports as well. When I race in the United States, it’s very different than my career.”

Kobayashi gave no indication that Toyota would join IMSA next season, and its Lexus program is already a mainstay in the GTD Pro and GTD classes. But the top IMSA class will be aiming for Le Mans in 2023, where the Toyota Gazoo is a force to be reckoned with with four consecutive wins at the world’s biggest race.

Make no mistake: Kobayashi, 35, will be heavily involved in such discussions now that he runs the Toyota Gazoo Race Team in an unusual arrangement promoted by Toyota’s chief.

“This opportunity is very important to me. What Mr. Toyoda is requesting of himself as a team is to make a competitive part like a driver’s philosophy background,” he said. “My boss says motorsports engineering based Will depend more on the driver (speed) than it.”

Forget that Kobayashi has no experience actually running a race team. But the new boss of Toyota Gazoo already knows what happens if its star driver turns out to be something that needs to be addressed.

“removed!” If kobayashi driver spoils then boss declared kobayashi will result. “If I’m losing performance, of course, I should be fired.”

He is back at Daytona with his WEC co-champion López, who makes his Rolex debut on Saturday at No. 48 Cadillac as Pagenaud’s replacement. Kobayashi suggests Lopez for the job as the two already work closely together.

“I think when you look around the market, it’s not very easy to find a driver you know well,” Kobayashi said. “The communication is going to be straightforward and this could be the best opportunity to win the race. We’re not here to finish the race, we’re here to win the race and so that was the best option for us.”

These are the kinds of decisions Kobayashi will now make on a full-time basis as he dives into his new job as WEC team principal – a potential role after retiring as a driver. He is not close to retiring, he said, but Kobayashi acknowledged that he was looking for a new challenge that Toyoda offered.

“I don’t know if I can do it, but I have to,” he said. “I would say what experience I have – nothing. I’ve never owned a team. I was just a driver. But I love motorsports, I love working, and I love being part of a successful team.” It was introduced by Mr. Toyoda and he saw how I work with the team, how I communicate with the team, our feedback, and he wanted it to be that way. I can’t say Was.”

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More Associated Press Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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