Toyota has managed to eradicate the weaknesses of the Lexus LC500 with its new GR Supra SUPER GT contender, believes former series champion Heikki Kovalainen.
Sometime Renault, McLaren and Lotus Formula 1 racer Kovalainen is heading into his sixth campaign as part of Toyota’s SUPER GT roster, staying with the SARD squad with which he won the title in 2016. He will once again partner Yuichi Nakayama.
The Finnish driver made no secret of his exasperation after a tough 2019 campaign in which he and Nakayama failed to match the other Lexus squads, with a victory in wet conditions at Autopolis marking the pair’s only podium finish of the year.
For 2020, the Lexus LC500 has been replaced by the GR Supra, which Kovalainen had the chance to sample at Sepang last month during a private manufacturers’ test.
The 38-year-old said he was encouraged both by how the car performed in Malaysia and by changes made at SARD over the winter, including the arrival of a new team director in the form of three-time GT500 champion Juichi Wakisaka.
“I’m proud and grateful to be able to be able to continue in this world-class and extremely competitive championship with Team SARD for this new season,” said Kovalainen.
“By partnering Yuichi for a second season, we can focus on the development of the new GR Supra. Juichi joined as a director and the engineering staff has been strengthened.
“The feeling of the GR Supra in Sepang evolved in a good direction, and the negative points of the Lexus LC500 have gone.
“Although I’m concerned about the momentum of our rivals, I feel that with the strengthening of our team, if we can perfectly apply the finishing touches to the car, we can fight for the title.”
Wakisaka arrives at SARD, where he raced in 2012-13, fresh from overseeing the now-defunct Team LeMans squad’s GT500 title success in 2019.
Other key appointments at the team for 2020 include Takafumi Kondo as the entrant representative and Narunobu Makino as the chief engineer.
Wakisaka said: “The car and the engineering staff have changed dramatically, but our goal is always to make those who support our goal of winning the series title smile.
“In the high-level world of SUPER GT, it is hard to go one step further. But we will strive to create an environment in which the team is well organised, drivers and team members have a strong passion, and everyone can demonstrate their skills and shine.”
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