Kazuki Nakajima leaves Toyota WEC team after 2021

The former Williams Formula 1 driver will be replaced in the WEC line-up after nine seasons with the team, during which time he won the Le Mans 24 Hours Blue Riband round three times and took the 2018/19 title alongside Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi.

It looks like his place will be taken on the GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercars two-car team by Ryo Hirakawa, who has been prepared for a WEC seat at Toyota since 2016.

Nakajima said: “It has been an honor to compete for Toyota Gazoo Racing for nine seasons and I feel so lucky to have won races, championships and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, together with so many talented, passionate and dedicated colleagues.

“I want to say a big thank you to TGR for this 10-year journey in the WEC.

“I have so many memories of this team, who have been a family to me in both difficult and happy times, and I will always feel like a TGR team member.”

Toyota’s announcement, which used the words “step down” to describe Nakajima’s departure, stated that he “will always remain a member of the TGR WEC family and the team hopes that he will continue to contribute to its development in the future.” “.

Nakajima attended the first test of the TS030 Hybrid that brought Toyota back to the pinnacle of sports car racing at the 2012 WEC relaunch, competing in three races that season.

In total, he made 58 starts in the WEC for Toyota, winning 16 of them. Only Buemi has more starts and wins for Toyota in the WEC.

Toyota has not yet confirmed Hirakawa, but Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon said in Bahrain on Wednesday that “our drivers are ready for next year”.

Hirakawa, who joined the Toyota driver development program in 2013, was placed with the TDS Racing LMP2 team for the European Le Mans Series and Le Mans with a view to joining the WEC team in the future .

The 27-year-old returned to the race for a WEC driver this year after a successful 2020 season in which he finished second and third in Super Formula and SUPER GT respectively.

He has taken two tests with the WEC team this year, after which Vasselon refused to be drawn on his chances of securing a seat for 2022.

“We have a lot of data and material, but as usual we will announce our driver line-up in January, maybe earlier in December, along with Toyota’s full program in motorsport,” he said last week.

It seems likely that Hirakawa will fit in the seat of the Nakajima in the #8 GR010 alongside Buemi and Hartley.

Last month, Nakajima told Motorsport.com: “In both Super Formula and Super GT, [Hirakawa’s] speed is undeniable.

“If he does well it will be harder for me to have a place, but that aside, I just want to support him.

“There are a lot of fast young drivers in Toyota, but he has the results and the speed, so if Toyota creates a system where results can lead to a spot in the WEC, I think that’s a good thing going forward.”

Nakajima now looks set for a double program in Japan in 2022, consisting of both Super Formula and SUPER GT.

Additional reporting by Kenichiro Ebii

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#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 --Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 –Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

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