Prior to van Gisbergen’s win in the first-ever Chicago Street Race for Trackhouse Racing, NASCAR’s premier series had already been attracting increasing global interest this season.
NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, which included international racing stars Jensen Button and Mike Rockenfeller, was well-received by fans and Button, the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion, also made his own Cup debut at the Circuit of the Americas in March.
Toyota and 23XI Racing made an announcement at Le Mans regarding the participation of Kamui Kobayashi, the overall winner of the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours and a former F1 driver. Kobayashi will be making his debut in the Cup race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on August 13th.
Kobayashi will be joined by Button, van Gisbergen, and Supercars sensation Brodie Kostecki, who will make his first appearance in the Cup for Richard Childress Racing.
Kobayashi will be the first Japanese driver to start a top-level NASCAR race in over 20 years. Hideo Fukuyama was the most recent, making his final start at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June 2003.
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development USA, expressed his anticipation for the upcoming race in Indianapolis. He mentioned that he is particularly excited about this race, possibly excluding Phoenix. Wilson believes that they will have strong contenders in the Indianapolis race and overall, he expects it to be a fantastic event.
“We are expecting a massive worldwide audience. We have high-ranking executives coming from Japan, including some who have never witnessed a NASCAR race before. This event will greatly enhance the visibility of Toyota, the U.S. program, and TRD USA, and I take great pride in that.”
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 – Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Wilson expressed that they were pleasantly surprised by the response to Kobayashi’s NASCAR debut, which caught them off guard.
“It is undeniable that our sport has gained significant attention in numerous cases. He is a widely recognized figure, both in Japan where he enjoys immense popularity, and in Europe due to the widespread coverage of WEC and sportscars,” stated Wilson.
“When you combine that with Shane’s actions in Chicago, there is undoubtedly increased interest. Kamui’s excitement is clearly evident.”
The interest in NASCAR from international racing stars, including those backed by Toyota, has brought about a significant shift in how Toyota views its driver assets and their future prospects.
“I cannot reword”
“The philosophy is to give us the autonomy to manage our participation, decide where we should race, how we race, how we manage our assets including drivers. What that’s done over decades is kind of built silos around each country. Where we’ve had technology-sharing, we’ve never really talked about drivers.
“The phenomenon known as the ‘Kamui effect’ or the ‘Shane effect’ has undeniably prompted us to initiate a means of communication. This has led us to evaluate our group of drivers and explore the possibility of finding suitable matches for exchanging resources or drivers. This is quite fascinating and generates a lot of enthusiasm.”
Sharing assets between Toyota’s racing operations
Wilson stated that the OEM is adopting a more “pyramid-like approach” towards its motorsports operations, aiming to explore possibilities of asset sharing and repositioning. This even encompasses Toyota’s acclaimed driver development programs.
The popularity of NASCAR may provide opportunities for Toyota drivers to pursue alternative career paths that they may not have previously considered.
“I believe that young drivers like Shane may have an opportunity to pursue a second career in NASCAR. This could potentially lead to a Part 2 of their career, where they can strive for a championship in NASCAR. I am certain that there will be some contemplation and consideration given to this possibility,” expressed Wilson.
“To further enhance our aggressiveness, why couldn’t NASCAR be included in the options for younger drivers worldwide? After gaining a deeper understanding of our objectives, we are now discussing the possibility of globally sharing racing seats within our own family.”
“We have never engaged in such discussions previously. This indicates the level of recognition the sport is receiving and highlights the respect TRD is gaining in relation to our dedication and investment in nurturing drivers.”