The experienced driver will begin their first Cup race in the 28th position, piloting the No. 67 Toyota for 23XI Racing.
He joins a star-studded field that includes Shane van Gisbergen, Brodie Kostecki, Jenson Button, and Mike Rockenfeller.
Kobayashi, a two-time WEC champion and the overall winner in the 2021 running of the Le Mans 24, has never made a start in any level of stock car racing before.
The 36-year-old individual has gained significant experience in various areas. They participated in 75 Formula 1 races from 2009 to 2014, achieving one podium finish and reaching as high as 12th place in the championship rankings.
Before this event, Kobayashi has dedicated numerous hours to simulator training and has conducted on-track testing with the car at Virginia International Raceway. Additionally, he can rely on his teammates, one of whom is Tyler Reddick, the reigning champion of the Indy RC race.
“I have spent a significant amount of time preparing for this,” Kobayashi stated during a press conference at IMS on Saturday. “I have traveled from Japan to Europe and then to Charlotte three times in order to be ready for the Indy Road Course. I am thrilled to finally be here. Overall, I believe my preparation has been effective. 23XI has played a crucial role in supporting me and boosting my confidence. Without a doubt, I am grateful for their assistance.”ToyotaTRD and the simulator sessions have greatly assisted me in preparing for this road course. To be honest, I believe that I am fully prepared for this weekend with all the training I have undergone.
Limited track time
During his practice session, Kobayashi briefly went off the road due to pressure from other cars, but apart from that, he has performed flawlessly.
He ended the 20-minute practice in 31st, completing five laps. Speaking on the limited track time for all drivers, he said: “Honestly, I think just concerns of 20 minutes of practice here and then straight to qualifying. Obviously, we need to prepare as much as we can but 20 minutes — it’s not enough time, but this is how it is.
The car’s behavior presents a challenge for me as I am not accustomed to driving with such low downforce and weight. The transfer of weight in the car feels different compared to what I am used to. During the rookie test at VIR, I found it to be quite satisfactory. After just a few laps, I felt quite confident. Overall, I would say that it is not too difficult, especially considering the preparation I have done, which has also boosted my confidence.
During the qualifying session, Kobayashi completed a lap around the road course in 1 minute and 29.077 seconds. Unfortunately, he fell short by 0.595 seconds of advancing to the final round. However, he did manage to outperform Button and Rockenfeller, both of whom are participating in their third Cup Series race this weekend.
Kobayashi stated that it is impossible to compare the current Cup car to any other vehicles he has driven in his career. He emphasized the importance of being prepared on the straight before braking, as it requires constant effort to maintain control. Unlike his race car, where he can relax on the straight, driving this car requires continuous engagement. Despite the new challenge, Kobayashi finds the racing experience enjoyable as it demands constant effort from the drivers.
Kamui Kobayashi with Tyler Reddick, 23XI Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Camry and Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, McDonald’s Toyota Camry
Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images
With only three races remaining before the playoffs, it is anticipated that Sunday’s race will involve a significant amount of contact. Kobayashi acknowledges this fact but intends to preserve his equipment until the end and will not be provoked into engaging in a fierce battle during the initial stages.
“I believe that one must remain engaged throughout the entire race, while also ensuring the preservation of their car for the final stretch. It is not solely about fighting, but rather effectively managing the entirety of the race. This principle applies to any race,” he clarified.
“When participating in an endurance race, it is essential to effectively handle the car. It is not solely about enduring for 24 hours, but also about self-management. Once a favorable opportunity arises, one must maintain the distance. The car must be managed and prepared, as there will likely be a caution period followed by a restart. Being in possession of the superior car provides an advantage. I utilize my past experiences to the fullest and believe that when there is good speed, car management is crucial. This is how one competes in racing events.”