Kovalainen to spend longer in Japan in Super GT title push
Ex-Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen has said he is planning to spend more time with Lexus in Japan in a bid to return to title contention in Super GT.
Kovalainen won the 2016 Super GT title with Kohei Hirate but hasn't finished anywhere close to the top five since, with 2018 marking his worst season since he first raced in the series four years ago.
The Finnish driver even suggested that he may not continue in the championship in 2019, telling Motorsport.com that “looking average” in “three out of four seasons” was “not what I was looking for” when joining the series.
However, after his return to the series was confirmed on Thursday, Kovalainen said a successful pre-season testing programme has rekindled his confidence and he sees himself fighting for the championship once again.
"I'm very pleased to be able to contest this competitive championship with Sard this season and I am very thankful," said the 2008 Hungarian GP winner.
"The LC500, which will now enter its third season, has been performing well and testing went smoothly. In the off-season we've applied the finishing touches and I feel I can return to fighting for the title.
"I am planning to spend more time in Japan while trying to maintain conditions such as training. Although I am concerned about the way our rivals have finished, I am confident we won't lose in the races."
Kovalainen will have a new teammate in form of GT300 graduate Yuichi Nakayama at Sard following the departure of Kamui Kobayashi, who will focus largely on winning the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota while continuing his Super Formula programme with KCMG.
Nakayama will be Kovalainen’s third Super GT teammate after Hirate and Kobayashi. He was also joined by fellow ex-F1 driver Christian Klien for the 2015 Suzuka 1000km race.
“I have done a few tests with my new teammate Yuichi, who has been driving very well, and I’m looking forward to fighting together with him,” Kovalainen said. “The communication between us has also been very strong."
Nakayama, who two races en route to sixth in the 2018 GT300 class, says there is a lot he can learn from Kovalainen as he graduates to the premier class of the series.
"Having already tested the GT500 car, I can drive with confidence in the official pre-season tests,” he said. “Now that I’m withdrawing from GT300, I will no longer have to let by other cars.
“I’m looking forward to having fun and learn from Heikki, who has shown a very sincere attitude towards racing so far."
#39 Lexus Team Sard Lexus LC500: Heikki Kovalainen, Sho Tsuboi
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
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