Toyota: Kunimoto can be major star
|By Jonathan Noble||Monday, November 17th 2008, 17:22 GMT|
Macau Grand Prix winner Keisuke Kunimoto has the potential to emerge as one of Japan's very best drivers in the wake of his shock victory in the famous Formula 3 street race.
That is the view of Masanori Sekiya, the former Le Mans winner who is now in charge of Toyota's young driver programme (TDP) which oversees Kunimoto's career.
Although Kunimoto was not highly rated prior to Macau, Sekiya claims that the TOM'S driver lifted his game immensely over the weekend - and now has enough promise to follow in the footsteps of other TDP members Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi.
"Until we came here, my evaluation of him was that he was below Kazuki or Kamui," Sekiya told autosport.com. "But after we have seen his win here, and what he could do when given the opportunity, now he should be able to compete against them also. We have seen something here this weekend."
Despite his Macau success, Sekiya believes that Kunimoto is still lacking experience - having competed in just three seasons of car racing so far. He thinks that was a key factor in why he was beaten to the Japanese F3 crown by TOM'S teammate Carlo van Dam.
"I believe talking about speed, he is equal to Carlo," he said. "But because of experience he was not able to beat Carlo. He just needs a bit more experience.
"He brought out some hidden talent here this weekend though. That was a big factor. Considering what he has done back in Japan, my expectations coming here were that he could get in the top six and if lucky he could get on the podium."
The belief that Kunimoto still needs more experience has been backed by his TOM'S race engineer Kenji Yamada.
"Considering his performance, actually compared to Carlo, still Carlo is way up there - and Keisuke needs a lot of study still," said Yamada. "Here we taught him a lot with the experience of TOM'S, and that made him quite successful."
Kunimoto's plans for next year are still to be decided, and Sekiya says there will be no push from his side to hand the 19-year-old a Formula One test with Toyota.
"We have to leave that decision to Toyota itself. It is not for me to decide whether they will evaluate him or give him a chance."