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Toyota hints new WEC junior Miyata could succeed Kobayashi

Toyota has suggested that junior driver Ritomo Miyata could be in line to eventually succeed team principal Kamui Kobayashi in its World Endurance Championship driver line-up.

Ritomo Miyata, VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S

Japanese youngster Miyata, a race winner in both Super Formula and SUPER GT, was named as the latest member of Toyota’s WEC Challenge programme in the lead-up to last weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours, and was embedded within the team for the French classic.

The 23-year-old will also join the Cologne-based outfit for the next two WEC races at Monza and Fuji and undertake simulator work in between his campaigns for the TOM’S team in Japan, while there are plans for him to drive the GR010 HYBRID at some stage.

Discussing Miyata’s appointment with Autosport, Toyota team director Rob Leupen said that the door is open for the newcomer to stake a claim to replace Kobayashi, 36, when the ex-Formula 1 racer eventually decides to call time on his racing career.

“Performance is the most important thing,” Leupen told Autosport when asked why Miyata was chosen over his peers. “It’s also very important to speak the language, and to be in a mental situation to race in this [European] environment.

“He seems very switched on. He has bright eyes, a bit of twinkling in the eyes, this is what you want! From just looking at the outside and having a few words with him, he seems to be a good one.

“With Kazuki [Nakajima, TGR-E vice-chairman] he has the best possible support, someone who has huge experience here, and Kamui is also very interested in him in his role as team principal.

“He seems to be made from the right stuff. While he’s here he will assess it and we’ll see if he moves in a direction of being a potential successor to Kamui as a race driver.”

 

Leupen added that the next step would be for Miyata to replace Nakajima in the official reserve driver role for the Toyota WEC squad, which could happen as soon as next season.

“It depends on his [racing] programme,” said Leupen. “If it fits in with his programme, he could potentially take over. He could do some laps at Le Mans next year, for example. And then we’ll see what the years after bring.”

Miyata hoping for LMP2 or GT3 drive in Europe

For his part, Miyata said he hopes he will get to drive in a European category next year with Toyota's backing, similarly to how predecessor Kenta Yamashita drove for the High Class Racing LMP2 team in the WEC in 2019-20 until his decision to return to Japan.

With the LMP2 class disappearing from the WEC for next season, Miyata says he would be equally happy honing his craft in the new LMGT3 class that replaces GTE Am.

“I don’t know which categories I will drive next season, but now TGR-E staff are searching for my seat,” Miyata told Autosport. “Next year, the WEC changes its class structure to just Hypercar and LMGT3, which means if I drive in LMP2, it has to be in European Le Mans Series.

“I need to learn the European tracks, so if I can drive a GT3 car in the WEC, I can also learn the tracks and how the WEC race weekend works.”

A European-based programme for Miyata next year would likely preclude a return to both Super Formula and SUPER GT, with Kobayashi and Hirakawa both currently combining the former series with their Toyota WEC duties.

 

But Miyata says he would have no hesitation scaling back on his commitments in Japan in pursuit of a full-time WEC berth with Toyota.

“I want to become a world class driver,” said Miyata. “If I can’t drive in one of the Japanese categories because of the WEC, it’s no problem.

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“If I can drive in Europe, I want to live in Europe. I have to spend time with the team, attend meetings, go on the simulator, and of course study English.

“I have a wife, but she is very supportive, and if I have to live in Europe, it’s totally ok for her. She has spent some time in Europe, so maybe we can live together in Europe.”

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