At the 11th hour, two Japanese drivers have been added to the entry list for the 6 Hours of Fuji, bringing the final tally of drivers competing at home to six.
Fans will be sure to cheer on their own (as well as Toyota) and will show extra love for two local stars, Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing's contenders for the win. Nakajima won this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans and has claimed the top step on the podium at the 6 Hours of Fuji three times (in 2012, 2013 and 2017). Kamui Kobayashi is a bonafide celebrity in his home country, winning this race back in 2016 and regularly participating in Super GT, the Japanese national GT championship. He has also done 75 Formula 1 Grand Prix representing Toyota, Sauber and Caterham, and set a pole position record at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
A very well-known Japanese woman is set to take the start at the 6 Hours of Fuji. Keiko Ihara competed in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in LMP2 from 2012 to 2014, and has hit the track in various other championships such as Super GT, the Le Mans Endurance Series, the Aston Martin Asia Cup, the Formula Le Mans Cup and the Asian Le Mans Series. She has participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, the last attempt with Larbre Compétition in 2014 at the wheel of a Morgan LMP2-Judd (14th overall, ninth in LMP2). At Fuji, she will make her return at a top international level, once again with the French team, sharing the #50 Ligier JS P217-Gibson with Erwin Creed and Romano Ricci.
The other three Japanese drivers will be competing in the LMGTE Am class. Among them, Keita Sawa has the most experience. The Clearwater Racing driver is 42 years old and will drive the Singapore team's #61 Ferrari 488 GTE along with Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok. Mok finished in third place in the 2017 FIA Endurance AM Drivers Trophy with one win and has announced his retirement after Shanghai. He participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times with as best result fourth place in LMGTE Am in 2016. The trio is currently second in its championship.
The Japanese driver with MR Racing, a team supported by AF Corse that was formed specifically for the Super Season, is Motoaki Ishikawa. He is competing in his first WEC season, at the wheel of the #70 Ferrari 488 GTE with Eddie Cheever, III and veteran driver Olivier Beretta (23 participations in the 24 Hours of Le Mans). At 51 years of age, he is the Bronze member of the driver line-up. At his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, he finished fifth in LMGTE Am.
The sixth and last Japanese driver on the entry list for the 6 Hours of Fuji is Satoshi Hoshino. He has competed in many championships, primarily in Japan, and is a recognized Porsche expert (Porsche Carrera Cup Japan and the Blancpain GT Asia Series) who knows the Fuji circuit extremely well. He will join forces with Giogio Roda and Matteo Cairoli at the wheel of the #88 Porsche 911 RSR fielded by Dempsey-Proton Racing.
Only one other Japanese driver besides Kazuki Nakajima and Kamui Kobayashi has won a class victory at Fuji in the WEC: Shinji Nakano, with the ADR-Delta team (LMP2) in 2012. Will one of these fierce competitors take the prize at home this year?
MAIN PHOTO: Keita Sawa, pictured here at Scrutineering at the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans, will be one of six Japanese drivers competing this weekend.
THUMBNAIL PHOTOS: TOYOTA GAZOO Racing driver Kamui Kobayashi (photo 1), the #70 Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Motoaki Ishikawa (photo 2) and Keiko Ihara (photo 3) at her last participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 along with Ricky Taylor (at left) and Pierre Ragues (at right).