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Toyota star Kamui Kobayashi has been drafted into the marque’s Super GT line-up to form a new superteam with fellow ex-Formula 1 racer Heikki Kovalainen.
Kobayashi, who has never contested a full season in Super GT before, will join 2016 champion Kovalainen in the SARD team’s Lexus LC500.
The Le Mans qualifying lap-record holder will combine these activities with his Toyota World Endurance Championship campaign and a continuation of his Super Formula relationship with KCMG.
Ex-GP2 racer Kohei Hirate, who won the 2016 Super GT title with Kovalainen, has been dropped from Toyota’s GT500-class line-up to make way for Kobayashi.
Formula E title contender Felix Rosenqvist has also joined the Super GT ranks.
The Swede, who finished third in his rookie season of Super Formula last season, will race for the Le Mans team alongside Kazuya Oshima, but will not continue with Le Mans in Super Formula.
Rosenqvist replaces Andrea Caldarelli, who has quit the Japanese racing scene.
“I drove the car a few weeks ago, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more impressed,” said Rosenqvist.
“The performance is remarkable for this kind of car, six to seven seconds faster than DTM and just a few seconds slower than Super Formula, which in itself is a highly impressive single-seater.
“I was shocked, to tell the truth! This is going to be a real challenge, but I’m already looking forward to it a lot.”
Elsewhere in the Lexus Super GT ranks, Yuhi Sekiguchi has been shuffled over from Bandoh to occupy the plum #36 TOM’S ride alongside Kazuki Nakajima, with James Rossiter making way.
Sekiguchi and Nakajima will be team-mates to 2017 champions Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa, who will carry the #1.
Sekiguchi’s position at Bandoh has been taken by the highly promising Kenta Yamashita, the 2016 Japanese Formula 3 champion who had an impressive rookie season in Super Formula last year.
Rossiter secures Super Formula return
Rossiter will replace Andre Lotterer at the Toyota-powered TOM’S team to end a one-year sabbatical from Japan’s Super Formula single-seater series.
Lotterer has called time on his career in Japan to focus on his Formula E and WEC programmes, and Rossiter will move in alongside Kazuki Nakajima.
Another driver returning to the Super Formula ranks is reigning Super GT champion Ryo Hirakawa, who moves in alongside Yuhi Sekiguchi at Team Impul.
Hirakawa has spent two seasons outside SF while combining Super GT with the European Le Mans Series, and makes his single-seater comeback at the expense of Jann Mardenborough.
Spearheading the Toyota attack is the Cerumo-Inging line-up of reigning champion Hiroaki Ishiura and his predecessor Yuji Kunimoto.
Felix Rosenqvist’s old seat at Team Le Mans has not yet been assigned.