IndyCar unlikely for Kamui Kobayashi, but an IMSA victory is possible with better pit stops

Kamui Kobayashi IndyCar
IMSA
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Kamui Kobayashi believes victory lane with Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud is possible – but don’t expect the Japanese sports car prodigy to race his teammates in IndyCar this year.

After finishing second with Johnson, Kobayashi, Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Action Express Racing announced last week the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi will return for the next three Michelin Endurance Cup races this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Johnson, Pagenaud and Kobayashi will race next week in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and also will be teamed for the six-hour race at Watkins Glen International and the Motul Petit Le Mans season finale.

Though Kobayashi missed a Sebring test March 2-3 with the team, he got good feedback from Johnson and Pagenaud and also has a second-place finish in a Toyota at the iconic road course in the 2019 World Endurance Championship race.

Kamui Kobayashi helped the No. 48 Cadillac finish second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports).

“I knew the circuit from WEC just once,” Kobayashi said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “For sure, the track will still be bumpy, but it sounds like with my teammates, the car is quite good on the bumps. So I’m quite looking forward to being back in Sebring with the Cadillac DPi.

“We were working well together, Jimmie and Simon and Rocky as well. In the beginning, we tried to understand how we communicated, but I think at the end of the week, after Daytona, we had really pretty good fun through all the week. Obviously, I think Jimmie is coming from a completely different car, which is NASCAR. I think he’d try to learn the car as much as he can, and I think the end of the race, he managed to get pretty good speed. Definitely I think we will have more opportunity to maybe win the race.”

Though lack of familiarity between drivers was overcome at Daytona, Kobayashi said the lack of experience on pit stops hurt the team. Using a mostly Hendrick Motorsports-supplied pit crew, Kobayashi said the team lost about 5 seconds in the pits each stop.

A contingent of Hendrick employees, including vice president of competition Chad Knaus and other pit crew members, will return with the No. 48 for the next three IMSA races.

“Our team is kind of new,” Kobayashi said. “Action Express is running the team with Hendrick, but obviously many guys are coming from Hendrick, which has never been in the sports cars. When you look at every pit stop, we lost quite a bit of lap time.

“So I think there are many things that we can improve, so (the team) is 100 percent sure we’ll be OK in the next Sebring. I think the general feeling is we will have more opportunity in the next three rounds.”

It appears his U.S. opportunities will be limited to IMSA despite a recent RACER.com story about his interest in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Kobayashi said there have been no discussions with any IndyCar teams, and his schedule of the World Endurance Championship, IMSA and also Super Formula in Japan will make it tricky to squeeze in further races (particularly with the WEC and IMSA adjusting calendars for the recent postponement of the 24 Hours of Le Mans).

“I just had a question if I had interest in IndyCar, and that’s why I said, ‘Yeah, it’d be interesting,’ ” Kobayashi said. “But for the moment, there is nothing along. So I will be focused on the WEC and the Endurance Cup in IMSA. I will have quite the busy schedule.

Rolex 24 at Daytona
Kamui Kobayashi, Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after finishing second in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

“We’ll see. If the schedule is all right, if I had an offer, maybe I would be there, but for the moment, it’s quite a busy schedule. With the WEC moving the original Le Mans dates, I think we’ll be a little more packed the middle of the season. So it’ll be difficult to find time.”

His presence likely will be welcomed, as Kobayashi has established quite a reputation with his aggressive and sublime driving during two victories and a runner-up in hi only three Rolex 24 starts

“Kamui around is always good for some fireworks on track,” Chip Ganassi Racing driver Renger van der Zande said with a chuckle Tuesday. “I had some good battles, and Scott (Dixon) told me had had good battles with Kamui as well. Having a big name, Jimmie Johnson, to have in the field is always good, too.”

In one memorable moment at the Rolex 24, Johnson received some demonstrative coaching from Kobayashi, whom the seven-time Cup Series champion says is “just insane as a driver,” particularly in Daytona’s Bus Stop chicane.

“His experience in high downforce cars and the bravery and talent that he has. He’s just a monster through there,” Johnson said of Kobayashi. “Simon and I and Rocky have all looked at the data and just can’t believe how fast he gets through there and how committed he is.”