Toyota impressed by Yamashita’s first Le Mans performance
Toyota LMP1 team director Rob Leupen has praised Kenta Yamashita for a “really good job” on the Japanese driver’s first appearance in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
SUPER GT champion and Super Formula race winner Yamashita was placed with the High Class Racing LMP2 team for the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship season, sharing the Danish squad’s Oreca 07 with Anders Fjordbach and Mark Patterson.
Despite his lack of experience of the Circuit de la Sarthe and no pre-event test day to help himself familiarise with the track, Yamashita managed to secure High Class a spot in the six-car Hyperpole shootout in Thursday’s first qualifying session.
Finally qualifying fourth, Yamashita was running as high as second in class in the opening stages of the race before handing over to gentleman driver Patterson, but the team’s hopes of a strong finish were ruined by gearbox problems that started in the fifth hour.
“We saw Kenta was doing a really good job,” Leupen told Motorsport.com. “We will now look at how he can keep developing for the future.
“We also have Nyck [de Vries], who will test the new car and be involved. We want them to grow. It’s good to have young drivers to keep our current drivers on top of their game.”
It’s understood that Toyota will go into the 2021 WEC season with an unchanged driver line-up, but Yamashita could be well-placed to join the Cologne-based outfit in 2022.
“Maybe he can be a successor to Kazuki [Nakajima] at some point,” added Leupen.
#33 High Class Racing - ORECA 07 - GIBSON: Kenta Yamashita, Mark Patterson, Anders Fjordbach
Photo by: Paul Foster
For his part, Yamashita said his qualifying performance was more than he had hoped for based on High Class’s form during the WEC season, and felt that a top-five finish could have been on the cards if the team had put together a clean run.
“The car already felt quite nice on Thursday compare to previous race, and the track was not so difficult for me, so I was able to set a good time from the first lap,” he told Motorsport.com. “I was happy to make it into Hyperpole, my lap was good.
“To be honest, this result was better than I expected because we struggled with the car performance for the whole WEC season. Our car had good performance in race also; looks like tyre degradation was lower than some of the other teams.
“I think we were able to finish top five or six if we finished without issues, so I’m little disappointed. But I know Le Mans is tough race, so it couldn't be helped.
“I’m happy with my performance this weekend and I’ll keep pushing hard for the future.”
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