Yamashita "made up" for missing Kovalainen at Fuji
Reigning SUPER GT champion Kenta Yamashita made up for the absence of regular SARD Toyota driver Heikki Kovalainen in last weekend's Fuji race, feels team boss Juichi Wakisaka.
Yamashita was parachuted into the line-up of SARD's #39 GR Supra alongside Yuichi Nakayama when it became clear that Japan's entry restrictions for foreigners would prevent Kovalainen from being present for the first round of the delayed 2020 season.
Having got his first taste of the Supra in the pre-season test at Fuji the previous month, Yamashita helped the team to a fifth-place finish, as Toyota locked out the top five spots in the first race outing for its all-new GT500 contender.
Wakisaka, who oversaw Yamashita title success last year alongside Kazuya Oshima at Team LeMans, said he was impressed at the feedback the 24-year-old gave to the team, and that he hoped it would make Nakayama more assertive with his own requests.
"Kenta brings a little something extra with him to this team," three-time SUPER GT champion Wakisaka told Motorsport.com.
"Maybe because he is young or he is not a regular team member he withholds his opinions, but gradually I asked him to make sure he makes requests to the team. Then at the Fuji test, I was surprised at how many comments he made to the team.
"It was a positive influence and it made me realise that Yuichi also needs to give his opinions to push the team forward too.
"I think Yuichi Is used to a situation in which he doesn’t give his opinion so much, but I’ve told him: ‘Please give us your opinions. Even if I hear [from team members] that ‘he’s a little bossy’, I’ll protect you.’ Little by little, Yuichi is changing.
"Although initially it was a negative thing that Heikki could not come to Japan and race with the team, the role Kenta is performing means he is making up for Heikki not being here."
Kenta Yamashita（#39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra）
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Yamashita took over the #39 Supra for the second half of the Fuji race, running seventh, and in the closing laps he passed the struggling Hondas of Tomoki Nojiri and Tadasuke Makino to come fifth behind the two TOM'S Toyotas and the Cerumo-run Supras.
"When I saw Toyota lock out the first five positions, I thought the car is already very complete," Yamashita told Motorsport.com of his first race since the Austin FIA World Endurance Championship round back in February.
"Even though I drove the car in the test, I quickly had the potential to set a good time so I felt like we could compete for a top position in the race.
"I knew the NSX-GT would be fast over a lap, but since the days of the LC500 the Lexus has always been good over a race distance, so [this time as well] I thought I could fight."
It's understood Yamashita will not be on call for SARD for the second round of the season at Fuji on August 8-9 as he heads to Spa to resume his WEC campaign for LMP2 squad High Class Racing, and he almost certainly won't be available for the third round at Suzuka either.
Yamashita added of his Fuji experience: "It was fun. It was great to feel the excitement and thrill of fighting in a close battle. I was able to get back my racing instincts too.
"I realised I was able to race properly even though I had a long time [with no racing], and my confidence grew."
#39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
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