Since his arrival at Wayne Taylor Racing in 2019, Kamui Kobayashi has stolen the show at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. A winner on his debut with WTR, and once more upon his return with the team in 2020, the Japanese ace’s insatiable need to pass everything in sight has become among the most electrifying aspect of the event.
A shift to Action Express Racing in January with the No. 48 Cadillac DPi-V.R only added to Kobayashi’s reputation. And with his rising stature in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, he says his annual visits to Daytona – and any starring roles he plays – should not be viewed in isolation. Ever the team player, Kobayashi does his best to ignore the increasing spotlight he’s receiving in North America.
“I think first of all, I’m doing what I can do,” he told RACER. “But obviously, the Action Express team makes a brilliant car with Dallara and Cadillac, so I feel very comfortable with the car in terms of my feeling, my driving style with this package. So that’s why when I jump in the car, I always feel comfortable straight away. And you know, I see some performance there.”
Not unlike Juan Pablo Montoya in his Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype days, when the Colombian would rip through the field during drop-in Rolex 24 drives, Kobayashi’s knack for carving into leads and running up front has earned the respect of his teammates.
Former WTR driver and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon lauded the factory Toyota WEC pilot after winning the Daytona race in 2020. And with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, and DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller as part of his AXR crew last month, the three heaped praise on Kobayashi, who posted a staggering race lap that was 0.493s faster than his partners during their run to second overall.
“Simon and Jimmie and Mike are coming from different championships, and I know they’re good drivers, but for sure they have a different experience compared to my experience,” he said. “So I just try to share as much as I can. To have success in endurance races, it’s all teamwork, not one person makes good results. Being part of the 48 team this year, I enjoyed it a lot. I know all three guys have a lot of success they bring; we communicated really good, and we had a lot of laughs.”
A big contributor to Kobayashi’s charging Daytona drives is found in the different manner IMSA handles the numerous caution periods that arise over 24 hours. In the WEC, and especially at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the field is not gathered and condensed behind a pace car before they make pit stops, and as a result, leads and gaps are preserved when the racing resumes. Thanks to IMSA’s approach to cautions, where its classes are bunched up and turned loose to start a new fight when the green flag waves, an attacking driver like Kobayashi is constantly rewarded.
Whether it’s streaking away from rivals or going on a passing spree, IMSA’s caution period format has given Kobayashi a platform to stand out in ways that are rarely possible in the WEC.
“With Le Mans, it’s like we don’t have any like the caution; if we make a gap, we keep this gap, so Le Mans is more pure performance, but in Daytona, you really start new races,” he said. “It changes how you think about the racing. What is important is the last four hours in a 24-hour race. Daytona, obviously, you have to push, so you have to manage a car for 20 hours. With four hours, this is where you begin with fighting speed and I think it’s a completely different race. But for me, what are you doing is same. It’s not a huge different for me.”
Kobayashi’s growing fan base might not need to wait until next January to see him in action; AXR’s No. 48 Cadillac is expected to return for more endurance racing in March at Sebring, and add Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans to its calendar of events.