Kazuki Nakajima, the 36-year-old Japanese Le Mans winner and FIA World Endurance Championship world drivers’ champion, will stand down from his role as a Toyota Gazoo Racing factory driver after Saturday’s 8 Hours of Bahrain.
Nakajima (pictured at right, above, in 2019), a former Formula 1 driver, was a founding member of Toyota’s WEC team when it joined the championship in 2012, and has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in top-line sports car racing. He has a hat-trick of Le Mans 24 Hours overall wins to his name (2018, 2019, 2020), the 2018-19 WEC title, as well as 16 WEC victories and a further 19 podium finishes.
In addition to experiencing the highest of highs, Nakajima was also at the heart of one of the most agonizing moments in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota. He was part of the team that was infamously robbed of a Le Mans overall victory in heart-breaking fashion back in 2016, when the leading car suffered a technical failure on the penultimate lap of the race, retiring on the pit straight with Nakajima aboard.
At Toyota, Nakajima is also one of only two drivers to have started a race in every FIA WEC Toyota chassis, having been a part of the TS030, TS040, TS050 and GR010 HYBRID programs.
“It has been an honour to compete for Toyota Gazoo Racing for nine seasons and I feel so lucky to have won races, championships and Le Mans 24 Hours alongside so many talented, passionate and dedicated colleagues,” Nakajima said.
“I want to express my greatest thanks to Toyota Gazoo Racing for this 10-year journey in WEC. I have so many memories with this team, who have been a family to me in tough times as well as in happy times, and I will always feel like a Toyota Gazoo Racing team member.
“A new era is coming for endurance racing, with many Hypercar manufacturers joining in the next years, and it will be a new era for me. I will continue to support the team and I look forward to watching the start of a new, exciting time for endurance racing.”
Toyota’s 2022 FIA WEC Le Mans Hypercar driver line-up is set to be confirmed “in the coming weeks,” with team development driver Ryo Hirakawa the hot tip to step up to a full-season drive.