Ex-F1 racer Kovalainen plans Japan WRC entry, eyes European outings

After calling time on his Tremendous GT profession on the finish of final 12 months, the previous Renault, McLaren and Caterham F1 driver has centered on his Japan Rally Championship commitments this 12 months.

Driving a Rally2-spec Skoda Fabia run by Workforce Aicello, he and co-driver Sae Kitagawa have received 5 of the six JRC rallies thus far this 12 months and might safe the title with a spherical to go in subsequent month’s penultimate occasion, Rally Hokkaido.

As soon as the ultimate two occasions of the JRC season are accomplished, Kovalainen will flip his consideration to the primary spherical of the WRC to happen in Japan since 2010 on 10-13 November.

Talking to Autosport, Kovalainen says he relishing the prospect to check himself towards higher-level competitors within the Nagoya-based occasion than he has confronted this 12 months within the JRC.

PLUS: How Kovalainen’s F1 “scars” had been healed by racing in Japan 

“It needs to be a pleasant occasion however rather a lot tougher than JRC,” stated the Finn.

“I’d wish to see the place we’re. I’m fairly certain we’re behind, however I simply don’t understand how a lot.

“I suppose as a result of Japan is much away and with it being the ultimate spherical of the season, I don’t know who will come there [among the WRC2 regulars], however hopefully a number of of the great guys will.

“Tarmac can also be the most effective likelihood for us, so I’m hoping the hole isn’t huge, however it would possibly nonetheless be fairly vital.

“Additionally we’re utilizing Dunlop tyres in JRC and within the WRC we now have to make use of Pirelli. We are going to do a take a look at earlier than the rally [to get used to the Pirellis], however in the intervening time I don’t know if the grip stage goes to be higher or worse than on Dunlops.”

Heikki Kovalainen, Sae Kitagawa (Rally Team AICELLO)

Heikki Kovalainen, Sae Kitagawa (Rally Workforce AICELLO)

Photograph by: Izumi Hiromoto

Kovalainen stepped as much as the JRC’s high JN-1 division this 12 months after profitable final 12 months’s JN-2 class for two-wheel drive vehicles, having mixed his Tremendous GT actions for Toyota with a programme of occasions on the home rallying scene for a while.

Admitting that the step as much as four-wheel drive has come simpler than anticipated, Kovalainen says he has additionally been joyful to show his velocity on gravel in addition to tarmac.

“The latest rally was the primary one on gravel, in order that was a query mark as I haven’t finished a lot on gravel at all around the years,” he stated.

“It turned out effectively, however it was a a lot nearer struggle than we now have had on tarmac.

“Now we now have an excellent lead within the championship. It’s one thing like 3.8 factors we’d like [from the final two rounds], so it’s not lots. We simply want to remain on the highway. 

“I’d wish to go to the ultimate rally [Rally Highland Masters] and simply deal with going quick as an alternative of scoring factors. I simply wish to go as arduous as I can and see what occurs. 

“So it could be good if we might wrap it up at Rally Hokkaido, after which it could be good apply for the WRC to simply deal with going as quick as potential.”

Requested about his possible 2023 plans, Kovalainen stated it could be an “choice” to remain within the JRC for a probable title defence however admitted to curiosity in doing extra European rallying.

“It might be fairly cool to strive one thing in Europe,” he admitted. “The Finnish championship is fairly aggressive, however it’s totally on gravel and snow which is kind of completely different for me.

Heikki Kovalainen, Sae Kitagawa (Rally Team AICELLO)

Heikki Kovalainen, Sae Kitagawa (Rally Workforce AICELLO)

Photograph by: Izumi Hiromoto

“It might be good to do extra rounds of the WRC within the WRC2 automobile as effectively. 

“I don’t have massive plans in rallying, I’m not going to be WRC champion and even Finnish champion… it’s not about that. It’s nearly having fun with driving and doing a little driving with out having an enormous schedule and having time for different issues.”

Nonetheless, he admitted the probabilities of a comeback to top-level circuit racing, together with a debut within the Le Mans 24 Hours that he missed out on final 12 months, are actually realistically receding.

“In fact it could be cool to do [Le Mans], however now I’ve been nearly a 12 months away from circuit racing and it solely will get tougher and tougher to come back again,” stated the 40-year-old.

“Sooner or later there can be a restrict the place you will have to take action a lot catching up and getting again into form… I wouldn’t wish to go there and really feel like I’m less than it anymore. So probably, I’m not going to do it.”

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