Kamui Kobayashi will take charge of Toyota’s Hypercar programme in a joint team principal/driver role from next year.
The 35-year-old ex-F1 racer, who won at Le Mans this summer, will be charged with maintaining Toyota’s World Endurance Championship (WEC) success in the face of new competition.
In a “driver-focused” shake-up at Toyota Gazoo Racing, Kazuki Nakajima has also announced his retirement from professional racing and will become vice chairman of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe (TGR-E).
Nakajima is the most successful Japanese driver at Le Mans after moving to sports cars following a stint in Formula 1 with Williams. He won the 24-hour endurance race three years in a row from 2018 to 2020, and has been part of the WEC championship-winning team for the past two seasons.
His hypercar seat will be filled by Ryo Hirakawa, 27, who has had success with Toyota in Super GT and Super Formula. There was no word on whether the team would run a third car at Le Mans next year, which could open a seat for WRC champion Sébastien Ogier.
Nakajima switches from hypercar seat to ‘desk job’
Toyota said that its priority with the new structure was “putting drivers first and creating a family environment”.
“Kobayashi and Nakajima will come together to accelerate this process and enhance the WEC project’s contribution to making ever-better cars,” it said.
Toyota’s current dominance of top-level sports car racing will be increasingly under threat from next season when Peugeot’s hypercar makes its debut. The following year should bring a raft of new challengers, with Ferrari, Porsche, Audi and BMW among the manufacturers working on cars that can compete for overall Le Mans victory.