Toyota Gazoo Racing has confirmed ex-F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi has been promoted to a full-time race drive in the FIA World Endurance Championships and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Japanese driver, who raced with Toyota, Sauber and Caterham in F1 between 2009 and 2014, was Toyota's reserve WEC driver in 2015 alongside a full season of racing in Super Formula, but didn't get a WEC start.
However, following the exit of Alex Wurz, who is retiring from full-time motorsport, Toyota has promoted from within to place Kobayashi alongside Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway in the new TS050 Hybrid, which was also revealed.
“I'm really excited to be an LMP1 race driver and I would like to thank TOYOTA for this opportunity. I tested the TS040 HYBRID a few times and it was a seriously impressive car; the power of the hybrid system in particular was amazing. Now I can't wait to see what the new car feels like; I am sure it will be a big step forward and put us back in the fight at the front.
“Racing in LMP1 will be a new experience for me and I am looking forward to it a lot. There will be plenty to learn but I know my team-mates will support me and I am sure I can be competitive right from the start. Now my focus is on preparing properly for the new season and being absolutely ready for Silverstone.”
It is hoped the upcoming TS050 represents a large step forward for Toyota – title winners in 2014 - after it was comprehensively defeated by Porsche and Audi in WEC and Le Mans last year. Full specifications of the TS050 Hybrid will be revealed when the car makes its track debut at Paul Ricard next month, though it does present a revised livery, which is likely to be reflected by the manufacturer's World Rally effort, which will go live from 2017.
Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima will continue to race alongside one another in the second of the Toyota TS050 entries.