2016 GT500 Champion Heikki Kovalainen has successfully returned to Japan and will make his first appearance of the 2020 Autobacs Super GT Series in two weeks at Suzuka Circuit.
Kovalainen has driven for TGR Team SARD since 2015 and was set to take part in his sixth season for the team in 2020. After the first pre-season test in Okayama, Kovalainen was asked to return home to Finland during the first major wave of the coronavirus pandemic and was not able to re-enter Japan due to travel restrictions that were enacted on 3 April.
However, on 22 July, it was announced that Japan will ease those restrictions for foreign nationals who had valid work visas and had left Japan prior to the national state of emergency, allowing them to re-enter the country from 5 August. And under that provision, Kovalainen had successfully re-entered Japan last Thursday.
Kovalainen will now be able to take his seat in the #39 Denso Kobelco SARD Toyota GR Supra alongside Yuichi Nakayama, which finished 5th and 6th in the first two rounds at Fuji – with Kovalainen replaced by Kenta Yamashita for Round 1, and Sena Sakaguchi for Round 2.
Sakaguchi will now return to his regular seat in the #96 K-Tunes Racing Lexus RC F GT3, one of a few changes in the GT300 class for the upcoming third round at Suzuka Circuit on 22-23 August.
CarGuy Racing owner/driver Takeshi Kimura, a regular on the Asian Le Mans Series circuit, will make his return to Super GT driving for X Works Racing alongside Shaun Thong in the #33 EVA Racing Audi R8 LMS. The spot originally meant for Alex Au will now have its third different occupant, after Takuro Shinohara filled in at Round 1, and Hiroyuki Matsumura’s unsuccessful return in Round 2.
Masahiro Sasaki and Yuui Tsutsumi will drive the #35 arto RC F GT3 for the second time, filling in for Sean Walkinshaw and Nattapong Hortongkum, and for teams like Audi Team Hitotsuyama, Pacific-D’station Racing, and JLOC, they’ll continue with the same lineups from the first two rounds.
Feature image courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation