Kamui Kobayashi is in Chicago getting a taste of NASCAR

Kamui Kobayashi is bringing some extra international flair to NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race.

The world-renowned driver who has raced in Formula 1 and in the FIA World Endurance Championship where he has won titles and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kobayashi will be making his debut at the Indianapolis Road Course in August, driving for 23XI Racing in the No. 67 car.  Saturday, he took time to meet with the media.

“I’m really looking forward to the Indy races,” Kobayashi said.

He’s especially excited to meet “the biggest sportsman” Michael Jordan, and he loves his free pair of Jordan shoes, which he says hoping to get signed when he gets to meet him.

It will certainly be different to what he’s used to. He currently runs Hypercars in the World Endurance Championship with Toyota and has competed in Formula 1.

“The car is definitely heavier, and how you find the limit is definitely different,” he highlighted. “I just had experience in the simulator and that gives me a little idea.”

“The weight is the biggest challenge,” he added, “coming from open wheel to NASCAR, and the brake… the brake pedal is okay but the car doesn’t stop.”

He’ll be watching the races this weekend with the team to get an extra look at the car, and he’s been offering tips to the 23XI Racing drivers.

“I just spoke to Tyler [Reddick] about braking,” he said, referencing the contrast of different types of asphalt on the track. “Plus, on a new track, a city circuit, track evolution is quite high, so just giving tips about that.”

He, for one, thinks that the Chicago track will pose a special challenge even compared to other road and street courses.

“It looks quite challenging, I did it this morning in track walk,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a challenging circuit on the street… keeping the same asphalt as the street is looking quite challenging.”

“It’s a lot of risk of rain as well… I think for everyone it’s not an easy situation, especially in the wet.”

He says it’s easier for global racing drivers to join into NASCAR, with Jenson Button and Shane van Gisbergen both entered into the field at Chicago, since the new car is more similar and the sport is more welcoming, something the Garage 56 project brought to the forefront, and something the Chicago race continues.

“Definitely I think it’s getting more attention to NASCAR,” Kobayashi said of Chicago, “and I’m definitely looking forward to watching the race.”

He even thinks that a NASCAR return to Japan, after three exhibition races 25 years ago, would be more successful given the sport’s global outreach.

“I think I will say it’s a bit different now because at that time when you say NASCAR being in Japan, but the first time we didn’t have any social media stuff,” he said. “We just had newspapers, but this time you have all of the social media stuff.

“In NASCAR, all of the media are doing really great job. I think all of the attention that’s coming from social media is something that’s good. I think if you come to Japan now it’s probably a bit different story I would say because you can promote and you can promote in a different way, especially to the younger direction.

“I think it’s 25 years ago, I think we didn’t have a smart phone. That time was like a GPS or whatever with the different connection. But this time I think we have a completely different way to deliver the information. For sure, I think NASCAR and how they fight during the race, I think Japanese people like it. I think it’s a possibility in the future and if they come, I think they come a different way than 25 years ago.”

Owen Johnson