Formula 1 race winner Heikki Kovalainen is set to make his World Rally Championship debut in the WRC2 support category this year, with the season-ending Rally Japan on his radar.
Kovalainen retired from circuit racing at the end of last season, following a career that took in seven seasons of F1 and a Super GT title with the factory Lexus Team SARD in 2016.
Since his move to Super GT Kovalainen has also been a regular competitor in Japanese rallying, moving up to a full campaign in the premier class with a Škoda Fabia R5 this season after several years in a rear-wheel-drive Toyota GT86.
With Japan now set to make a long-awaited return to the WRC calendar after two years of postponements, Kovalainen is planning to join the support-class WRC2 field with the same Aicello team he competes for the Japanese domestic series.
“The plan is to do that,” Kovalainen told DirtFish when asked if WRC2 Japan was in his plans.
“That’s a big motivation to do all these events beforehand, to get mileage in the car. It would be really interesting to do a bigger and longer event, probably some bigger roads.”
Central Rally, an event traversing the Aichi and Gift prefectures of Japan, will make up the backbone of the itinerary featured in Japan’s WRC round.
While Kovalainen’s experience in a four-wheel-drive rally car is limited to his two events in Japan so far this year, plus an outing on the snowy Arctic Rally in 2015, it is expected that the former McLaren F1 driver will have some familiarity with the roads likely to feature in the itinerary.
“I believe that some of the roads we’ve used in some of the Japanese events will also be used in the WRC event, or some parts of them or in a different direction,” he said.
“But some roads will be familiar and the whole scene in Japan will be more familiar, so it’ll make it easier for me, absolutely.
“The Japanese roads often tend to be quite twisty and narrow roads and hopefully the WRC roads are a bit bigger, so that’s really interesting for me.”
A dominant start to the Japanese season has led to Kovalainen not only winning the opening two rounds of the season but also every single stage, in a field that includes factory Toyota driver Takamoto Katsuta’s father and former Subaru WRC works driver Toshi Arai.
While he has no expectation of repeating that kind of form on a potential WRC2 debut, he’s still hoping it leads to more chances to compete in the world championship’s Rally2 category in the future.
“Probably the expectations there won’t be as high as in the Japanese championship,” he said.
“I’d be interested to do WRC2 events and I would be very motivated to put more effort in if I had the right opportunity.”