One-time Grand Prix winner Heikki Kovalainen will make a return to full-time racing this year after securing a deal to drive in the Japan-based Super GT series.
Kovalainen started 109 Grands Prix between 2007 and 2012. After finishing runner-up in the 2005 GP2 Series championship, he spent a year as Renault’s test driver in 2006 before making his F1 debut the following year. A two-year stint at McLaren saw him claim a lucky race win at the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix, but he was largely shaded by teammate Lewis Hamilton and moved on to the new Tony Fernandes-run Lotus Racing team in 2010.
He remained there for three seasons as it morphed through its Team Lotus and Caterham monikers, but was left without a full-time race seat at the start of 2013, when he was demoted from Caterham’s race line-up and consigned to the role of test driver.
When compatriot Kimi Räikkönen took the last two races of the season off to have back surgery, Kovalainen was called on to substitute for the Lotus driver in the last two races of the season. His performances were decidedly underwhelming and no full-time drives came knocking, although he did have a test drive in a BMW DTM racer.
After sitting out the 2014 season, Kovalainen has since secured a drive in a Lexus RC F GT500 with the SARD team in Japan’s Super GT series, co-driving with Kohei Hirate. He will join fellow ex-F1 drivers André Lotterer and Kamui Kobayashi in Japan; both race for Toyota in the supporting Super Formula open-wheel series.
Kovalainen’s drive could pave the way for a possible tilt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with SARD confirming that it will jointly field a LMP2 class entry with Morand Racing.
Image via BMW