Super GT's foreign drivers facing a "tricky situation"

Jamie Klein

The ex-Renault and McLaren Formula 1 racer is one of a handful of non-Japanese SUPER GT drivers who are not currently permitted to enter the country because of the restrictions imposed in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, foreigners arriving from 111 different countries or regions, including all of Europe, or who have been in any of those areas in the last two weeks, are being refused entry into Japan.

Speaking to Motorsport.com from his base in Finland, Kovalainen said he was simply waiting to hear more from either his SARD team or from the authorities as the situation evolves, and that he is on stand-by to travel to Japan as soon as he gets the go-ahead.

He admitted it was unlikely he would be present for the pre-season test at Fuji on June 27-28, but remains hopeful of being present for the opener at the same track on July 18-19.

#39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra

#39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra Masahide Kamio

Masahide Kamio

“Until the end of March, I was already in Japan preparing for the season, and my plan was to stay in Japan through the pandemic,” the Finn said. “But I was actually advised by both the Japanese and Finnish governments to return home and not stay there.

“That was the reason I left. It would have been a lot easier to stay in Japan, but at that point I just followed the government advice.”

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Kovalainen is one of two GT500 drivers not currently residing within Japan. The other is Real Racing Honda driver Bertrand Baguette, whose situation is thought to be similar.

Both SARD and Real Racing declined comment when approached by Motorsport.com, while a spokesperson from series organiser GTA confirmed it had submitted a request to Japan's Ministry of Justice about securing an exemption to the current entry restrictions.

Because all arrivals into Japan, including Japanese nationals, are required to serve a 14-day quarantine, in theory the latest Kovalainen and Baguette could theoretically arrive in the country and still be able to take part in the Fuji opener is July 4.

It’s not yet clear who would replace the pair if they are unable to make it, although both Toyota and Honda have many factory-contracted drivers in Japan they could call upon.

A number of drivers in the GT300 class could also face problems, including D’station Aston Martin driver Nicki Thiim, Hitotsuyama Audi man Christopher Mies, Panther Arto Team Thailand’s Sean Walkinshaw and JLOC Lamborghini driver Dennis Lind.

The remaining four foreign GT500 drivers, Ronnie Quintarelli (NISMO), Jann Mardenborough (Impul), Nick Cassidy and Sacha Fenestraz (both TOM’S) are all based in Japan and are therefore not affected by the entry restrictions.

In Japan’s other top category, Super Formula, Juri Vips, Tatiana Calderon and Charles Milesi are the drivers who are not currently in Japan. However, with the season not set to start until the end of August, there is more hope that travel restrictions could be eased by then.