The ex-Renault, McLaren and Lotus Formula 1 racer had been forced to miss the first two rounds of the delayed 2020 campaign after falling foul of Japan’s tight entry restrictions on travellers from abroad imposed in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
However, a slight change in the rules announced by the Japanese government at the end of last month allowed Kovalainen to make his return to the country last Thursday.
He falls into a category of foreign nationals that were granted permission to re-enter from the middle of last week onwards – those with valid working visas that left Japan before the borders were essentially closed as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated.
As such, the Finn will be reunited with his SARD team and his co-driver in the #39 Toyota GR Supra, Yuichi Nakayama, for the Suzuka round on August 22-23 after serving his mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
#39 DENSO KOBELCO SARD GR Supra
Photo by: GTA
Kovalainen’s place in the SARD Toyota was filled in last month’s Fuji opener by Kenta Yamashita, while GT500 rookie Sena Sakaguchi was called up to join Nakayama for last weekend’s second round at the same track.
The #39 Toyota finished fifth in the curtain-raiser and one place lower in Sunday’s second race, leaving Nakayama seventh in the drivers’ standings on 10 points.
Sakaguchi will return to the cockpit of the #96 K-tunes Racing Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT300 class at Suzuka, his place at Fuji having been taken by Shigekazu Wakisaka.
Another change is the addition of former Asian Le Mans Series GTE champion Takeshi Kimura to the line-up in the #33 X-Works Audi R8 LMS alongside Shaun Thong.
Hiroyuki Matsumura partnered Thong for last weekend’s Fuji round but was forced to pass a refresher test by the GTA as it had been so long since he previously raced, and was ultimately not granted permission to take part.
#33 Evangelion RT X Works R8
Photo by: Masahide Kamio