Fenestraz has been stuck in Dubai for several weeks and unable to re-enter Japan owing to travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic that are preventing him from obtaining a new visa.
The French-Argentine driver has been forced to miss this weekend’s Okayama SUPER GT test, and will almost certainly miss both Super Formula tests scheduled for this month.
TOM’S team director Jun Yamada told Motorsport.com that the Japanese government’s decision last week to extend the state of emergency declaration covering the Greater Tokyo area for a further two weeks had complicated efforts to get Fenestraz his visa.
He added that it will be “on the limit” for Fenestraz to enter Japan in time to serve a 14-day quarantine before the SUPER GT opener at Okayama on April 10-11.
“In the end, the state of emergency was extended until March 21,” said Yamada. “He’s already applied for his residence card, but he hasn’t been granted a visa yet. So it’s a tough situation.
“If the state of emergency is lifted on the 21st and he can enter Japan, he will be able to get a visa, so he might be able to make it just in time. But the state of emergency declaration and actually entering Japan are two different things, aren’t they?
“That’s what is still unclear. Even if the state of emergency is lifted, if he is not allowed to enter the country [immediately], I don’t think he can make it.”
#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Toyota youngster Sena Sakaguchi took Fenestraz’s place in the #37 TOM’S Toyota GR Supra for the Okayama test, and Yamada said if Fenestraz cannot make it to Japan for the opening race then Sakaguchi will retain his place alongside Ryo Hirakawa.
“We don’t have any other drivers, so we have no choice but to go ahead with [Sakaguchi],” said Yamada. “But of course, we want Sacha to drive, and we also have Hirakawa and the championship to worry about, so the best thing for the team is for Sacha to race.”
TOM’S wanted to keep Yamashita after 2020 cameos
Fenestraz has moved across from the #36 TOM’S car to join Hirakawa in the sister #37 GR Supra for the 2021 campaign, replacing Nick Cassidy.
When Cassidy was forced to miss the final two rounds of the 2020 season due to his Formula E testing commitments, TOM’S opted to replace him with Kenta Yamashita – who did not have a full-time drive in 2020 owing to his FIA World Endurance Championship duties.
Yamada admitted that TOM’S would have liked to keep hold of Yamashita full-time, but that Toyota determined that he would partner Kazuya Oshima at Rookie Racing instead.
“We thought that Hirakawa and Kenta would be the best combination,” said Yamada. “However, the drivers cannot be decided by the team alone. Naturally, Toyota is also involved.
“The decision to place Yamashita at Rookie Racing was made first, so with the remaining options, we thought this would be the best combination [pairing Fenestraz with Hirakawa].
“Of course, the team would have liked to have taken Yamashita, but its seems there has to be a balance between all the Toyota teams as a whole, so I guess it couldn’t be helped.”
Sho Tsuboi meanwhile has been recruited from Rookie Racing to partner Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #36 car this year, taking the place of Fenestraz in that line-up.
Additional reporting by Kenichiro Ebii
Ryo Hirakawa, Kenta Yamashita, #37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio