Ex-F1 racer Kamui Kobayashi to make FE debut
Ex-Formula 1 driver Kamui Kobayashi will make his Formula E debut in the 2017/18 season opener in Hong Kong.
The Japanese driver has been drafted in by the Andretti team and will partner Antonio Felix da Costa in the double-header.
BMW DTM driver Tom Blomqvist, who tested with Andretti in pre-season, was named on the team's full-season entry list published by the FIA earlier this month.
However, Autosport understands Toyota LMP1 driver Kobayashi has been called up to satisfy team backer MS&AD, a major Japanese insurance company, and the series, which had been pushing for a Japanese driver.
: The Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 drivers (L-R) Stephane Sarrazin, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway celebrate in the garage after claiming pole position during qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hour Race at Circuit de la Sarthe on June 15, 2017 in Le Mans, FrancGetty Images
MS&AD is the parent company of MS Amlin, the UK insurer it purchased in 2015 for more than £3billion and which was the title sponsor of the Andretti FE team for the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.
It is understood that this is the final season in the original sponsorship agreement with Andretti, which will run BMW factory team in 2018/19.
Andretti FE CEO Michael Andretti said it would be "exciting" to "partner one of the largest companies in Japan, MS&AD Insurance, with one of the most popular Japanese racing drivers".
"We are very fortunate to have a driver of Kobayashi's calibre in the car to start the season in Hong Kong," he said.
Japan's driver Kamui Kobayashi reacts after competing with the Toyota TS050 Hybrid N°7 during the 85th Le Mans 24-hours endurance race on June 17, 2017 in Le Mans, western France.Getty Images
"He has shown what he can do in both Formula 1 and WEC, making Formula E a perfect next step."
Kobayashi started 76 grands prix across stints with the Sauber and Caterham teams, scoring a best finish of third on home soil in the 2012 Japanese GP.
He has since focused on the WEC with Toyota and Super Formula, winning one race in the WEC and becoming a podium finisher in the Japanese single-seater series.
Kobayashi described his FE debut as a "wonderful opportunity".
"Andretti is one of the world's most popular racing families and I am so excited to have my Formula E debut race under his name," he said.
"I will be going to the race weekend without testing, which is not an easy thing to be honest.
"But the team has been giving me all the support, so no worrying at all, and I am really looking forward to having good races there."
Kobayashi will be the first Japanese driver to race in the category since Sakon Yamamoto's terrible outing in the 2014/15 season finale.
Yamamoto drove for Aguri, which Amlin backed in the inaugural FE season before switching to Andretti.
MS Amlin director of brand and communications Adrian Britten said he hoped the return of a Japanese driver would "encourage a future Formula E race in Japan".
In regular circumstances FE teams are allowed two driver changes per season free of punishment.
Blomqvist is expected to return for the majority of the 2018 FE races, although may have to be replaced if they clash with any BMW DTM or World Endurance Championship commitments, depending on his programme.
Should that happen Alexander Sims, who had been in the frame to share the Andretti seat with Blomqvist before Kobayashi's Hong Kong outing materialised, would be a likely substitute.