The manufacturer’s press release arrived last Friday, just days after Fujinami was spotted behind the wheel of the #24 Kondo Racing Z on the opening day of manufacturer testing at Suzuka.
However, when the release was dropped, Fujinami’s name was nowhere to be found, while Kohei Hirati was listed alongside Daiki Sasaki as the second driver of the No. 24 car.
In and of itself, Hirate’s preservation of his leadership wasn’t much of a surprise. The feeling over the winter according to those in the Nissan camp was that the driver line-ups were strong and the two-car works with Team NISMO, Team Empul and Kondo likely all feature unchanged pairs.
It was despite the marque’s annual test shootout at Fuji Speedway in December that Fujinami took a stroll at the wheel of one of the two Nismo Zs, along with fellow youths Riki Okusa, Teppei Natori and Atsushi Miyake.
As two-time GT300 champion in Kondo racing alongside Joao Paulo de Oliveira, 27-year-old Fujinami was always the first to step up, even if the younger Okusa and Natori are also said to have impressed at their first taste. GT500 machines.
And at one point, it seemed like that was indeed the plan: Fujinami was ready to join Sasaki in the No. 24 Kondo GT500, and he was already spotted (and photographed) by eager spectators who braved the frigid late-January weather at Suzuka to see the first test group for this year.
Nissan was expected to announce its driver lineups ahead of the test, just as it did last year, but Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays passed without any official word before. Confirmation arrived on Friday that Hirate will keep his seat after all.
Furthermore, Fujinami was not even listed as part of the Nissan GT300 lineup, as de Oliveira’s teammate in the No. 56 car was listed for the upcoming campaign as “TBA”.
With no word from Nissan on Fujinami’s condition, fans were baffled by the situation, especially given the events in Suzuka that had taken place just days earlier.
Motorsport.com has since discovered there was a late change of heart within Nissan, with the original plan to promote Fujinami and shift Hirate into the reserve and development driver role for 2023 understood to have changed hands late Thursday night.
Nissan was clearly not confident enough in signing Fujinami to announce him in advance of the Suzuka test. This has led some to speculate that his day behind the wheel of Kondo’s No. 24 was some kind of final evaluation test.
But this theory seems broad – after all, Nissan already has plenty of data on Fujinami from three test drive appearances since 2020, and a bitterly cold day in January when there’s a long test list to complete is hardly the perfect time. To evaluate drivers.
It seems certain that the decision was made (but not communicated) to promote Fujinami at Hirate’s expense, which is then reversed. But why the change of heart?
Exact details are scarce, but the U-turn appears to be related to reports that Fujinami has run into trouble with one of the drivers racing for the ‘KF Motorsport’ team in the Fuji-based Vita Race series, which is running on the undercard of the Inter Proto series.
Nismo did not want to clarify the decision when contacted by Motorsport.com for comment, and also declined to elaborate on Fujinami’s current situation within Nissan.
This means that it is currently unclear if Fujinami will retain his seat alongside de Oliveira in the GT300 class, which was to be handed over to former UpGarage Honda man Natori as part of the plan to promote Fujinami and Hirate.
Nissan has another announcement planned for February 19th, so it’s entirely possible by then we’ll know if Fujinami will be given a reprieve in the GT300 class or if the brand will be dropped entirely.
If it were the latter, it would be a sad way to end a fruitful collaboration that yielded two GT300 titles as well as two Super Taikyu top division crowns.