Hirakawa handed surprise Toyota WEC hypercar test chance

Ryo Hirakawa has been handed an unexpected chance to drive Toyota’s Le Mans Hypercar in a test following the next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Portimao. 

Hirakawa handed surprise Toyota WEC hypercar test chance

The Super Formula and SUPER GT star, 27, will be at the wheel of the all-new GR010 Hybrid in Portugal on 15-17 June.

It marks Hirakawa’s first involvement in Toyota’s WEC programme since he tested for the Japanese manufacturer back in early 2017, ahead of that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. 

Having been placed in the European Le Mans Series in 2016, Hirakawa was being groomed for a future LMP1 drive with Toyota, but was ultimately passed up for a seat in the third Toyota TS050 Hybrid for Le Mans in 2017 in favour of Yuji Kunimoto. 

He returned to Japanese racing full-time thereafter, winning the 2017 SUPER GT title alongside Nick Cassidy and finishing runner-up in the three following seasons. He also finished second overall to Naoki Yamamoto in Super Formula last season. 

It is understood the test is just a one-off outing at this stage, with Toyota curious to give Hirakawa another outing following his recent successes in Japan. But it will inevitably raise the question of whether Hirakawa could land a full-time Toyota Hypercar role in future. 

Toyota had placed another of its Japanese aces, 2019 SUPER GT champion Kenta Yamashita, in the WEC for the COVID-19-disrupted 2019/20 season with LMP2 team High Class Racing. 

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota Gr010 - Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota Gr010 - Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

Photo by: Erik Junius

But, despite Yamashita earning plaudits for his drive at Le Mans, it was ultimately decided that he should return to racing full-time in SUPER GT for the 2021 season. 

Toyota team director Rob Leupen had suggested last year that Yamashita could be in line to eventually succeed Kazuki Nakajima on the Toyota WEC roster, which in recent seasons has always featured one Japanese driver per car. 

Hirakawa has one important advantage over Yamashita in that he speaks fluent English. Yamashita had moved to Germany in early 2020 in order to help him develop his language skills, but returned to Japan in March due to the onset of the global health crisis. 

Nyck de Vries is currently the only test and development driver on Toyota’s books following the departure of both Yamashita and previous reserve driver Thomas Laurent. 

Takaboshi replaces absent Hirakawa for Sugo Super Formula

Hirakawa taking part in the test means he will be miss the next round of the Super Formula season at Sugo on June 20, owing to Japan’s strict 14-day quarantine rule. 

Nissan SUPER GT driver Mitsunori Takaboshi will fill the vacant spot at Impul alongside Yuhi Sekiguchi, having made one race outing last year with B-Max Racing in place of the team's originally contracted driver Sergio Sette Camara.

Hirakawa currently lies second in the Super Formula standings behind Tomoki Nojiri, who has won two of the first three races of the season. 

shares
comments

Related video

WEC set for largest grid since 2012 at Monza

Previous article

WEC set for largest grid since 2012 at Monza

Next article

Hirakawa: Toyota WEC test is “quite a big chance”

Hirakawa: Toyota WEC test is “quite a big chance”
Load comments
The standout memories of Le Mans 2021 Plus

The standout memories of Le Mans 2021

OPINION: With four of the five Hypercar entries unproven in a 24-hour race, it would not have been unexpected for at least one of them to suffer serious reliability trouble. That they all managed to make it through the race relatively unscathed, says GARY WATKINS, was something of a surprise.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Plus

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks Plus

How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks

The screaming rotary-engined Mazda 787 is regarded as one of the most popular Le Mans 24 Hours-winning cars, but until its surprise success on this day 30 years ago it was never regarded as a likely victor. But that reckoned without a new technical partner, some canny political manoeuvring and a rival's bizarre self-inflicted weakness

WEC
Aug 22, 2021
Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse? Plus

Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse?

One Toyota, normally with the number 7 on the side, always seems to attract the bad luck in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez are hoping for a change in fortune this time around, but face significantly more unknowns than in recent years

Le Mans
Aug 19, 2021
Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow Plus

Why Glickenhaus should be taken seriously on its Le Mans bow

Many were quick to dismiss Glickenhaus when the boutique American sportscar firm's entry into the top class of the Le Mans 24 Hours was announced. It's all-new LMH racer, powered by an engine built by a rally specialist, goes in as the underdog against Toyota but the mathematical odds suggest that it has more than just a faint hope of success

Le Mans
Aug 18, 2021
The Asian underdog taking on the mighty GT factories at Le Mans Plus

The Asian underdog taking on the mighty GT factories at Le Mans

The rising HubAuto team steps up to GTE Pro at Le Mans this year for an ambitious bid to take on the three works giants – and has every reason to be optimistic of achieving its goal in becoming the first privateer on the podium since 2016

Le Mans
Aug 18, 2021
How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car Plus

How 1971's benchmark Le Mans team lost with the best car

The JW Automotive Engineering team won twice at the Le Mans 24 Hours with ageing Fords and were considered heavy favourites to add more victories to its tally after partnering with Porsche. But despite being armed with the all-conquering 917, this formidable combination was never as successful in real life as on the big screen

Le Mans
Aug 14, 2021
Why Argentina’s current great isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio Plus

Why Argentina’s current great isn’t motivated by emulating Fangio

Having twice missed out on Formula 1 and reinvented himself as a touring car driver, Jose Maria Lopez has had a rocky ride to becoming a four-time world champion. One more would put him level with his nation's favourite son, but there's another prize he would value far more than the honour of matching Juan Manuel Fangio's tally

WEC
Aug 14, 2021