After missing the most recent European Le Mans Series round in Paul Ricard due to his commitments in the Autobacs Super GT Series, Ryo Hirakawa is ready to resume his European campaign at this weekend’s ELMS 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Hirakawa will once again pilot the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca/Nissan prototype, partnered with co-drivers Mathias Beche and Pierre Thiriet. It will be his first career start at the legendary Belgian circuit, home to the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix, and both the legendary 24 Hour and 1000km/6 Hour endurance races. This will be the ELMS’ first time racing at Spa in five years.
The 22-year-old Hirakawa is coming off a frustrating retirement at the 45th International Suzuka 1000km, where both he and James Rossiter failed to go the distance in the #37 KeePer TOM’s Lexus RC-F due to a gearbox failure.
While Hirakawa was racing in Suzuka, Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 driver Mike Conway stepped in alongside Beche and Thiriet, to power the Thiriet by TDS Racing team to their third straight LMP2 class victory in the series at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Beche and Thiriet have a bit of a winning history here at Spa, in the 2011 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps, they won the LMP2 category driving for TDS Racing. They hope to continue their winning ways in the Belgian forest five years later.
With the three consecutive victories at Imola, Spielberg, and most recently at Paul Ricard, the #46 TDS Racing squad lead the European Le Mans Series LMP2 Trophy by nine points over the “Mighty 38” – the G-Drive Racing Zytek/Nissan of Simon Dolan, Giedo van der Garde, and Jake Dennis. A win in this penultimate round of the championship would not yet clinch a championship for TDS Racing, but it would put it way out of reach ahead of the final round in Estoril.
Also worth keeping tabs on over the weekend at Spa are the Renault Sport Trophy support races.
The winner of the ultra-fast one-make championship is eligible for a Super GT test session for NISMO, as inaugural champion Andrea Pizzitola was granted after winning the title last year. Currently, 24-year-old Dutchman Pieter Schothorst leads the Pro drivers’ championship by 20 points, but has competition in the form of Italian David Fumanelli, and former F1 prospect from Estonia, Kevin Korjus.
The Spa-Francorchamps round will feature the series debut of Robert Kubica, a popular five-year Formula 1 veteran whose career in the series was cut short due to a rallying accident.