The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Estoril in Portugal was the final race of Lexus Super GT driver Ryo Hirakawa’s first European sports car racing campaign. He, along with his Thiriet by TDS Racing co-drivers Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche, came into the final race of the season with a sizeable championship advantage in the LMP2 Teams’ Championship, and with one more good result, could win the title on the day.
But fate had other plans. Just as Hirakawa was set to take the wheel of the #46 Oreca 05/Nissan for his middle stint of the race, a suspected electrical failure struck the TDS Racing machine, costing them several laps – and ultimately costing them the LMP2 Championship for 2016 in a dramatic final race of the ELMS season.
That put the “Mighty ’38” of G-Drive Racing in position to take the title, which it did with style as Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan, and Harry Tincknell drove the beloved #38 Gibson 015S/Nissan to victory in Estoril – and with it, taking the LMP2 Championship in the car’s swansong race.
Everything looked good for Thiriet by TDS Racing after the end of Thiriet’s first stint in the car, pitting from third place, but the suspected electrical issues cost them a total of twenty-four laps’ worth of repairs.
Hirakawa eventually got into the car to drive his stint. Saving what face he could for his team, he set the fastest race lap for the #46 Oreca/Nissan with a 1:33.627, and they were able to finish the race in the end, in 28th position overall and 9th in the LMP2 category.
In the end, Thiriet by TDS Racing finished 2nd in the LMP2 Championship for 2016, on the strength of three consecutive race victories at Imola, Spielberg, and Le Castellet.
Hirakawa played a part in the victories at Imola and Spielberg, only missing the Le Castellet round due to his commitments with Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s at the International Suzuka 1000km. He also led several laps in his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in June, impressing many with the same smooth, rapid pace that he has displayed in Super GT, and throughout his prodigious career to date as a former All-Japan Formula 3 and Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion.
And with rumours already popping up about a third Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 entry for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, and with Hirakawa’s name already being linked as a potential driver for that third wildcard entry, it seems as if it is only a matter of when, not if, the 22-year-old Hirakawa will be called up to represent Toyota in the World Endurance Championship.
Hirakawa will now focus on the Motegi GT Grand Final in November, where he and co-driver James Rossiter are currently 24 points out of the championship lead with two races remaining. Last year, Hirakawa won the Motegi GT 250km Race, sharing the #37 KeePer TOM’s RC-F with Andrea Caldarelli.
On the other side of the coin at Estoril, this was a popular win for G-Drive’s “Mighty 38”, which had among its list of former pilots two notable Super GT drivers.
Haruki Kurosawa (now of K2 R&D LEON Racing) drove for the team in the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Oliver Turvey (formerly of Drago Modulo Honda Racing) of course, famously helped drive the car to LMP2 class victory in the 2014 race at Le Mans – a victory that became the main plotline of the documentary, Journey to Le Mans.