One of Japan’s most exciting young talents will be returning to the European Le Mans Series in 2017, as Toyota Gazoo Racing announced on Thursday that 22-year-old Toyota Young Driver Program (TDP) top prospect Ryo Hirakawa will drive a partial campaign for G-Drive Racing in the LMP2 category of the 2017 ELMS.
Hirakawa will partner Mexican endurance racing veteran Memo Rojas and a driver to be announced for four of the six rounds of the ELMS season, driving a brand-new Oreca 07 prototype for the defending ELMS LMP2 champions from last season.
Last season, Hirakawa drove for Thiriet by TDS Racing, and scored two wins and a podium finish over five races in his first European campaign, as the TDS team finished second in the LMP2 championship. He also made his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with TDS Racing, leading early on before retiring from the race on Sunday morning.
For the 2017 ELMS, Hirakawa moves to G-Drive, who took the title in the final race of the season with their open-top Gibson prototype nicknamed “The Mighty ’38”, which has been replaced by a brand-new 2017-specification Oreca 07 – the dominant chassis of the new “Global LMP2” formula launched this season, which will be prepared by American-based DragonSpeed Racing.
Hirakawa will run the first two rounds of the season at Silverstone Circuit and Autodromo Nazionale Monza, and the final two rounds of the season at Circuit du Spa-Francorchamps and Algarve (Portimão) International Circuit. Due to schedule clashes with Super GT, however, Hirakawa will miss the third and fourth rounds of the season at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, and Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France.
In Super GT, Hirakawa has already been confirmed for a third season in the #37 KeePer TOM’s Lexus LC500 in GT500, now partnering Nick Cassidy, and has signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull as the soft drinks giant prepares its involvement in the premier levels of Japanese motorsport. He tested the TOM’s Lexus LC500 at Sepang International Circuit earlier this week.
In addition to his commitments in Super GT, and now the ELMS, Hirakawa is heavily favoured to drive a third Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid LMP1 at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he would partner veteran driver Stéphane Sarrazin – but that is still yet to be announced at this time.