Young Super GT star Ryo Hirakawa, just a week removed from a season-opening GT500 victory for Lexus Team KeePer TOM’s at Okayama International Circuit, headed to Silverstone Circuit for the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone last Saturday, one of the undercard races for the WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone.
The young Japanese driver was determined to pick up a season-opening win for the Russian-American G-Drive Racing and DragonSpeed Racing alliance, but in a difficult 41-lap closing stint on worn tyres, the #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 would be overhauled by the Anglo-American United Autosports #32 Ligier JSP217 with just three minutes left in the race.
Co-drivers Memo Rojas and Leo Roussel drove the first three hours of the race, with the young Frenchman Roussel in particular putting in some solid stints in the Oreca 07 – one of four new LMP2 prototypes being introduced to the racing world in 2017.
With an hour and fifteen minutes remaining, and Roussel having put the G-Drive Oreca in the lead once before, Hirakawa would be entrusted to close out the race.
Double-stinting his one set of Dunlop tyres, Hirakawa held a thirty-second lead over the second-placed United Autosports Ligier, driven by Portuguese ace Filipe Albuquerque. But as the laps began to wind down, Hirakawa started to lose several seconds per lap on old tyres that had clearly run out of grip.
With just two laps to go, the lead margin had disappeared, and with fresher rubber, Albuquerque drove past Hirakawa to take the lead with just three laps remaining, and would pull away to win the race by a final margin of over six seconds, while Hirakawa would bring the G-Drive Racing Oreca home in second place, the car which led a race-high 62 out of 126 laps, but not the crucial final two.
“I was really struggling with tyre degradation at the end of the race,” said a disappointed Hirakawa after the race. “I wanted to change the tyres by pitting but we couldn’t. The tyre was dropping a lot and it was really difficult. I am really disappointed. For sure, I’m encouraged by the performance for the next race at Monza and I will do my best at that race.”
The next European Le Mans Series race is on May 14 at Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy, ten days after Hirakawa and co-driver Nick Cassidy race together in the Super GT Fuji GT 500km Race on the Golden Week holiday of May 4.
It’ll be Hirakawa’s first competitive race at Monza, but in his rookie ELMS campaign last year, he won in his first trip to Italy – winning the rain-soaked 4 Hours of Imola for Thiriet by TDS Racing.