This past weekend, Autobacs Super GT Series star Ryo Hirakawa took part in his second event of the 2017 European Le Mans Series – the 4 Hours of Monza at the fabled Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy.
Driving for the #22 G-Drive Racing with DragonSpeed team and their Oreca 07-Gibson prototype, Hirakawa, along with co-drivers Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel, took the overall and LMP2 class victories in Monza, atoning for their late-race letdown in the opening round of the ELMS season at Silverstone.
Hirakawa drove the #22 G-Drive/DragonSpeed Oreca home to the victory over the course of his 1 hour and 15 minute closing stint, which was not without some drama after Hirakawa picked up a late drive-through penalty – but it wasn’t enough to knock them off the top step of the podium and lead home a 1-2 finish for the Russian-American squad.
The #22 G-Drive/DragonSpeed Oreca led the final 77 out of 132 laps in the 4 hour enduro, including all 45 laps of Hirakawa’s closing stint, following a solid opening stint from the veteran Rojas, and another lightning-fast drive from the 21-year-old Roussel.
Hirakawa had a whopping 1 minute, 35 second lead over the field, when he was given a drive-through penalty with 20 minutes to go, for failing to adhere to the speed limit under Full Course Yellow (FCY) conditions. That cut the lead down to 22 seconds, and things would only get more intense when Hirakawa was told to save fuel to make it to the end.
This allowed the #21 DragonSpeed Oreca of Ben Hanley (with Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre) to close to within 2 seconds of Hirakawa. This time, however, the #22 G-Drive car would not buckle late in the race, and Hirakawa held off Hanley to take a 1-2 finish for DragonSpeed, and more importantly, the first win of the season for the G-Drive/DragonSpeed squad.
It’s Hirakawa’s third career ELMS victory, his second in as many races in Italy after winning the 4 Hours of Imola last year. This is also the first race victory for the new Oreca 07 prototype in the European Le Mans Series, and with the victory, G-Drive Racing now lead the LMP2 Teams’ Championship by ten points.
“We knew that if the car and tyres were perfect, that we could win,” said Hirakawa after the race. “Here in Monza, we obviously had a great car and tyres, so we could push, and push a lot.”
“My second stint was not easy, because we had the drive-through penalty (at the end of the race), and we had to save fuel – but we managed to save fuel in the end. I’m really happy now!”
After the Super GT in Kyushu 300km at Autopolis on May 21, Hirakawa’s next challenge will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 17 and 18. This will be Hirakawa’s second trip to Le Mans, where he will join Rojas and new recruit Jose Gutiérrez in the #22 G-Drive/DragonSpeed Oreca.
Last year, Hirakawa and the Thiriet by TDS Racing team completed 241 laps at Le Mans in his debut effort. Hirakawa is also Toyota Gazoo Racing’s designated reserve driver, in the event of an unforeseen emergency at the LMP1 team.