Ryo Hirakawa is set to serve as Toyota Gazoo Racing’s reserve driver for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the Japanese manufacturer’s ramped up three-car LMP1 effort.
The European Le Mans Series LMP2 race winner, who lost out to reigning Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto for a race seat in the No. 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrid at Le Mans and the Six Hours of Spa, still remains a part of the organization, according to team director Rob Leupen.
“You would technically consider him as a reserve driver for Le Mans because he knows the car well,” Leupen told Sportscar365.
Leupen said Hirakawa has the same amount of mileage in the 2017-spec Toyota as Kunimoto prior to this weekend’s Prologue pre-season test at Monza, as both drivers took part in Toyota’s initial three tests before deciding on Kunimoto.
The 23-year-old Japanese driver, who continues in Toyota’s Young Drivers Program, has been placed with the DragonSpeed-run G-Drive Racing program for his second season in ELMS, after scoring two wins with TDS Racing last year.
“Ryo is driving for DragonSpeed this season in LMP2, so he’ll do a full ELMS season but compromising on two races because he has to go to Super GT in Japan,” Leupen said. “He will do Le Mans for DragonSpeed, so we’re very pleased with this.
“Nico Lapierre is taking care of him in the ELMS and also with someone like Nicolas Minassian on the DragonSpeed [management] side, there’s a good support for Ryo.
“I think it’s right to continue with Ryo because he shows good potential. In his age, I think I think we have a talented driver for the future in LMP2 and LMP1.”
While Toyota did not officially declare a reserve driver last year, it’s understood Alex Wurz, who retired from active competition at the end of 2015, had been on standby and turned laps in the No. 6 car at the Le Mans Test Day.