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Toyota Scanning Options for Protege Miyata to Race in Europe

Ritomo Miyata could embark on European program next year as part of Toyota WEC role…

Photo: Super GT

Toyota Gazoo Racing is scanning potential opportunities for its WEC Challenge Program driver Ritomo Miyata to compete in a European-based sports car series next year.

The Super GT race winner was recently named as the participant in Toyota’s revived FIA World Endurance Championship young driver initiative, which will see him undertake simulator testing duties and be on-site at races including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Toyota previously helped Kenta Yamashita to contest the 2019-20 WEC season with High Class Racing, but the coronavirus pandemic put the WEC Challenge on hold.

With international travel now much easier, the program has returned with Miyata, who is being mentored with a view to potentially driving the Toyota GR010 Hybrid in the future.

TGR-Europe vice chairman and WEC Challenge project leader Kazuki Nakajima said that he hopes Miyata can take part in some European races outside of Hypercar next year.

“This year we are not planning anything on the track or racing in Europe,” Nakajima told Sportscar365.

“Mainly, we focus on [immersion] this year. Next year, we cannot talk about many details, but our aim is to give him more experience in Europe.”

A repeat of Yamashita’s program is unlikely because LMP2 is set to be removed from the WEC next season, although prototype racing still appears to be a possibility.

“LMP2 in any category is one of the options,” said Nakajima.

“It could be GT3 because in WEC, whatever category you do, you can learn the tracks. It could be the option. But it’s not defined yet. We are still searching for it.

“We [also] see the value of racing in Japan with the quick, high downforce [GT500] cars.

“We try to maximize all the opportunities within what is possible. There are still quite a few options.”

When asked if Miyata will take part in the WEC end-of-season rookie test in Bahrain, Nakajima said: “Let’s see. It could be an option but depending on many other situations.

“The first task is to convince our race team that he is capable of doing his job. Let’s see what happens after. It’s too early to say, but I personally want to have him in the rookie test.”

Nakajima explained that Miyata, who drives for TOM’S in the top class of Super GT, was chosen as Toyota’s WEC Challenge driver because of his desire to compete in Europe.

“The biggest reason is his motivation and preparation that we could see from outside,” he said.

“We believe every driver has their own motivation for different categories. Ritomo was clearly the one who was insisting that he wanted to race on the top level abroad, not only in Japan. This was the trigger.

“Last year we gave him the opportunity to come to Cologne, to try our simulator with our race engineers. We could basically confirm that he has been preparing from his side.”

For his part, Miyata is keen to expand his career outside of Japan having contested the last five seasons in Super GT and the last three in Super Formula.

The 2020 Super Formula Lights champion is learning English as he discovers a different racing culture.

“This year I only watch at the race weekends and listen to the radio during debriefs,” Miyata told Sportscar365.

“I have to learn how to discuss after the practice and race. I don’t know when I can drive the Hypercar, but now I’m only learning how to spend time at the race weekend.

“My target is to drive in Europe. I karted one time at the world cup in Italy. I had an amazing time and my dream is that I want to drive in Europe. Now I’m enjoying the WEC Challenge program.

“It’s step by step, but I want to become a European driver. If I can only drive in Europe, it’s no problem for me.”

Reserve Driver Situation Helped Revive Program

According to Nakajima, the return of Toyota’s WEC Challenge was partly influenced by the lack of an obvious replacement for reserve driver Nyck de Vries who moved to Formula 1 this year.

Three-time Le Mans winner Nakajima filled the void despite retiring from professional racing at the end of 2021.

“I feel personally that it’s a little bit wrong to have a retired driver as the factory reserve driver,” he admitted.

“I really thought that when I decided to come back, it was a real shame that we had no choice of young Japanese drivers. We had basically no options.

“This was, for me, a strong motivation to bring back the program.

“We can’t say when we can put Ritomo or any other driver into the race seat, but when there is the opportunity we want to have a candidate.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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