Toyota Gazoo Racing has confirmed that Ryo Hirakawa has been signed to the manufacturer’s Hypercar driver lineup for the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 2017 Super GT champion will drive the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid with Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley, replacing Kazuki Nakajima who recently stood down from his full-time seat.
Reigning world champions and 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi will continue to share the No. 7 car next season.
Hirakawa, 27, is set for his first race appearance in the WEC’s top category and his first full-length campaign in the six-round global championship.
The Japanese racer contested the 2016 and 2017 European Le Mans Series seasons in LMP2 but has concentrated on Super GT and Super Formula drives since then.
He won the 2017 Super GT title with Nick Cassidy and then finished second in the standings for three consecutive years after that with the TOM’S Toyota and Lexus squad.
Hirakawa was given opportunities to test the Toyota GR010 Hybrid earlier year, which sparked suggestions that he was being monitored for a potential future race seat.
His first test came in June after the 8 Hours of Portimao, while Toyota recalled Hirakawa for a further two sessions as it evaluated his progress.
“I am thrilled to join the Toyota Gazoo Racing family in WEC, particularly to work alongside Sébastien and Brendon in the No. 8 car,” said Hirakawa.
“I have already tested the GR010 Hybrid three times and I am becoming more and more familiar with the car.
“There is still plenty to learn and I am looking forward to the start of pre-season testing, so I can continue my development.
“The Le Mans 24 Hours has been a big goal for me in my career and I have already participated twice in LMP2. Now I can’t wait to race a Hypercar there and fight for victory.
“Thank you to everyone at Toyota and Toyota Gazoo Racing for their trust and support. I am honored to be given this opportunity to replace Kazuki san, who is a true legend in endurance racing.”
Toyota outlined its 2022 racing plans on Monday, in an announcement that also included an update on the status of the TGR WEC Challenge young driver program.
Kenta Yamashita was the most recent Toyota junior and received an LMP2 placement with High Class Racing for the 2019-20 WEC season, but the scheme was put on pause last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Future drivers for the program are being considered,” read a Toyota statement.
“Following the same process as the WRC Challenge Program, we will continuously implement programs aiming to cultivate and produce young drivers who can actively compete in top categories worldwide to achieve a sustainable motorsports industry.”