Insight: How Ryo Hirakawa Established Himself as Toyota's Latest WEC Hero
Once overlooked by Toyota, two-time FIA WEC champion Ryo Hirakawa is now a fixture with the Japanese manufacturer...
When Ryo Hirakawa was unveiled as a McLaren Formula 1 reserve driver during the Japanese Grand Prix in September, it marked the Toyota man’s final transformation from LMP1 reject-turned domestic racer to bona fide global star.
Despite turning in some impressive drives in the European Le Mans Series in 2016-17, it seemed unlikely that Hirakawa would ever get another shot in global endurance racing after he was passed over for a seat in Toyota’s third TS050 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017.
And yet, five years down the line, Hirakawa was not only back in the top class of the French endurance classic in a Toyota, but became a Le Mans winner at the first time of asking. That year, he also claimed the FIA World Endurance Championship alongside his teammates in the No. 8 GR010 Hybrid, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
Having successfully defended his title this year, despite a heartbreaking near miss at Le Mans, Hirakawa appears just as much a part of the furniture at Toyota as his more established teammates. The fact that he’s now on the books of such an illustrious F1 team as McLaren merely underlines how his value has soared in the past three years or so.
The Hirakawa of today is very different from the youngster who was dispatched by Toyota to contest the ELMS with Thiriet by TDS Racing in 2016. Back then, he had displayed flashes of promise in Japan’s domestic Super Formula and SUPER GT series, but hadn’t reached the level that would later mark him out as Toyota’s top homegrown prospect.