The Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain on 6 November brought the curtain down on Kazuki Nakajima’s stellar endurance career. Toyota Gazoo Racing has now announced his appointment as Vice Chairman of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe (TGR-E). He will be tasked with enhancing the team’s organisation and optimising its driver-focused approach to WEC, along with team management responsibilities.
Nakajima will be replaced at the wheel of the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid by Ryo Hirakawa, the rising star of Japanese motorsport and winner of the 2017 Super GT Series, who has already tested the car. “I am thrilled to join the Toyota Gazoo Racing family in WEC, particularly to work alongside Sébastien [Buemi] and Brendon [Hartley],” 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. I am honoured to be given this opportunity to replace Kazuki san, who is a true legend in endurance racing.”
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López will once again team up in Toyota’s #7 Hypercar. Kobayashi will also take on a new role as Team Principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing to help on developing the car. “I will bring all my experience as a race driver to my new job, and I know I have a fantastic team who will support me in my mission,” he promised. “We are preparing for a new era of Hypercar competition in WEC, when many new manufacturers will join the fight, and Toyota Gazoo Racing is evolving to prepare ourselves for this new challenge. This new team structure is an important step for us to stay sharp and be ready for the next battle.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing will seek a fifth consecutive win at the 90th 24 Hours of Le Mans on 11-12 June 2022. The Japanese manufacturer will also be determined to keep a firm grip on its Hypercar World Endurance Championship crown while Conway, Kobayashi and López will defend their drivers’ title.
PHOTO: Ryo Hirakawa at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans where he shared the wheel of G-Drive Racing’s #22 Oreca 07-Gibson with Memo Rojas and José Gutiérrez.