Ryo Hirakawa (#46 Oreca) under the spell of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
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Ryo Hirakawa (#46 Oreca) under the spell of the 24 Hours of Le Mans

The 22-year-old Japanese driver is a budding star of endurance racing. He is learning the ropes in the #46 Oreca-Nissan with French team Thiriet by TDS Racing and this is his first 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ryo Hirakawa is as self-effaced as Masanori Sekiya (winner in 1995 in a McLaren F1 GTR BMW) and as fast as Seiji Ara (winner in 2004 in Team Goh’s Audi R8). Toyota recruited him for its young driver programme and assigned him to Xavier Combet’s crew to notch up experience. Combet began with the most important - he introduced his young recruit to French cuisine.

Hirakawa drives a Lexus RC F in the Super GT championship in Japan and several observers have remarked on his promising first steps in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). At the first round at Silverstone, he was the fastest driver on the grid in the wet practice session. He keeps a cool head, says Xavier Combet. Hirakawa and teammates Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche are among the leaders of the LM P2 class. It’s not always easy for him but he always does his very best. He’s amazing because he has no experience of European circuits and he has come to terms with them in no time says the team manager.

With Le Mans winner Alexander Wurz for coach, Hirakawa was bound to fall under the spell of the 13.629km circuit. Even though it’s difficult with only Super GT experience, I really like Indianapolis and the Porsche curves. I’ve already driven the Toyota TS050 in the dark on Circuit Paul Ricard, but there’s more light here. However, the young driver is a little apprehensive all the same “There’s a lot more traffic here than in ELMS”. There will be 60 cars on the track at the same time at Le Mans, many of them slower than the Toyota, so Hirakawa will spend a lot of time overtaking.

Hirakawa admits he didn’t know much about the 24 Hours of Le Mans before he came. “I knew it was one of the greatest races in the world. There are already loads of classic cars and spectators at the circuit. I’m sure the atmosphere at the parade will be brilliant!

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Photo: Ryo Hirakawa, Japan’s budding star. A future recruit for Toyota Gazoo Racing?