Hirakawa had his first opportunity aboard a Toyota first-class prototype in four years in June when he drove the GR010 Hybrid in a three-day test after the FIA World Endurance Championship round. from Portimao.
It has now been announced that Hirakawa will join Toyota for another private test in Barcelona from September 22-24.
This date falls in a month-long hiatus between next month’s Sugo SUPER GT round and the penultimate race of the Super Formula season at Motegi in October, meaning Hirakawa won’t have to miss any more. race of its national campaigns.
The 27-year-old was forced out of the final round of Super Formula in Sugo in June due to Japan’s strict 14-day quarantine requirements.
Hirakawa was unable to take part in the WEC rookies test in Bahrain in early November due to a collision with the penultimate round of the SUPER GT season at Motegi.
Author’s point of view
Hirakawa getting a second opportunity in the GR010 Hybrid will only reinforce the idea that there is a serious chance that it will be added to Toyota’s WEC list in 2022.
Obviously, the Portimao test in June was not just for fun, or even just a ‘well done’ gift from Toyota for a superb 2020 season in Japan – Hirakawa seriously compromised his Super Formula title chances in skipping Sugo’s race to be present in Portugal.
Hirakawa must have made a good impression on this occasion to win another invite. And the 2017 SUPER GT champion also probably wouldn’t get into the trap of traveling to Europe in the midst of a pandemic and quarantining himself for two weeks upon his return to Japan if he didn’t feel there was had a real chance of a race to drive.
So if there is a real prospect for Hirakawa to leave Japan and go full-time in WEC, it raises the obvious question of how he could fit into what looks to be a two-car Toyota setup.
Toyota team principal Rob Leupen blurted out after Kenta Yamashita’s impressive 24 Hours of Le Mans debut last year that then reigning SUPER GT champion could be Kazuki Nakajima’s heir if things continue. to be fine, but that was before Yamashita essentially voluntarily gave up his chance after a brief stint in Germany before the pandemic.
There is some logic to a direct exchange between Hirakawa and Nakajima, the latter going to Super Formula and SUPER GT. But it will likely come down to which driver contract expires when – and there is at least one driver whose contract is open at the end of the year.
As the 24 Hours of Le Mans approached last weekend, Jose Maria Lopez revealed that he currently does not have a contract for 2022.
Speaking to the Latin American edition of Motorsport.com, Lopez said: “It’s still very early in the year and obviously I’m in the Toyota family and if I keep going I want to do it with them. It’s more than logical, it’s my desire and all I want.
“Then we have to see the team and a lot of things outside of this contract that take time, so hopefully later we can finish and continue and confirm our continuity at some point.”
We’ll have to wait and see how the pieces fall out, but what is certain for now is that next month’s test gives Hirakawa a valuable chance to prove beyond a doubt that he should be driving a Toyota hypercar at full blast. time next season.
Additional reporting by Federico Faturos