Kohei Hirate is one of the most perspective Japanese sports car racing drivers. He is a two-time Super GT champion in the premium GT500 class, taking the 2013 title with Lexus SC430 and repeating the triumph in 2016 with Lexus RC F. Earlier in a career, between 2008 and 2013, Hirate also competed in the Formula Nippon/Super Formula, finishing best in 4th place in 2008.
Formula Toyota runner-up in debut season
Kohei Hirate was born on March 24, 1986, in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture. After few years in the karting competitions, Kohei stepped into the Formula Toyota in 2002, finishing as the championship runner-up in his debut season.
In 2003, Hirate moved to Europe to compete in the Formula Renault 2.0 with Prema Powerteam. He took part in four different series: Eurocup, Germany, Italy and Netherlands, scoring one victory in the Italian championship. He improved in 2004, finishing second in the Italian Formula Renault, with six wins in 15 races, behind future F1 star Pastor Maldonado.
Third place in the 2006 Formula 3 Euro Series
After debuting in two rounds of the 2004 Formula 3 Euro Series, it became his main competition in 2005, as a member of Team Rosberg. Scoring only one podium at Nurburgring, he finished 12th in the points.
Kohei spent one more season in the Formula 3 Euro Series, driving for Manor Motorsport in 2006. He won the season-opening race at Hockenheimring and finished third in the points at the end of the season, behind Paul di Resta and Sebastian Vettel.
Panasonic Toyota F1 Team in 2007
Kohei was a test driver for Toyota F1 Team
Panasonic Toyota F1 Team invited Hirate to be their test driver during the 2006 season and the deal was prolonged to 2007. During the 2007 season, Kohei's main competition was the GP2 Series with Trident Racing. Scoring only one podium, the second place at Nurburgring, he finished 19th in the points.
After few years in the European and international competitions, Hirate returned to Japan in 2008, to compete both in the Formula Nippon and Super GT Series.
Return to Japan in 2008
Driving the Lola-Toyota for Team Impul in the 2008 Formula Nippon, Hirate scored one victory (Suzuka) to finish fourth in the points. It remained his career-best result in the Formula Nippon.
In the 2008 Super GT season, Hirate was driving the GT300 class #95 Toyota MR-S for apr team, sharing the car with Keisuke Kunimoto. They won one race (Fuji) and Hirate finished 15th in the points.
Switch to GT500 class in 2009
In 2009, Hirate stayed with the Team Impul in the Formula Nippon and switched to the GT500 class of the Super GT Series, driving the #39 Lexus SC430 for Lexus Team SARD. His co-driver was Andre Couto. Scoring no wins, Hirate finished fifth in Formula classification and 14th in GT championship.
In 2010, Hirate and Couto were together again in the #39 Team SARD Lexus. They scored no wins or podiums, to finish 12th in the points. In the 2010 Formula Nippon season, Hirate clinched his second victory, winning the race at Fuji Speedway. He added one more podium at Twin Ring Motegi to finish fifth in the points.
2013 champions Yuji Tachikawa and Kohei Hirate
Joining Lexus Team Zent Cerumo and winning the Super GT title
The fourth consecutive Formula Nippon season with the Team Impul followed in 2011. With only one podium at Fuji, Hirate was 8th in the points. In the Super GT Series, he moved to the Lexus Team Zent Cerumo to drive the #38 Lexus SC430, sharing the car with Yuji Tachikawa. Hirate scored his first GT500 victory at Fuji, to finish sixth in the points.
Two more successful seasons with Zent Cerumo #38 Lexus followed, in which Hirate and Tachikawa were among leading drivers. In 2012, they won two races (Okayama and Motegi), finishing second in the points, behind Ronnie Quintarelli and Masataka Yanagida. In 2013, Hirate and Tachikawa won only one race, but it was enough to take the championship title with a two-point advantage over nearest rivals.
Focusing to GT racing since 2014
While becoming one of the leading Super GT drivers, Hirate spent two more seasons in the Japanese open-wheel competition, which was renamed from Formula Nippon to Super Formula in 2013. He was driving for Project μ/cerumo INGING team, finishing in the ninth place both in 2012 and 2013.
For 2014 season, Hirate left Super Formula, focusing his interest to GT racing only. His new car was the #1 Lexus RC F. The co-driver was the same – Yuji Tachikawa. They won one race (Sportsland Sugo), finishing 8th in the points.
Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate
Hirate and Kovalainen - 2016 Super GT champions
For 2015 season, Kohei Hirate was transferred back to the Lexus Team SARD, getting former F1 driver and Super GT rookie Heikki Kovalainen as a new teammate. Their results in a first season together were disappointing, positioning in the fifth place as the best. They finished 13th in the points.
And then, in 2016, the #39 Lexus RC F became the championship-winning car. During the season, Hirate and Kovalainen were collecting good results, including two second-place finishes at Fuji and Sugo. They came to the season's finale at Twin Ring Motegi as title contenders. In the double-header event at Motegi, they finished second in the first race and took their first victory in the last second race, winning the championship trophy with a big point advantage over Kazuya Oshima and Andrea Caldarelli.