Ryo Hirakawa is one of the best young Japanese racing drivers, with three national championship titles on his account until the age 24. Most recently, Hirakawa triumphed in the 2017 Japanese Super GT Series, driving a Lexus LC500 for Team Tom's together with Nick Cassidy. Earlier in a career, in 2012, he took two championship titles in the same season - in the Japanese Formula 3 Championship and in the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan.
Three seasons in the Formula Challenge early in a career
Born in Kure, Hiroshima, in March 1994, Ryo Hirakawa started his racing career at the age eleven in karting competitions. He progressed to car racing in 2010, taking part in the Formula Challenge Japan. Scoring two podiums, he finished sixth in the points. He also participated in three races of the Formula BMW Pacific for Asia Racing Team.
Hirakawa stayed in the Formula Challenge for two more years, finishing both seasons as a runner-up. In 2011, he was race winner one and finished second in the points behind Takamoto Katsuta. In 2012, Hirakawa won five times and he was tied in the points with Nobuharu Matsushita, who was declared a champion.
In 2012, Hirakawa was the Japanese Porsche Carrera Cup champion
Two championship titles in 2012
Hirakawa lost Formula Challenge title in a close fight but he gained another two championship title in 2012, in the Japanese Formula 3 and Japanese Porsche Carrera Cup.
Driving a Dallara-Toyota for the RSS team, he won seven races in the Formula 3 and took the championship title ahead of Yuichi Nakayama. In 2012, Hirakawa participated in the F3 Macau Grand Prix for the first time, not finishing the race. In Porsche Carrera Cup, he was a race winner seven times in twelve races.
Super Formula debut in 2013
In 2013, Hirakawa made a debut in the Japanese Super Formula Championship, driving the #7 Toyota for Kygnus Sunoco Team LeMans. He was the youngest driver in the championship that season. With the fourth place as the best result, he finished eleventh in the final standings.
He stayed in the #7 Toyota in 2014, scoring his first Super Formula podium with a second-place finish in the fourth round at Fuji Speedway. At the end of the season, he was 8th in the points. In 2014, Hirakawa also made a debut in the Super GT Series, driving the #36 Lexus RC F for Lexus Team Petronas Tom's in two races, as a co-driver to James Rossiter.
Double Japanese program in 2015
In 2015, he continued to drive for Team LeMans in the Super Formula but also joined Team Tom's for his first full season in the Super GT Series. In the Super Formula, he was again 8th in the final classification, not scoring wins or podiums.
In the 2015 Super GT season, Ryo Hirakawa and Andrea Caldarelli scored a victory in their first race together in the #37 Lexus, in the season-opening round at Okayama International Circuit. They added a victory in the season's finale at Twin Ring Motegi, finishing fifth in the championship.
GT500 in Japan, LMP2 in Europe
In 2016, Hirakawa left Super Formula but continued with double commitments. He continued to drive for Team Tom's in the Super GT Series and took a new challenge in Europe, entering the LMP2 class of the European Le Mans Series with Thiriet by TDS Racing.
In the Super GT Series, Hirakawa and James Rossiter finished ninth in the points with two podiums. In the European Le Mans Series, he was sharing the #46 Oreca-Nissan with Pierre Thiriet and Mathias Beche in five races, scoring two wins and finishing fifth in the points. In June 2016, Hirakawa made a debut at 24 hours of Le Mans, in the LMP2 Oreca, retiring after 241 laps.
Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy - 2017 Super GT champions
Super GT Champion in 2017
In 2017, Hirakawa continued with GT500 and LMP2 commitments, staying with Team Tom's in Japan and joining G-Drive Racing in Europe. His teammates won the ELMS championship title but Hirakawa missed two rounds and ended a season fourth in the points. At Le Mans 24 Hours, he was sharing the #22 Oreca-Gibson with Memo Rojas and Jose Gutierrez, finishing 17th in the LMP2 class.
In the Super GT Series, Hirakawa was sharing the #37 Lexus LC500 with New Zealander Nick Cassidy. They were race winners two times, in the season-opening round at Okayama International Circuit and at Chang International Circuit in Thailand. Finishing second in the season's finale at Twin Ring Motegi, they won the championship and became the youngest ever GT500 champions.
Ryo Hirakawa (left) and Nick Cassidy are 2017 Super GT champion