Japanese Ryo Hirakawa joins McLaren Formula One team’s driver squad in 2024 while remaining a regular driver for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship
The McLaren team has announced on the sidelines of the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka that it is expanding its pool of squad and reserve drivers. And the location for the announcement is no coincidence. For the latest addition is Japan’s Ryo Hirakawa.
At 29 years of age, Hirakawa is no longer a classic junior rider. But he brings all the more experience to the team. The Japanese is currently under contract with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship (WEC), where he is both the reigning world champion and the current overall leader. He also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2022, together with former Formula 1 drivers Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
Hirakawa will drive a parallel programme in 2024. On the one hand, he will do simulator testing for McLaren at the Woking factory while getting test kilometres in the 2021 McLaren MCL35M, which is not covered by the FIA’s testing ban. On the other hand, he remains involved with Toyota in the WEC. The Japanese manufacturer has cleared him for the opportunity in Formula 1.
“I am grateful that Toyota allows me to be a driver for two teams,” he says. He also specifically thanks Toyota group boss Akio Toyoda, “who has always supported me as a driver. His advice was that I should drive every car in which I have the chance to develop as a driver. So now I want to make the most of that opportunity and give something back to him by showing how much I’ve grown.”
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella is looking forward to the new addition: “We are already looking forward to working closely with Ryo. He has already been in the simulator at our factory. The team will benefit from his experience in many areas and will complement our strong driver squad. “
Who else is in the McLaren squad
McLaren only relaunched the so-called “Driver Development Programme” in April 2023. The squad is headed by former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro. Besides Hirakawa, the squad also includes IndyCar star Pato O’Ward and American Formula 4 driver Ugo Ugochukwu.
If one of the two regular Formula 1 drivers (Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri) should get injured, McLaren could also fall back on the replacement drivers from Mercedes (Mick Schumacher) and Aston Martin (Felipe Drugovich and Stoffel Vandoorne). McLaren has reached agreements with both teams to this effect.
Hirakawa: Soon to be two-time World Endurance Champion?
By the way, the conditions are good for Hirakawa to join McLaren as reigning WEC champion. His car (Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa) currently leads the drivers’ standings, 133-118 points ahead of Conway/Kobayashi/Conway in another Toyota hypercar. And there is only one race weekend left to go, in Bahrain in early November.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2023 WEC finale, Hirakawa is one of the stars of the Japanese racing scene. He has been racing in Super Formula since 2013, in which Liam Lawson also currently competes. Lawson is second overall before the season finale, Hirakawa fourth. And Hirakawa also raced in the Super GT championship in parallel to Super Formula from 2014 to 2021.
He has won four races in Super Formula so far, most recently twice in the 2022 season, which was also his best in the championship so far, finishing third in the drivers’ standings. Hirakawa even won the Super GT series once in 2017. Until his move to the WEC at the end of 2021, he was champion once and runner-up three times (2018 to 2020).