Hirakawa was handed a surprise chance to drive the Toyota GR010 Hybrid a three-day test following the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Portuguese track.
The 27-year-old completed over 200 laps during the test in a range of conditions, having previously spent time in Toyota’s Cologne simulator and then spending the Portimao race weekend with the team.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Hirakawa admitted that the considerable differences between the GR010 and its predecessor, the TS050 Hybrid LMP1 that he last drove in 2017, made for a tough baptism of fire.
“I struggled a bit because I was expecting the car would be easier to drive than the previous car, and the simulator wasn’t so difficult,” he said.
“The first time I jumped in the car, I was quite surprised because the braking management was quite different. Now we only have a front motor [on the hybrid system, instead of front and rear], so it’s very easy to lock up the front tyres when you attack a corner. That was the main thing I struggled with. I locked up several times, which is my main thing to improve.
“On the second day I did some night-time running, which I hadn’t done since Le Mans in 2017. That’s another thing I had to adapt to. And on day three it was raining, so many different things happened. I gained a lot of experience, it was a good test anyway.
“I was not doing the same laptimes as the regular drivers, I was about three tenths slower. But those guys raced before the test, so maybe they had some advantage. Also, Portimao is a track where you can easily crash if you make a mistake, not like Fuji or somewhere, so I had to take it step-by-step.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon said Hirakawa made a good impression during the test.
“We were happy to give Ryo his first chance to drive the GR010 Hybrid during our Portimao test,” commented Vasselon. “He was already in Portimao and part of the team during the race week, so he spent time with the race drivers and joined various engineering meetings to prepare him for the test.
“As expected, he performed professionally and contributed positively to our test programme. Ryo is a young driver with a lot of potential and we look forward to being part of his development in the future.”
Hirakawa skipped the most recent Super Formula race at Sugo to take part in the Portimao test, as he was unable to comply by Japan’s 14-day quarantine rule for all incoming arrivals.
It’s understood he could make further test appearances in the GR010 this year if the Super Formula and SUPER GT schedules allow.