Japanese automaker Toyota hasn't participated in a Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) endurance race since 1999.
This year, Toyota is back with a new team and a totally new race car — a hybrid. The last time Toyota stepped onto the endurance racing scene was in 1988 and 1989 when they sat behind the wheel of the TS010 and TS020, respectively.
This year, the new team brings the TS030 (the TS stands for Toyota Sport) to the track to compete in selected races of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), starting with one car at six-hour Spa-Francorchamps in early May and adding a second for the Le Mans 24 Hours in mid-June.
To say the least, the decision to bring a gasoline hybrid to world endurance Championship races long-dominated by diesel machines has the high-speed world in something of a titter.
Will the hybrid be able to generate enough power? Will the team be able to fine tune the chassis to the different weight configurations of the car? Will Toyota be able to find new wheels to optimize the car? Can the team possibly get enough practice laps in the new car to tune every performance aspect and tweak every variable needed to shine in such hardcore, grueling races?
Toyota is employing its Hybrid System – Racing (THS-R) for the new endurance car. That system combines an all new, screaming hot, race-tuned 3.4-liter V8 to one of two electric motors, either front-mounted or rear-mounted — connected to a capacitor which stores energy.
According to FIA regulations, the electric boost can only drive one set of wheels, and Toyota has yet to decide which one. While this baby is nothing like the Prius, both cars share a regenerative braking system and the ability to run on pure electricity.
The TS030 features an ultra-lightweight carbon fiber chassis as well as a number of other new developments. The new team, which features veteran drivers Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima, have already had the new racer out on the track for a few thousand practice laps (including a number at night) and say they are well on their way to building a contending car.
"It was cool to drive the TS030 Hybrid car for the first time. Just leaving the garage on the electric power is very futuristic, then when you let the clutch go and the internal combustion engine kicks in it is like an old friend has returned," said Wurz, who won Le Mans in 2009 driving for Peugeot.
"When we put on the slick tires I could feel the car generates a very good amount of grip so I think we have a good base and I think we can turn this into a really fast car."
* Steve Duda, EarthTechling