TOYOTA Racing is ready for the highlight of its FIA World Endurance Championship season, the 90th anniversary running of the Le Mans 24 Hours which takes place at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France next week (22-23 June).
A year after making its race debut at Le Mans in 2012, TOYOTA Racing returns with two cars; the #7 for Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima plus the #8 for Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Stéphane Sarrazin.
For the first time both driver line-ups will benefit from the 2013-specification TS030 HYBRID, which raced for the first time at Spa in the hands of the #7 crew.
Seven test sessions, including the official Le Mans test day last weekend, have shown the updated TS030 HYBRID is a significant step forward in terms of reliability and performance.
The heart of TOYOTA Racing’s challenge is the TOYOTA HYBRID System - Racing powertrain, which recuperates energy under braking in the seven designated hybrid recovery zones before automatically delivering 300hp of boost.
A busy day at the official Le Mans test day on Sunday saw the team complete over 2,000km refining set-up of the TS030 HYBRID and its powertrain, as well as evaluating tyres, ahead of this week’s event.
Last year the #7 fought a thrilling battle at the front and led the race at six hours before ultimately retiring due to an engine problem, while the #8 crashed heavily whilst lapping a slower car.
Although this year’s Le Mans is just the second for TOYOTA Racing, it marks the 15th time TOYOTA has entered an official team in the legendary race. The company’s best result is second place, achieved in 1992, 1994 and 1999.
It will be a challenge to improve on those runners-up positions but TOYOTA Racing intends to fight at the front with the aim of standing atop the podium after 24 hours’ racing.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “We are very much looking forward to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year’s Le Mans was our first race with the TS030 HYBRID so we expected to face some difficulties; this year we are better prepared and we expect to demonstrate that. Leading Le Mans last year, and winning three WEC races, has given us a taste for success. It would be a dream for us to stand on the top of the podium at such a legendary race. We are facing a very tough opponent in Audi so it is hard to be confident, but we know we have done everything in our power to be ready and we will give 100% effort to succeed. It is a very long week and many things can happen so we must be ready for the challenges to come.”
Alex Wurz (#7): “Coming to Le Mans in 2013, as in every year, is exciting. It is a race I really love. It gives you a buzz already at the test so I am happy to come back for the race. Le Mans is an incredible mix of cool history, old-school motorsport and modern technology like the hybrid system and aerodynamics on our car. It is such a great mix. If you have it won and you stand on the podium that is an incredible feeling and you want it again; that’s why I come back. Last year it was really difficult for us as it was our first race. We did as much as we could to be ready but it was not possible to truly fight for the whole race, even if we did take the lead. This time we had an intense programme over the winter, but we saw our competitor also improved a lot so I’m enjoying this challenge.”
Nicolas Lapierre (#7): “It’s very exciting to be back here. The team is much more ready than we were last year at the same time so it is promising. We have been a bit disappointed by the two first races this year so I hope we can show some improvement, particularly in terms of results. But it is looking okay, the team is more prepared and everyone has more experience of this track than last year so it should be better. Le Mans is a very special event; it is definitely the most important race of the season. As a French driver it is significant because it is a French race but for everyone it is important as one of the most popular races in the world. I have never finished on the podium here as I have always had some bad luck, but last year gave me a taste of leading this race so I hope this year is the lucky one.”
Kazuki Nakajima (#7): “I am looking forward to my second Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year’s race feels like only yesterday; it was really quick year and one which was very busy for me. After last year’s race we had a very good season and I enjoyed being part of the winning team at Fuji, plus winning the Formula Nippon championship. Compared to last year we are much better prepared but still I think we need to find a bit of speed and luck to win the race. Personally I am much more relaxed with the benefit of last year’s experience. I really enjoyed my first visit, particularly the atmosphere which is something different and very special. The track is very high speed and there is a lot of drama going on, so I learnt a lot last year and feel better prepared this time.”
Anthony Davidson (#8): “It’s exciting to be back in Le Mans and I certainly expect a much better conclusion than last year. A lot has happened since we arrived at Le Mans 12 months ago; the team has learnt a lot and matured while I have completed my recovery programme after the accident. I’m ready to generate some much better memories! I feel good, I'm confident in the team and I know my team-mates are very strong. We have prepared quite intensely for this race over the past months and it was nice to see at the official test day how much progress has been made in the last year. The team is better prepared on all levels; we know the challenge facing us and we are ready for this. We will do the best possible job we can and keep pushing for the best possible result.”
Sébastien Buemi (#8): “This will be my second time in Le Mans and I learnt so much about this place from our 2012 experience. I knew already it is a special race track but after racing here for the first time I can appreciate that even more. Last year we did the shakedown of the #8 car directly at Le Mans so it was not ideal preparation. This time we are in much better shape and I hope this allows us to challenge. Of course, the first aim is to get to the chequered flag, which is not easy in such a demanding race. Ultimately we want to get to the flag first but there is a lot of work to do before that point. The team knows what is needed to challenge and I’m very confident we can do a good job. But Le Mans is Le Mans and 24 hours is very long.”
Stéphane Sarrazin (#8): “For me Le Mans is a dream, a dream of victory. It is the hardest race I did in my life because we are waiting all year for this race, with big preparation for this one event. I have been on the podium a few times and many times leading, but never winning - I hope this year is a good one. It is really hard to race for 24 hours but we are prepared for this thanks to our testing and training programmes and we are ready. It is very special here because we are on national roads most of the time so it is a very unique circuit, the trees are quite close and there are a lot of stories about this track. We feel something different here compared to a normal track. I like this feeling and I know perfectly each single metre of this track. So I cannot wait to get started.”
Final practice takes place on Wednesday 19 June at 16.00-20.00 before the first qualifying session (22.00-00.00). The starting grid will be decided on Thursday 20 June with the final pair of qualifying sessions (19.00-21.00 and 22.00-00.00) with the race starting at 15.00 on Saturday 22 June.
A ‘Meet the Team’ interview opportunity will be held in the team’s catering area in the paddock on Thursday 20 June from 15.00 to 15.30. The traditional pre-race TOYOTA Racing press conference will take place on Friday 21 June at midday at the TOYOTA hospitality suite in the Parc du Raccordement. All accredited media are invited on a first come, first served basis.
Toyota Motorsport GmbH