In conversation with Toyota Racing's Anthony Davidson

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Anthony Davidson is a difficult man to pin down as he combines his Toyota Racing duties with a role as a commentator and analyst for Sky TV’s F1 programming in the UK.

One of the popular trio of winning drivers in the No.8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid at the 6 Hours of Silverstone was Anthony Davidson. Recipient of the very impressive RAC Tourist Trophy – together with his team mates Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre – the British driver also became the first driver to receive the newly inaugurated Richard Lloyd Trophy for the highest placed member of the British Racing Drivers Club in the 6-hour race.

A difficult man to pin down as he combines his Toyota Racing duties with a role as a commentator and analyst for Sky TV’s F1 programming in the UK, Anthony took some time from his busy schedule to tell us about the new generation of LMP1 hybrid cars and the 2014 season ahead.

The 2014 cars are substantially different from those of last year; do they require a different style of driving? First of all you have to understand quite a bit of the technology to know what is required of you as a driver and from the car.

Anthony Davidson
Anthony Davidson

Photo by: XPB Images

I would say we are driving in a different way now; we’re still left foot braking, for example, but driving in a way which sometimes doesn’t feel very natural.

What’s incredible though is that when you’re in the car, no matter how much the engineers have explained things to you beforehand, as soon as you jump in the car it all makes sense! It’s incredible how intuitive it is as well, such as where the areas are on a track that you should be saving fuel by lifting off and coasting. You know by instinct, for example, that you shouldn’t be doing it on the exit of a corner, but at the end of the straight. You might not know the scientific reason why, but you just do it when you are in the car and that’s fascinating to us as drivers.

How much do you have to control in the cockpit, or is it all handled from the pit garage/pit wall? Engine mapping modes and engine recovery modes for extra harvesting are all controlled by the engineers in the sense that they can see what’s going on, but they’re not allowed to change anything on the cars when they’re on track. We’re the pawn used to do the job via the engineer. If we are over the fuel target we’ll be told, but we can also see it and this is all in addition to the usual gear changing and use of traction control, plus you have to deal with track evolution or tyre degradation, traffic or marbles. There’s a lot more going on than ever before.

At every test we’ve done over the winter we made changes on the control side, mostly related to the limit you have for the average of three laps. Getting that information across to the driver efficiently, cleanly and clearly when you are travelling at 200 mph is a challenge. Being able to process that information and act on it as well is another challenge … you could make it a complete ‘geek-fest’ of numbers, figures and percentages but you need something simple.

It’s been fun this year with all six drivers, plus Mike Conway, coming up with ideas in the briefings, sending emails to each other, linking with each other and the engineers – it’s been proper team work.

Do you think this new technology creates a more level playing field for the three LMP1-H manufacturers? Last year everyone recognised the fact that there was a discrepancy between the two manufacturers out there in LMP1 [Audi and Toyota] in terms of engine power alone. We had a fantastic hybrid system which wasn’t able to be used to its full potential due to 2013 regulations, but that’s been corrected this year partly by the introduction of the fuel flow meters. The equivalency has been worked on and, looking at how things were in Silverstone, we should see the three manufacturers battling it out as close to each other as you can get.

You’ve had a change around in the driver line up since last year; why was that? It was all about size and weight! It came down to the science of Alex [Wurz] being the tallest driver and me being the shortest and I needed a huge insert (seat-packer) to fit inside Alex’s seat. That weighed just over 4kgs because the new foam used to make the inserts is more dense (heavier) this year to comply with new FIA safety regulations.

After looking at that, we decided to put Nico into the No.8 with me and Sébastien – they share the same shell and have no insert at all which saves 2kg straight away. My insert is a lot smaller than it would be with Alex, and that saves another 2 kg. In the quest for weight-saving you have to look at every avenue and that was a simple no-brainer.

The new technology is aimed at using 30% less fuel but retaining the same performance. How important is this for endurance racing’s manufacturers? Michelin looked into returning to a certain other World Championship but only if they could run the same tyre for the entire duration of the race, apparently, which would demonstrate their ‘green’ credentials as well as showing how durable and quick their products are. That’s exactly what they can do in sportscars, and we’ll be targeting four stints plus on the same tyre at Le Mans and that’s impressive.

Endurance racing should be about showing off a brand’s credentials in terms of reliability, durability and performance and I think that’s what every road driver wants from their car, their tyres, fuel, aerodynamics or whatever. I’m fully behind being resourceful, because it’s not good to be wasteful, and it’s time to start considering what you’re doing to the planet. Racing has to fit into that mould because it’s the way the world is going.

Hybrid cars are out there now, not just your average road cars but also supercars such as the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918. You can see the same technology we use in the current race cars is trickling its way into the road car industry now. Racing can’t get left behind so, whether you like it or not, hybrid technology is the immediate future and that’s why Toyota is in it. That’s the beauty of sportscars: it allows the different technologies to compete against each other – diesel, turbo-petrol, hybrid-petrol – and it’s a great platform for the manufacturers to show off their flagship products.

I think the 5/1000ths of a second between us and the Audi in qualifying at Silverstone, plus how Porsche performed there in practice, proved what a great year is ahead for everyone. We’re all in the mix and that’s how it should be.

WEC

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Tags anthony davidson, spa, toyota, wec

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