Nancy Knapp Schilke
Wurz, Lapierre and Nakajima to co-drive Toyota Motorsport GmbH hybrid prototype
Toyota announced their return to Le Mans-style sportscar racing with a brand new prototype in the LMP1 category. The Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) team car is a hybrid. Today’s news was quite impressive as they have signed Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima as their three drivers to compete in the 2012 World Endurance Championship.
The WEC was created when the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) and the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) formed a partnership incorporated the ACO’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) that began in 2010 and is a combination of events ran in Europe, United States and China. The Le Mans Series and the American Le Mans Series hosts the selected WEC races as part of their regular events on the yearly calendar.
TMG has yet to announced their events for next year but the most prestigious endurance race that is part of the WEC -- 24 Hours of Le Mans. Of course the new Toyota hybrid will be at the popular event in France.
Wurz made his debut at Le Mans in 1996 and became the youngest driver to earn the victory and in 2009, scored his second Le Mans win. “As soon as I heard about the possibility to join the team I was instantly excited and keen to be involved. I love endurance racing and I have been a fan of Le Mans since my childhood so I have great memories of Toyotas competing there, particularly the GT-One which was a really sexy, cool-looking car.
“As an ambitious Le Mans racer, this heritage combined with the immense technical capabilities at TMG makes a very attractive combination. So I am extremely happy to be involved, along with Nicolas and Kazuki. One of the most important things in endurance racing is the connection between the drivers,” added Wurz.
Lapierre made his switch from single-seaters to take on endurance racing in 2007. This year, he was one of the winning drivers at the Twelve Hours of Sebring. It was an unexpected victory for the ORECA Matmut Peugeot team against the diesel-powered Audi and Peugeot factory teams. ORECA recently signed a partnership with TMG.
Lapierre said, “To be selected by a company like Toyota for such a new and interesting project is a proud moment for me. We are at the beginning of a big challenge and I am very excited. TMG has some very impressive capabilities and, together with the hybrid system, we have the potential to develop a really strong car. I am interested to experience the hybrid system for the first time; this adds a different aspect to our challenge and we have to consider some different strategic factors.”
Nakajima will actually make his debut as a sportscar driver but he brings a wealth of experience in open-wheel racing and has proven his success in Formula 3, GP2 and Formula One. Nakajima is a graduate of the Toyota Young Drivers’ Programme. About his new adventure, he said. “I am thrilled to have been chosen to become a member of Toyota’s World Endurance Championship team.
“Obviously it is a new experience but I am familiar with endurance racing thanks to my time in Japanese Super GT and this will help me to adjust. It’s great to join such a strong driver line-up, especially because I am already familiar with both of my new team-mates, having worked with Alex in Formula 1 and raced against Nicolas in GP2. I am looking forward to working closely with Alex and Nicolas; I want to learn about Le Mans from them and I hope I will be able to do a good job,” Nakajima added.
Even though Toyota was one of the top teams in endurance racing, the years and the technology has changed but TMG is well aware of the work ahead, as are their three drivers. The development of the new car will continue over the next months which will include a lot of testing.