Toyota Racing is beginning to look like the early favorites ahead of Le Mans.
TOYOTA Racing is fully prepared as it heads to the Circuit de la Sarthe aiming to win the Le Mans 24 Hours (14-15 June), the highlight of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
Two previous visits to Le Mans have seen impressive progress which culminated in last year’s second place, but with the 1,000PS TS040 HYBRID having won both WEC races so far this season, expectations are high for Le Mans.
Those victories, in six-hour races at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, give the team a 48-point lead in the eight-round World Championship which it aims to extend in Le Mans against strong competition from Audi and Porsche.
A total of 480PS boost comes from electric motors on the front and rear axle, with energy stored in a super capacitor. The remaining 520PS is generated by the new-for-2014 3.7litre, normally-aspirated petrol engine, which drives the rear wheels.
The #7 car, a fourth-place finisher last year, is driven by Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima while #8, the 2013 runner-up, is driven by Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi.
All six drivers experienced the 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe, which is part permanent circuit and part public roads, during the official test day last Sunday.
A true endurance event, Le Mans is more than the challenge of a 24-hour race. In total there is almost 35 hours of driving, starting on Wednesday 11 June with a four-hour practice session at 16.00 before two hours of qualifying begins at 22.00.
Qualifying continues on Thursday with a pair of further two-hour sessions (19.00 & 22.00). The starting grid is decided by the fastest single lap from any of the qualifying sessions.
The traditional drivers parade in the city centre on Friday afternoon give fans a unique chance to get up close and personal with the drivers before race weekend, which begins with a 45-minute warm-up at 09.00. The race starts at 15.00 on Saturday.
While this year is TOYOTA Racing’s third visit to Le Mans, it is the 16th time TOYOTA cars have entered the race. Over the past 15 attempts, starting in 1985, 40 separate cars have raced, with a best finish of second place (1992, 1994, 1999 and 2013).
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “Our journey with the TS040 HYBRID began a year ago, after the 2013 Le Mans; since then everyone in the team has put in a huge amount of effort. The whole team has worked extremely hard to be ready and we believe we have done all we can so far to prepare for the challenge of Le Mans. We are going there with one target in mind; victory. Many factors are out of our control - our rivals’ performance, luck and the weather - but we have done our homework and now we need to continue this through the race week. With the return of Porsche, to win Le Mans this year is even harder than before; but that also means it would be even sweeter.”
Hisatake Murata, General Manager, Motor Sport Unit Development Division: “This year’s new regulations mean we can finally show all of our hybrid technology, which means delivering hybrid boost to all four wheels. This is the system we developed from the beginning so we are happy to utilise it this year. Le Mans is a different circuit compared to Spa and Silverstone in terms of energy recovery. The hybrid system is designed to be most effective at Le Mans and we know from previous years that it makes a very significant contribution to lap time. With heavy braking at the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight we can recover the full 6MJ and this is a very positive aspect for us. As always, fuel economy is a big topic in Le Mans and we will use our hybrid energy carefully to give us fuel efficiency and optimum performance.”
Pascal Vasselon, Technical Director: “We are better prepared than in 2012 or 2013. We go to Le Mans with no regrets but it is impossible to be confident for obvious reasons. There are many elements which are out of our control, not to mention the traffic risks over 24 hours, the performance factors are different and we are racing against very strong competition who did not stand still after Spa. Le Mans is a different track compared to others on the calendar and we have to prepare accordingly. Outright top speed is a more significant factor than anywhere else and we have to carefully analyse fuel and tyre strategy to find the best compromise between time spent in the pits and our lap time on the track. Still, with two wins in our first two races, we are where we want to be and we are very much looking forward to it.”
Alex Wurz (TS040 HYBRID #7): “I can’t wait to get started with race week; we have been waiting all year for this. Le Mans feels like nothing else you have driven before because it is ultra high speed on average and has no real run-off areas, especially in the forest section and the Porsche curves. I expect it will be a tough race, Le Mans always is, but I have high expectations. If I am on the podium I want to be on the top step. But Le Mans is always unpredictable so we have to do our job correctly at every step and keep fighting.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS040 HYBRID #7): “It is the third time for me to race at Le Mans so I have more experience now. In 2012 I didn’t have any expectations and last year we knew before the race it would be difficult, but this year is different. We feel we have done all the preparation and we showed strong performance in the first two races. I feel a lot more ready to challenge for victory. Because we have prepared to the best of our ability I feel less stress, I am calmer. I try to take it like any other race, my preparation is very similar, and I think this is a good sign.”
Anthony Davidson (TS040 HYBRID #8): “I came to TOYOTA to win Le Mans; that has been my ambition since I came to endurance. This year I feel we are in a pretty good position and I would be disappointed if we do not have the performance to fight for the win in the ‘big one’, especially after the first two races. But at Le Mans you never know. Even if you have the fastest car, there are no guarantees. I will try my best to drive like I did last year because I think it was the ideal way to approach the race weekend and then we will see where we are at the end.”
Nicolas Lapierre (TS040 HYBRID #8): “Le Mans is probably the track which gives me the most pleasure as a driver. I know every centimetre of it and every time I come back to Le Mans it is very special. It is so specific and so different from the other circuits that you can only have special feelings. Coming to this race as World Championship leader and having a great car this year, the logical ambition is to win. But I also know this race is not a standard race, the Le Mans 24 Hours requires you to stay humble. Even if we do everything well, you have to beware of the unexpected.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS040 HYBRID #8): “This is the biggest event of the year where anything can happen. There is huge pressure for the whole team. Even if we are fighting for the WEC title too, the main event is Le Mans and everybody works so hard for this race. It is difficult but if you want to get a good result, you have to go into details. The objective is clearly to win Le Mans but no one can predict how the race will unfold. It is a long and tough race full of surprises, so we will do the job in the best way we can and then we will see where we are. I’m pushing for the centre of the podium.”
TOYOTA Racing at Le Mans: 2012: #7: Qual. 5th; Race DNF (engine). #8: Qual. 3rd; Race DNF (accident) 2013 #7: Qual. 5th; Race 4th. #8: Qual. 4th; Race 2nd.