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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Toyota WEC drivers welcome Le Mans tyre warmer U-turn

Toyota World Endurance Championship stars Kamui Kobayashi and Ryo Hirakawa have welcomed the decision to bring back tyre warmers for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

It was announced earlier this month by the organisers of the WEC, the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, that the new-for-2023 ban on tyre pre-heating would be temporarily suspended for the centrepiece race at La Sarthe, after a number of accidents in the previous race at Spa prompted widespread calls for a rethink on the ruling.

Kobayashi was among the most vocal about the potential safety hazards posed by not being able to use tyre warmers in the cool temperatures at Spa.

The ex-Formula 1 driver backed the move to bring back tyre warmers at Le Mans, fearing that there could have been a big accident involving a gentleman driver without them.

“As professional drivers I don’t think it’s a huge problem, but Le Mans means bronze-rated [amateur] drivers, and that increases the possibility of a huge collision or accident, which we don’t want to see happen,” Kobayashi told Motorsport.com.

“I respect what the FIA and ACO decided, safety is first. I think the target to reduce CO2 [emissions] is something we have to try, but we need to consider how we combine that with the safety side.”

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Asked if he was comfortable with the tyre warmer ban being enforced again for the following regular WEC race at Monza, Kobayashi replied: “Le Mans includes night-time running, which increases the risk, but at Monza, if the weather is ok, it won’t be a big challenge.

“I don’t have a big problem with it, but we just don’t want to see a big accident for the centenary Le Mans.”

Hirakawa, whose team-mate in the #8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID, Brendon Hartley, crashed on cold tyres during qualifying at Spa, echoed the sentiments of Kobayashi.

“Just from a safety point of view, I think the FIA and ACO made a good decision,” Hirakawa told Motorsport.com. “Doing the out lap on cold tyres at night would have been very challenging, and Brendon crashed on cold tyres [at Spa] while he wasn’t pushing. 

“When the track temperature is so low, it’s difficult, and we only have three specs of tyres. It’s a bit limited when you have to do a double stint.”

However, Hirakawa did raise the point that a lack of test opportunities for Toyota with the use of pre-heated 2023-spec tyres could put the Japanese marque at a disadvantage to its Hypercar rivals, many of which are not subject to the same restrictions. 

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While Toyota did complete its traditional pre-Le Mans shakedown at Spa last week, it’s understood the two days of running were undertaken with special testing tyres and not the same rubber that would be used in a race situation.

“The problem is we never tested this year’s tyres with no tyre warmers, but the other manufacturers can test still,” said Hirakawa. “That could be a disadvantage for us, although we still have the [official] test day at Le Mans.

“The tyres are quite different in terms of behaviour from last year, even though the labels are the same. It will still be challenging for us even with tyre warmers.”

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