Toyota demands non-hybrid competition to stay in WEC

Toyota has made closing the performance gap between hybrid and non-hybrid cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship's LMP1 class a condition of it staying in the series, Motorsport.com has learned.

Toyota demands non-hybrid competition to stay in WEC
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#4 ByKolles Racing CLM P1/01: Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer, Marco Bonanomi
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez
Jari-Matti Latvala, Miikka Anttila, Toyota Yaris WRC, Toyota Racing
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima

Speculation has surrounded Toyota’s future plans since it was announced in July that its sole rival in WEC’s top division, Porsche, is to exit the class at the end of the season. 

Toyota had been waiting to see how WEC’s rulemakers, the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, would respond to Porsche’s departure before making a firm commitment to staying on, with a final decision expected to be made next month.

It’s believed the Japanese manufacturer had been planning a three-race programme comprising only Spa, the Le Mans 24 Hours and Fuji before WEC unveiled plans for a ‘superseason’ winter schedule in 2018/19.

While Toyota could now contest the ‘superseason’ in its entirety, Motorsport.com understands it is worried about the prospect of running away with races to the detriment of interest in the WEC.

It has therefore requested to the FIA and ACO that the considerable performance deficit that has existed between hybrids and non-hybrid LMP1 cars up to now is closed for next season.

WEC series boss Gerard Neveu also made it clear he does not want to see "Toyota playing alone, 10 laps in front" in a recent Motorsport.com interview.

Last week's FIA World Motor Sport Council statement confirmed measures will be put in the place to achieve this outcome, namely that non-hybrids will be allowed to use more fuel per lap, although it remains to be seen if this will be deemed sufficient to satisfy Toyota and convince it to continue.

Regardless, Motorsport.com understands that some within senior Toyota management believe that the expense of its LMP1 programme is unnecessary now it is involved in another FIA world championship, the WRC.

In its first season as a works team since 1999, Toyota has won two rallies so far and has quickly become a threat to established teams Citroen, Hyundai and M-Sport.

However, there are those within the firm that believe it should stay on to claim the Le Mans 24 Hours victory that has eluded it since it returned to top-level sportscars in 2012.

The pull factor of a clear run at La Sarthe next year against limited non-factory competition may well prove decisive in Toyota opting to keep its WEC programme going.

Then there is the additional incentive of potentially being able to field Fernando Alonso, who has expressed an interest in racing at Le Mans as part of his quest to complete motorsport's 'Triple Crown'.

Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon has said the Japanese squad would be open to talks with the Spaniard about a possible drive.

Next year's Formula 1 calendar does not feature a clash with Le Mans or its test day, while the traditional six-hour warm-up event at Spa in May also falls on a free weekend for Alonso, assuming the Spaniard signs a fresh deal to remain at McLaren as expected.

Additional reporting by Kunihiko Akai

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