The flagship Toyota World Endurance Championship team released the first footage of its brand spanking new TS050 Hybrid Le Mans Prototype in action today. If there’s one message that gets pounded on over and over in this video, it’s that holy balls, they are sick of losing.
Of course, the WEC season hasn’t started yet, so the video is still very The Bourne Identity in nature—with lots of shakycam to imply action and (more importantly) hide the intricate details.
As for the overwhelming message that they’re tired of playing third fiddle to Audi and Porsche, this is the exact same attitude I got when I spoke with Toyota Gazoo Racing Technical Director Pascal Vasselon during September’s race at Circuit of the Americas last year.
“This year’s car is clearly a step down from our competitors’ cars,” Vasselon told me last year. He cited a lack of development after their championship-winning 2014 season as the reason why, complete with the very unhappy facial expression of someone who’s beyond sick of watching their car run laps behind an Audi.
“We need to close the gap, but anticipate the competition next year,” Vasselon continued. “The progress rate in WEC this year was unbelievable.”
The Toyota team didn’t expect the other teams to improve so dramatically from the prior season. Audi and Porsche simply out-developed and out-spent the smaller Toyota and Nissan efforts. Costs have exploded for the top class in WEC, and Vasselon was rightfully worried about the long term effects of that.
“It’s not possible to come here with a half-time program,” Vasselon said of the Nissan effort that failed to produce a competitive car. “The bar is very high.”
So, much of last year for Toyota was focused on getting this 2016 car right. Vasselon said that every single part of the outgoing TS040 would be reconsidered in making the TS050 a competitive car, straight out of the box.
There’s a new monocoque, new engine and new hybrid system. They bumped up their hybrid system to an 8 megajoule system with battery-based storage in place of their older, heavier supercapacitors. (8 MJ is the most powerful hybrid system the WEC rules allow.) Gone is the glorious naturally aspirated V8 in favor of a much smaller, lighter turbocharged engine. According to Motorsport.com, the engine is rumored to be a V4, as Porsche won the WEC championship last year with a turbo V4.
Additionally, Toyota confirmed that former Formula One favorite Kamui Kobayashi is taking retired driver Alex Wurz’s place in the car this season. That should be a riot to watch, given how known he was for balls-out racing in F1. WEC cars are so reliable now that I doubt he’ll have to dial it back much for racing an LMP1. Excellent.
Thus, the TS050 is a totally clean sheet. Even the livery is new, foregoing the blue, white and red of the past few years for a vivid orange and white that will be featured on all of Toyota’s works racing efforts this year.
Vasselon said in September that they were hoping to gain 4 to 5 seconds a lap, but in case someone from another team overheard and shot for just that, we’re hoping it’s even faster. Cue Celebrity Deathmatch’s Mills Lane: “I want a good, clean fight.”
I am the world’s biggest Porsche homer in every other respect, but I have the worst time picking a favorite top-level WEC LMP1 team. Audi is so together and such a master at this series right now that you have to respect it when they win. Porsche, too—winning endurance races is pretty much their schtick. Then Toyota comes along with this attitude of “we’re going to beat you on a smaller budget,” and it’s hard not to fall in love with their team.
Sure, 2016 may not be as interesting from a technical standpoint. Nissan’s weird front-wheel-drive-biased LMP1 won’t be given a second chance, and the remaining teams seem to be standardizing many things around the ideas that worked so well for Porsche last year.
Still, the competition should be fierce with Toyota dumping this much time and effort into their new car. I feel as if racing goes in cycles with this kind of thing, too. It’s a constant arms race to beat the other guys, so I have no doubt that someone will try out a different idea sooner or later in hopes of gaining an advantage. If there’s any series that will allow the next, big crazy idea in racing to blossom, it’s the WEC.
As for Toyota? Toyota’s angry. I rather like them when they’re angry.
Photo credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing
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