Toyota returns to Le Mans this weekend in pursuit of the biggest prize in international sports car racing. For a second year, the Toyota Racing TS030 Hybrid will be aiming for victory, having secured race wins in three other FIA World Endurance Championship events in 2012.
It is the third in a series of superbly engineered Toyota Le Mans cars, a sequence that began with TS010 in the early Nineties. This was developed to take advantage of new technical regulations that allowed the most powerful Group C race cars to run with a non-turbo 3.5-litre V10 engine – the same as those used at the time in Formula 1.
The TS010 tackled its first full season campaign in 1992 and made an immediate impact, with Hitoshi Ogawa and Geoff Lees winning the opening race at Monza. At Le Mans, however, the team had to settle for a hard-fought second place, and was again denied when it returned there for a one-off appearance in 1993.
Toyota subsequently provided racing engines for Le Mans teams through the rest of the decade, before returning in 1998 with a full-blooded entry with Toyota Team Europe – predecessor of today’s Toyota Motorsport –with the TS020, better known as the Toyota GT-One.
Both beautiful and fast, the GT-One was designed by Andre de Cortanze and was one of the most advanced racers of its day. It was created entirely using CAD techniques and featured a carbon fibre monocoque, which helped keep its weight down to a svelte 900kg. It was powered by a completely re-engineered version of Toyota’s twin-turbo V8, producing around 600bhp.
In its Le Mans debut in 1998 it claimed second place on the grid and held a strong second in the race until being forced into retirement in the last hour of the race. The following year it seemed unstoppable, locking out the first three places on the grid, only for separate accidents to sideline the number one and two cars. The third Toyota had the consolation of setting a new lap record en route to another second place result.
Toyota returned to the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012 with the TS030 Hybrid, a car which showcases how advanced hybrid power technology can successfully be applied to the highest levels of international motorsport. One of the key benefits of its Toyota Hybrid System-Racing powertrain is a regenerative braking system that allows 300bhp of additional boost to be generated from energy recovered under braking and deceleration.
Although the team claimed three race wins in its debut championship season, success again eluded it at Le Mans. This year the team is fielding two 2013-specification cars, piloted by the three-man squads of Alex Wurz/Nicolas Lapierre/Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson/Sébastien Buemi/Stéphane Sarrazin.