Toyota to Challenge Audi at Le Mans This Saturday and Sunday

A rotary engined Mazda won Le Mans in 1991. More recently, Audi diesels have been dominant. But for the first time in the history of the race a diesel hybrid car will be starting from pole.

In the final qualifying session on Thursday night an Audi R18 e-tron Quattro driven by André Lotterer set the fastest lap of 3m 23.787s in the number ‘1’ Audi, which he shares with Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. The lap time is an improvement over last year’s best by nearly two seconds. 

And now, after a long absence from racing, and after its recent success at the Nurburgring, Toyota is back at Le Mans with two TS030 petrol hybrid cars, equipped with Toyota’s new THS-R (Toyota Hybrid System – Racing) powertrain, developed specifically for motorsport.

A key decision was to fit a Denso rear hybrid motor within the gearbox casing. The car also makes good use of regenerative braking, with energy recovered and stored in super capacitors, located in the cockpit. This can then be used to provide extra boost on the exit from corners (up to 500Kj between braking zones, as dictated by competition rules).

The hybrid powertrain has been produced by the Toyota’s motorsport division at Higashifuji in Japan, and the TS030 HYBRID chassis has been developed and manufactured by Toyota Motorsport (TMG) in Cologne, Germany.TMGis the team’s home base and also provides the on-track personnel.

Since January, the TS030 HYBRID has undergone 18 test days, most of them at Paul Ricard in France, but also at MotorLand Aragon (Spain), Magny-Cours (France) and Le Mans itself.

The environmental dimension of Toyota Racing’s participation at Le Mans will be further supported by Yamaha Motor Europe, which will be providing 16 EC-03 electric scooters for team use in the race paddock. This partnership sees Yamaha become an official supplier to Toyota Racing.

The number 7 car features two-time winner Alex Wurz (Austria), former Sebring 12 Hours winner Nicolas Lapierre (France) and ex-Formula 1 driver Kazuki Nakajima (Japan).

In the number 8 car, three-time Le Mans pole position winner Stéphane Sarrazin (France) joins multiple endurance winner Anthony Davidson (Great Britain) and Formula 1 young gun Sébastien Buemi (Switzerland).

Davidson acknowledges the scale of the challenge but is fired up to do well: “To succeed here you need to be on top form, it’s as simple as that. The test day gave us plenty of encouragement and we have to continue in this direction in order to be well prepared for the race. I am a positive and realistic guy; I hope we will have the car to fight at the front but I also know that 2012 is our first year so we have many things to learn.”

Action began on Wednesday 13 June with practice (4 to 8pm local time) and first qualifying (10pm to midnight) followed on the following day by second qualifying (7 to 9pm) and final qualifying (10pm to midnight). Following a Saturday morning warm-up (9 to 9.45am) the race begins at 3pm.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation and the hybrid power pioneer responsible for the Toyota Prius, has the honour of the ceremonial flag-waving to get the race under way.

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