Toyota Racing has put its new Toyota TS030 Hybrid LM P1 car through long-distance testing at Paul Ricard circuit in France, conducting three days of practice that ended on Friday evening. This was the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) challenger's third time on a race track (including its roll-out) and its first 30-hour endurance run.
The long-distance test at Paul Ricard began on Thursday afternoon, after initial sessions to evaluate various performance developments initiated by Toyota Racing's Cologne headquarters.
In his first test as an official Toyota Racing driver, Swiss Sebastien Buemi started the marathon session, followed by his teammate in car No. 8 at Le Mans, Hiroaki Ishiura. Car No. 7 drivers Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima also took turns behind the wheel of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid.
The test ended with the goal met of completing a significant number of laps to evaluate the car over very long distances. Toyota Racing is now preparing an updated package for its first race, the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the second race of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship season. The next tests prior to that race are set for sometime in April.
Technical director Pascal Vasselon believes the team has performed valuable testing that will serve it well once the LM P1 car takes part in competition. "This has contributed to our ongoing development of performance, reliability and organization," he said. "The endurance test was an interesting experience; we were expecting challenges for everyone in the team and we were not disappointed!
"It's not easy on the car or the people, but we are all passionate about this project," Vasselon continued, "so a strong team spirit saw us through to the end. We are content with the results and the conclusions we have been able to draw, which will accelerate our preparation for our first race."
Hybrid project leader Hisatake Murata noted this was the Toyota Hybrid System - Racing's first endurance test. "We never expected a trouble-free week and we did experience a few issues, but nothing major," he confirmed. "Thanks to a large amount of data and the detailed feedback of all the drivers, we have a lot of information about how the THS-R powertrain behaves.
"We have been able to use this already to refine our systems and before the next tests," Murata explained, "we will work more on some of the issues raised. We have achieved our primary goals for this test and I am happy with how it has gone."
The drivers had their own impressions of the new Toyota Hybrid TS030 and the THS-R system. Veteran Wurz found the test "interesting and we have gained valuable experience. In terms of development," he said, "we continue to optimize the interaction between all components, including the hybrid system. It has been a pleasure to work with the guys; we know and understand each other better and better with each day."
Ishiura had his first experiences this week at the Paul Ricard circuit and did his first stint in the dark. "My first task was to find my way around! We don't drive much at night in Super GT so I don't have a lot of experience of this; it was a very useful test for me in that sense."
It was the cold conditions that challenged Nakajima but, "even then," he said, "the car and tires were working well. I did a lot of stints so I was really busy and put plenty of mileage on the car. The car shows good potential but now we need to work on the details and develop some areas."
Lapierre did "some development work and also participated in the endurance test. I am quite positive about how it went for a first long-distance simulation; we can see how the car reacts to various different conditions, such as cold track temperatures we may encounter during the night at Le Mans."
Buemi, who most recently drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso's Formula One team found it "nice to discover more about the endurance racing environment. I have been int he driving simulator so I had an idea of what to expect, but the reality is always a bit more complex," he revealed. "I did some long stints and learned about the new aspects of endurance racing, like driving at night, managing fuel consumption and adapting my driving style. I can see that eery detail is important in order to be fast in this discipline."