Toyota's TS030 hybrid was quick in the early going - Toyota Racing photoEnlarge Photo
Toyota Racing came to the 24 Heures du Mans for its first World Endurance Championship race with two TS030 hybrid LMP1 prototypes. They had a good qualifying effort that saw the No. 8 car of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi in third place on the 56-car grid, with the No. 7 car of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima earning fifth place for the start.
It was a good way to begin the 24-hour race and, throughout the opening hours the two Toyota hybrid prototypes were able to use the KERS technology that recovers energy under braking, stores it in super capacitors and then releases under acceleration - from any speed - to gain a significant power boost, keeping the duo towards the front of the field.
As the nine o'clock hour approached - the race begins and ends at 3PM - Lapierre used a dramatic overtaking maneuver to lead the race in the No. 7 TS030 hybrid, passing the Audi e-tron quattro and having clear air ahead of him. Seconds later, however, Davidson had a heavy accident on the Mulsanne corner that caused the No. 8 to flip (much like the Sauber Mercedes more than a decade earlier) and eliminate the car.
There was more than an hour under caution to remove Davidson's stricken car and the Ferrari GT car with which he collided. On the restart after the safety car exited the field, Nakajima made contact with the DeltaWing - but was able to make it back to the pits. An alternator problem caused a delay in the pits and ultimately, an engine failure after 10-1/2 hours forced retirement of the No. 7 Toyota TS030 hybrid.
Yoshiaka Kinoshita watches the TS030 hybrid at Le Mans - Toyota Racing photoEnlarge Photo
Team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita talked about the car's first race, after having the time to digest its successes and ultimate retirements. "It was very promising but ultimately disappointing," he said. "It was our dream to lead the race and to do so, even for only a short time was fantastic. Of course Anthony's accident was a scary moment and a turning point in the race," Kinoshita explained. "We all wish him a speedy recovery, but it was difficult to enjoy the race after that.
"Unfortunately," he continued, "we faced some problems on No. 7 and had to retire. It is normal we had to deal with some technical issues in the race because our car is very young and we have not had enough testing, but nevertheless it was an extremely sad moment for us. We leave Le Mans with several areas to improve for future races but we can also be proud; the whole team gave everything they had and I want to say thank you for their great efforts."
Running with the hybrid systems installed on these two cars "was a significant achievement from Motor Sport Division and the Toyota Motor Corporation hybrid department to bring such technology to Le Mans," Kinoshita acknowledged. "In terms of performance we are happy with how the hybrid system contributed to our overall speed. I think we showed that our concept has strong promise and we continue to work hard on reliability."
Kinoshita enjoyed the competition with eventual winners Audi, who used their own hybrid R18 e-tron quattro to visit Victory Lane: "We did not know if we could fight with Audi, so we enjoyed the battle while it lasted. As well as being tough competitors on the track, Audi were also very welcoming and friendly; it was a pleasure to race with them. It was also an honor to join their victory party on Sunday and hear the appreciative words of Dr Ullrich. We look forward to some exciting battles in the future and some fun moments between us as well."
Toyota will be racing for the balance of the World Endurance Championship with a single entry, a five-race span "in which to learn about our car and hopefully improve; our target is simply to show our best possible performance at each race," Kinoshita stated.
While the TS030 hybrid wasn't able to make the finish line at 3PM on Sunday afternoon, the TMG-supplied engine in the Rebellion Racing Lola/Toyota finished as "best of the rest" in fourth position.