With Porsche’s July announcement of an exit from the World Endurance Championship, both Toyota and organizers of the series were left with the dilemma of there going to be just one manufacturer in the premier LMP1 class next season.
The organizers, which include the ACO and FIA, have responded by changing the rules for the LMP1 class. The new rules, which will tide things over until a new format is introduced at the end of the decade, will see the introduction of a single LMP1 specification instead of the current twin specification which accounts for hybrid (LMP1-H) and non-hybrid (LMP1) cars.
More powertrain options will also be introduced and costs reduced. Crucially, each team entered in the LMP1 class will have the same potential of performance independent of the powertrain used, via balance of performance rules, putting manufacturers and privateers on a more equal footing.
No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans
The new rules will also see the WEC move to a split-year calendar starting next year. So a new 2018/2019 season with eight races will kick off in May 2018 and conclude in June 2019. For the 2019/2020 season, there will be just seven races, helping to further reduce costs. Another change will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, traditionally held in June, becoming the final race of the season.
Toyota on Tuesday confirmed it will compete in the new season of the WEC, making it the first manufacturer to do so. It will enter two of its TS050 Hybrid LMP1 race cars for the entirety of the season, thus reaffirming its commitment to the development of hybrid technology through motorsport. The cars will continue to be fielded by Gazoo Racing, the official motorsport department of Toyota.
Toyota will announce its driver lineup early next year. Though yet to be confirmed, it’s possible Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso may sit in for one or more races, the most likely being the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The double F1 world champion recently conducted a test in one of Toyota’s LMP1 cars and has expressed an interest in endurance racing.
As mentioned earlier, a new format for the WEC will be introduced at the end of the decade. Organizers, who are hopeful of attracting more manufacturers, are looking to introduce the new format in time for the 2020/2021 season.
Toyota is still determining whether it will compete in the new format once the 2020/2021 season rolls around. However, the automaker’s motorsport boss has previously indicated that he’d like to stay.
“Once things have calmed down, we will make a decision, but we will probably continue to be racing in a new top-flight class which [the organizers] are looking to create,” Gazoo Racing boss Shigeki Tomoyama said during October’s 2017 Tokyo Motor Show. “We are looking to stay—and only with the goal of winning.”