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Spa-fran­cor­champs wasn’t a happy place for Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing last year.

Un­usu­ally for the Bel­gian venue, the weather was fine, the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship had lured the fans in their droves and the LMP1 fight was well and truly on. The only prob­lem was that Toy­ota, the reign­ing world cham­pion, sim­ply wasn’t in the mix.

The faces in the Toy­ota garage said it all as the twin TS040S were trounced by both even­tual world cham­pion Porsche and old ri­val Audi. Both cars lagged home three laps down on the win­ning tyre-friendly Audi, which had man­aged to steal a sec­ond vic­tory against the pre­dom­i­nantly faster Porsche 919 Hy­brid.

Some­thing had to change, and it did af­ter that race. De­spite it be­ing only round two of the cham­pi­onship, Toy­ota called crunch meet­ings in search of a change of di­rec­tion. The 2015 cam­paign was largely writ­ten off there and then, with devel­op­ment fo­cus moved to 2016. Only parts that were rel­e­vant to the new de­sign would be brought to the TS040 from then on. By the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, Toy­ota had a mas­ter­plan.

The TS050 marks a fun­da­men­tal change in de­sign from its pre­de­ces­sor. Toy­ota has gone rad­i­cal. And it had to.

The big­gest is­sue with the TS040 was its en­gine. The ven­er­a­ble nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 3.7-litre V8 petrol en­gine sim­ply wasn’t up to the task against the new pow­er­plants from Porsche and Audi, which both ran tur­bocharged units. The big­gest deficit was a lack of torque, which hurt the TS040 badly on the straights.

That’s been ad­dressed in the TS050 by the switch to a new 2.4-litre twin-turbo V6 de­sign, which pro­duces 493bhp.

Toy­ota’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Pas­cal Vas­selon says the move to a tur­bocharged en­gine was in­evitable: “The devel­op­ment rate and po­ten­tial of a tur­bocharged en­gine is higher, we un­der­stood af­ter Spa last year that we should have made the switch for 2015.

“We suf­fered from an un­be­liev­able rate of progress last year when we saw lap time im­prove­ments never seen be­fore, es­pe­cially within sta­ble reg­u­la­tions. To have our ri­vals find five or six sec­onds per lap shows how much progress can be made un­der the reg­u­la­tions, but that progress doesn’t come for free. The en­vi­ron­ment has changed to de­velop a win­ning car and you can­not af­ford to have any area of the pack­age that haven’t been fully de­vel­oped. Just hav­ing a strong hy­brid sys­tem or aero­dy­nam­ics isn’t enough.

“We clearly found the lim­its of a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine, which can be good and com­pet­i­tive in its sweet spot. It is def­i­nitely pos­si­ble to make a fuel-ef­fi­cient and com­pet­i­tive nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine, but that sweet spot is quite nar­row and not com­pletely ro­bust when it comes to dif­fer­ent con­di­tions – such as tem­per­a­ture or al­ti­tude change.

“The turbo makes things more ro­bust. You can achieve op­ti­mum power and com­bus­tion so you can com­pen­sate for tem­per­a­ture or al­ti­tude changes within a larger range. The big­gest gain for the new en­gine is the size of its op­er­at­ing sweet spot.”

To­gether with the new in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine, ar­guably Toy­ota’s big­gest change comes with its hy­brid energy stor­age sys­tem. The Ja­panese firm has opted to ape Porsche’s ap­proach by in­stalling a lithium-ion bat­tery sys­tem within the chas­sis, aban­don­ing its tra­di­tional su­per­ca­pac­i­tor set-up.

The bat­tery sys­tem al­lows the TS050 to be pre-charged in the same way the 919 Hy­brid was last year, which was a key fac­tor in Porsche dom­i­nat­ing qual­i­fy­ing last term. The bat­tery sys­tem also de­grades less than a su­per­ca­pac­i­tor. The TS050 will still re­cover its energy through two KERS mo­tors, mounted front and rear. The car will run in the high­est eight-mega­joule hy­brid class.

Vas­selon says: “A new stor­age so­lu­tion is a big de­par­ture that re­quires a to­tally dif­fer­ent man­age­ment sys­tem. The lev­els of energy den­sity are very dif­fer­ent from the su­per­ca­pac­i­tor, which changes the way you man­age charge and dis­charge.

“The bat­tery is eas­ier to pack­age in the cock­pit so we have sim­i­lar di­men­sions for the new car so it looks very sim­i­lar on the out­side but inside the TS050 is very dif­fer­ent.

“Our ini­tial plan was to bring this new car in 2017, but we had to bring that plan for­ward af­ter last year and re­design­ing the rear of the car has been dif­fi­cult as there have been big changes for the gear­box too.

“The torque lev­els of the turbo en­gine aren’t com­pa­ra­ble to the nor­mally as­pi­rated V8, they are sig­nif­i­cantly higher. The gear­box had to be re­designed on the first es­ti­ma­tion of the new en­gine’s power be­fore it was run­ning.”

The TS050 also fea­tures sweep­ing aero­dy­namic changes, par­tic­u­larly at the front end. The chas­sis nose has been raised to im­prove air­flow through and un­der the car, and also sate the new pow­er­train’s need for ad­di­tional cool­ing.

“A turbo en­gine has higher re­quire­ments for cool­ing, which af­fects the air­flow and cre­ates a com­pro­mise for aero­dy­nam­ics as you have to de­vi­ate more air­flow,” adds Vas­selon.

“The front of the car has changed dras­ti­cally. We spent thou­sands of hours re­fin­ing the new con­cept and han­dling the front down­force­gen­er­at­ing de­vices. The is­sue with front aero is that you ob­vi­ously need down­force, so you need to man­age the flow for that with­out tak­ing too much away from the cool­ing.”

Af­ter just two podium ap­pear­ances in last year’s WEC, Toy­ota is des­per­ate for an up­swing in form on the back of its sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment on the TS050. Toy­ota doesn’t have the re­sources of ei­ther Audi or Porsche, but has built a solid rep­u­ta­tion for punch­ing above its weight. The team’s only man­date this year is to be com­pet­i­tive again, or as Vas­selon puts it “to get back in the game”. How­ever, much of its progress will rest on whether or not its ri­vals have moved the game on even fur­ther. ■

“Progress doesn’t come for free” Pas­cal Vas­selon


Car: 919 Hy­brid En­gine: Two-litre turbo V4, petrol

Hy­brid sys­tem:

Dual heat/ KERS, bat­tery stor­age Driv­ers: #1 Timo Bern­hard (GER)/ Mark Web­ber (AUS)/ Bren­don Hart­ley (NZL); #2 Ro­main Du­mas (FRA)/ Marc Lieb (GER)/ Neel Jani (SUI) Porsche WEC ti­tles: 2 (2015 Teams’, Driv­ers’) Porsche WEC wins: 7 Porsche Le Mans wins: 17 (1 LMP1)

which have been as­sem­bled by spe­cial­ists Mul­ti­matic.

The British-crewed car will tackle the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship along­side two other ex­am­ples, all run from a base in Northamp­ton­shire un­der the watch­ful eye of ex­pe­ri­enced sportscar guru Ge­orge Howard-chap­pell.

There is not a lot of time to per­fect things. The car has been test­ing since the start of the year – and Pri­aulx him­self has run for a to­tal of five days at Mo­tor­land Aragon in Por­tu­gal and at Paul Ri­card in France.

Ganassi-tended cars have con­tested Day­tona and Se­bring so far this sea­son, but that has been its only race run­ning ahead of Sil­ver­stone. Day­tona was tough, with gear­box prob­lems af­fect­ing the cars, but Se­bring was more of a suc­cess. One of the cars – in the hands of Richard West­brook/ryan Briscoe/scott Dixon – was on course for a class podium be­fore be­ing knocked off the track in the clos­ing stages. The other car, in the hands of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bour­dais crashed early on in a rain­storm but re­cov­ered for eighth in class.

Pri­aulx knows there is a lot of learn­ing to do, and that it will have to be done ex­tremely quickly. “I know it is a cliché, but there re­ally is no sub­sti­tute for rac­ing, and that is what will be im­por­tant for us,” says the 41-year-old. “You can test as much as you want, but when you are in a race meet­ing, ev­ery­thing is ramped up just that lit­tle bit higher. The driv­ers are keyed up, and the team is keyed up. You would per­haps take a lit­tle bit more kerb than you would do oth­er­wise. The pit­stops are that lit­tle bit faster. The mar­gins are so fine, and you can­not repli­cate that in any other sit­u­a­tion.”

De­spite that, the ex­pec­ta­tions are high. Ford is not join­ing the cham­pi­onship as a van­ity ex­er­cise: there is a real de­sire across the brand to pro­mote its sport­ing mod­els, as has been ev­i­dent in re­cent ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. And, in sportscar rac­ing, Ford’s per­for­mance cars – and par­tic­u­larly the Ford GT – have the grand­daddy of all role mod­els: the GT40 ( see be­low).

It is 50 years since the Ford of Bruce Mclaren and Chris Amon beat Fer­rari at Le Mans, which was the endgame of a bit­ter battle be­tween the two firms. That heritage means the pres­sure is on right from the start.

“There is no learn­ing year, no gen­tle build up to this,” ex­plains Pri­aulx. “That is the ethos sur­round­ing this en­tire pro­gramme. There has been no com­pro­mise from Ford or from Ganassi in terms of get­ting this car to­gether, and so the ex­pec­ta­tion has to be high. Ob­vi­ously, we are go­ing up against teams like Porsche, which has gi­gan­tic ex­pe­ri­ence at Le Mans, and Corvette too – look how long it took Corvette to fi­nally win Le Mans. But that’s not part of the think­ing from Ford of Ganassi. This is about win­ning, and not about wait­ing.”

There will be four of the cars at Le Mans, and the Euro­pean side of the op­er­a­tion will have only had two races – Sil­ver­stone and Spa – as a dress re­hearsal. De­spite that short lead in time, and what Pri­aulx feels is a harsh bal­ance of per­for­mance re­stric­tion – the driver says the chal­lenge is sur­mount­able: “When you look around the crew that Ge­orge [Howard-chap­pell] has as­sem­bled, there are a lot of ex­pe­ri­enced guys who are very loyal to him, and that gives us a good plat­form to start with. But we are look­ing ahead to Le Mans, the hard­est race in the world to win. We have the sup­port that we need from the man­u­fac­turer, a great team be­hind us and a car that has been built with this spe­cific pur­pose in mind. Be­ing part of this pro­gramme is a real priv­i­lege.

“Ganassi is one of the truly great global race teams, and you feel that right from the out­set. It is like an F1 team – all the kit is per­fect. And an or­gan­i­sa­tion with that much suc­cess and his­tory doesn’t do things by halves. I re­ally be­lieve this is the best place for a driver to be right now.” ■

The for­ma­tion of the new LMP3 class gives Nis­san and Hoy an ideal step­ping stone into full-time Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion. Hoy shares a fac­tory run Ginetta-nis­san with Char­lie Robert­son and the pair win on their – and the LMP3 class – de­but at Sil­ver­stone. They go on to take three wins in to­tal to secure the class crown.

New aero con­cept has de­fined de­sign along the car A lot of work has gone into pack­ag­ing the rear end Toy­ota’s TS050 LMP1 is all-new un­der the skin

Porsche set the pace in pre-sea­son Ri­card test Porsche has made sweep­ing changes to the 919’s in­ter­nals Car will get three aero kits

Hoy and Wolf­gang Reip at Spa

LMP3 ti­tle came dur­ing ELMS

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