WORLD ENDURANCE PREVIEW
WHO WILL SHINE AT SILVERSTONE?
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
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.