The countdown to Le Mans has begun! With just two months to go before the classic French endurance race begins, Toyota Motorsport has relocated to Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France, for the first ‘Prologue’ test of its 2015 TS040 HYBRID race car.
And as well as preparing for Le Mans, the team is at the circuit to prepare for the defence of its two FIA World Endurance Championship titles. In 2014 Toyota topped the manufacturer standings in the FIA WEC, while Antony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi won the drivers’ title. Toyota won five of the season’s eight races.
The Prologue event sees 29 of the 37 cars entered for the 2015 FIA WEC season take to the track over three days. The test is to ensure that the new and updated cars are in race condition ahead of the first competitive action on April 6 – the Six Hours of Silverstone.
Toyota Hybrid Racing will run two cars in the 2015 FIA WEC. In the #1 car, reigning champions Davidson and Buemi will be joined by former Formula 1 driver Kazuki Nakajima for his first full WEC season.
The #2 car will be piloted by Stéphane Sarrazin and Alex Wurz, alongside Mike Conway. Mike raced three times in 2014 as test and reserve driver, and drove the car that won the six hours of Bahrain.
— Toyota Europe (@toyota_europe) March 27, 2015
The team is joined by a new test and reserve driver for 2015. Kamui Kobayashi raced for Toyota in Formula 1, and will combine his new role with racing Super Formula in Japan.
Although conditions on day one have been blustery, the team and the drivers seem happy with progress so far.
“We have some very difficult conditions today in terms of the wind; probably the strongest gusts of wind I have ever had to face in my career,” said Antony Davidson after the morning session. “Despite the conditions, the car felt good. We worked on aerodynamic balance with our low-downforce package in preparation for Le Mans. We got through the programme well and got a lot of information, but the work continues.”
Mike Conway echoed Antony’s comments about the wind. “That makes it very tricky in certain areas of the track,” he said. “Overall I’m fairly happy with the car’s balance. T
“It’s good to continue with Alex and Stéphane as I think we learn a lot from each other; we push each other and get the best out of our package.”
Although the 2015 TS040 HYBRID maintains its name from last year, some 80 percent of the car is new. The aerodynamics have been improved, and the front end of the car revised with a new crash structure, new suspension that optimises tyre usage and also weighs less than before. Power comes from a 3.7-litre V8 hybrid system, reputed to deliver more than 1000bhp.
This weekend Toyota is testing two different aerodynamic packages – one low downforce set up for high-speed tracks such as the Circuit de Sarthe at Le Mans, and one sprint package with more downforce for tighter tracks.
Our target is to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. – Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Toyota Racing team president
Development on the 2015 car began straight after Le Mans 2014, and Toyota has already completed 25,000km of 2015 testing at Paul Ricard, Motorland Aragon in Spain and Portimao in Portugal.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Toyota Racing team president has set the bar high for what he wants the team to achieve this season.
“It’s great to see the #1 on our car this year. Our target is to retain it and win the Le Mans 24 Hours. This year the challenge will be greater than ever with four LMP1 manufacturers all presenting different technical solutions.
“We have worked very hard to improve our TS040 HYBRID and so far the testing results are encouraging. But there is a long way to go.”