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Toyota Hybrid Has Speed, Will Travel 24 Hours?

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 2 2012

The Toyota TS 030 Hybrid has shown speed in testing at Le Mans this week. The pole is the goal.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

LE MANS, France – There was thunder as the new Toyota TS 030 Hybrid broke cover at Le Mans for the first time. In place of traditional Toyota red seen previously, the Japanese company’s LMP1 class hybrid carried a blue paint scheme for its first “Vingt-Quatres Heures du Mans.”

The new panels, composed with subtlety fitting of an impressionist painter, accomodated a theme of blue skies and persistant streaks of lightning that closely resemble electric current. But will the Toyota prototype equipped with super capacitor technology strike with real thunder after an accelerated development curve?

The Test Day taking place tomorrow will provide the first clue after a Saturday where the front straight resembled the racing version of a fashion show runway. Photos ops and official scrutineering were the only reasons for cars to be on the track. After the lone Test Day on Sunday, qualifying and the race will be held June 13-17

Born out of the defunct Formula 1 team based in Cologne, Germany, the latest international program from Toyota deserves a lot of respect. Despite a testing accident that forced the cancellation of the TS 030 Hybrid’s debut in the second round of the World Endurance Championship at Spa the first week of May, the new car has a worthy provenance. The team is composed of those who worked on the F1 team at Toyota Motorsports GmbH up until 2010. Before that, many of the key personnel helped campaign the redoubtable Toyota GT One that came within a blown tire of challenging for the win at Le Mans in 1999.

That’s why there’s confidence within the team in the car’s speed during preparations for qualifying that will take place in 11 days time. “For sure the pole is the target,” said Project Leader John Litjens, one of the many experienced F1 engineers overseeing the hybrid project and a former engineer on the GT One. “But it will be a tough target to compete for the pole against the Audi diesels.”

The confidence at TMG, which will use a 3.4-liter V-8 running standard racing fuel, likely emanates from the use of a super capacitor for recovered energy storage instead of a battery. The capacitor was chosen in hopes of providing a quicker burst in the zones designated by the Le Mans organizers for use of stored energy. Since the maximum amount of electric energy between braking points on the 13-kilometer circuit will be regulated, the speed and smoothness of application will be critical. By contrast, the rival Audi R18 e-tron quattro will use the flywheel storage method pioneered by Williams Grand Prix Engineering and later the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid.

Originally scheduled to compete in selected events this year and the full championship in 2012, Toyota got a hurry-up call from the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, organizers at Le Mans, after Peugeot abruptly withdrew from the FIA-sanctioned world championship. When the ACO changed the rules to limit factory points to one car and to allow a factory to pick seven out of eight races for the championship, Toyota tried to join after Round 1 in Sebring at the second race in Spa.

But an engine misfire led to a spectacular testing crash by Nicolas Lapierre at the Paul Ricard circuit in early April. Lapierre emerged without injury, but the first TS 030 was destoyed and its debut postponed. Prior to that, Toyota’s new car often struggled to get even a handful of consecutive laps at Ricard.

Initially missing something in the speed department despite the latest “four-square” approach of full sized Michelin tires front and rear, Toyota re-designed its nose to more closely resemble Audi’s controversial raised nose and split floor approach, which uses Formula 1-derived technology to efficiently speed the flow of air to the underside and the diffusers at the rear of the car. When Peugeot protested Audi’s use of what was called a “third wing” inside the R15 three seasons ago, specific bodywork dimensions were established and it’s believed Toyota is using those outlines for its latest nose.

There’s nothing secret about the Toyota approach, although the execution is slightly different. “That’s to get as much air as possible to the underbody,” said Dutchman Litjens of the nose re-design. In general, the TS 030 Hybrid seems to have more flaps, vents, crafted openings and channels than any other car on the grid. That results in part because the heat generated by the “instant on” super capacitor system poses cooling challenges.

Introducing a new hybrid prototype at Le Mans is a lot like designing, building and then learning how to play the violin in public. In addition to the cooling, weight and reliability problems, choosing the location of equipment and weight within the car is completely different process from anything designed by Toyota previously. “The space packaging is a real challenge,” said Litjens.

Given the complete newness of the project and short time frame, the team is hesitant to predict anything beyond a spirited run for the pole. “Our preparation time was shortened due to the accident in April,” said Litjens. “The lap times should be good, but we’ll have to see what happens in the race.”

While the car is now front and center, the back story at Toyota concerns the Japanese company’s willingness to continue racing on the international level despite the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011. The destruction and disruption in the wake of the natural disaster forced a six-month delay of the Hybrid.

TMG has been trimmed from 800 employes at the height of the Formula 1 era, where budgets were estimated as more than $300 million, to the current 400. The company, which features a multi-national staff, is still very active in F1, doing contract work for current teams. Many of the personel working on the Hybrid spent mornings on the sports car project and afternoons fulfilling F1 contracts.

The team plans to enter two cars at Le Mans – assuming each survives a Test Day where rain is predicted. But in the remaining five rounds of the WEC championship TMG will campaign only one car due to budget concerns. Given the absence of the team from the first and second rounds, there’s virtually no chance of contesting Audi, which introduced its e-tron quattro in Belgium alongside the lightweight R18 Ultra, for the championship.

Hence Toyota’s initial emphasis on poles first and endurance later.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 2 2012
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