Life is busy at the moment for Toyota Gazoo Racing. For the past two weeks, Nasser Al-Attiyah has been driving a Hilux pickup through the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia towards a podium place on the . Meanwhile, in the south of France, Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans (first and second in the World Rally Championship last year) have been testing the company's Yaris WRC ahead of the Monte Carlo Rally, with a new livery also being unveiled for the 2021 Yaris WRC car. And today, Toyota has pulled the covers off its new endurance racing challenger, the GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar. The team should have been continuing testing this week too, but snow at the Aragón Circuit in Spain put an end to that.
The FIA's new Le Mans Hypercar rules replace the previous LMP1 regulations for the fastest cars in endurance racing, and Toyota's GR010 race car is the first of the new vehicles to be shown ahead of the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship at Sebring in March. Entrants from and ByKolles should be joining Toyota on the grid, with challengers from Audi, Porsche and Peugeot set to enter the fray in the following seasons. The cars should have first raced last year, but Toyota admitted that the delays caused by the were actually helpful, because the original schedule would likely have been too tight. As it is, the 1,000 miles of Sebring may yet have to be called off because of the virus.
Despite the new car bearing a passing resemblance to the old LMP1 Hybrid GR050, the new regulations are substantially different. The new car's engine is a 3.6-liter, twin-turbo, gas V6 that will put out 671 bhp. It will be augmented by a 268-bhp electric motor on the front axle. Regulations dictate, however, that a total of 671 bhp (500 kW) is the maximum that can be used at any one time across the two power units. That's a third down on the old LMP1 Hybrid cars. Also unlike the old TS050, which used to rocket out of corners using its all-wheel-drive traction, the new car won't be able to deploy its electric front motor until it reaches 75 mph (120 kph). This is to help level the playing field with those cars that are rear-wheel drive only.
The new car weighs 2,778 pounds -- 357 pounds more than the old cars -- but it is also longer, wider and higher. Aerodynamics are also more restricted, with one package being used for the entire racing season (read: no high- and low-downforce setups) and only one movable device is allowed -- the rear wing in the case of the Toyota. With thebeing the clear jewel in the crown for Toyota, the car's aerodynamics have been tailored more to that circuit's high-speed, low downforce requirements.
Overall, it's expected that these new cars will be roughly 10 seconds slower around Le Mans and between four and five seconds slower at the other WEC tracks. The target is a 3 minute, 30 second lap at Le Mans, so it's safe to say that Kamui Kobayashi's incredible outright Le Mans lap record of 3 minutes, 14.791 seconds in the company's 2017 TS050 will stand for a few years.
Why the move to slower cars? There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, money. As Technical Director Pascal Vasselon said during the press conference for the GR010, "performance costs." A reduction in lap time, combined with Balance of Performance handicapping will reduce the budget required to compete and that should encourage more participation. Secondly, the new LMH rules now also align with the LMDh regulations, which will run across both IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the WEC. This means that for the first time in many years, the same top-class cars could run at both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Despite the new cars being slower, the drivers are still enthusiastic about the new machines. In the No. 7 car will be reigning champions Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López, while Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima will share the No. 8 machine.
All the drivers who have tested the car so far say that you can feel the extra weight and lack of initial punch out of the corners compared to the old TS050, but Buemi and Hartley in particular seem delighted that they will no longer have to lift and coast to save fuel on the way into corners. Instead it will simply be a more conventional case of hitting the brakes as late and as hard as possible. And because the overall power of these new cars is capped, their drivers will no longer have the push-to-pass boost system to help with overtaking, so more moves will likely have to be made under braking.
The direct steering and front-end grip of the new car has also been praised by the drivers, and Conway notes that the new car sounds a little louder, which should please fans at the tracks. What should also delight spectators and drivers alike is the closer racing that BoP will hopefully bring. BoP has caused controversy in the past, but it should stop domination and a passing-free procession. With the cars so close in outright performance, it also means the pressure will be on the drivers (and those in the garages) to make a difference and execute their race strategies as well as possible.
Toyota's Gazoo Racing brand is, of course, also appearing on road cars now, with the acclaimed (overseas-only)hot hatchback joining the GR Supra and being a real highlight of 2020. It is expected that a road cousin of this new GR010 Le Mans Hypercar (the GR Super Sport) will make it into production in the coming years. But although a road car will share some styling cues with this new race car -- particularly around the front, back and wheel arches, according to Vasselon -- the mechanical links will be looser than we might have expected at one point, as such tight linkages are no longer required for the race car's homologation into the LMH category.
A concept of the Super Sport was shown in 2018, and that car was linked to the old TS050's more powerful 2.4-liter, twin-turbo V6, hybrid powertrain that has two electric motors as opposed to the GR010's one. The road car made a camouflaged public appearance before Le Mans last year, and although this undisguised race car now gives us a few more hints as to the styling, we we'll have to wait a little longer for the full reveal. But then, Toyota Gazoo Racing is quite busy at the moment...