With the unexpected withdrawal of Peugeot, it appears that Toyota will be the only major automaker competing directly with Audi in the top LMP1 class at LeMans this year. In preparation for that big challenge, Toyota Racing has completed its first long-distance endurance test during a three-day session at Paul Ricard in France. It was just the second full test and the third time on track, including the roll-out, for the Toyota TS030 Hybrid and it was a tough one, lasting 30-hours. The long-distance test began on Thursday afternoon following initial sessions to evaluate various performance developments.
Former Toro Rosso F1 driver, Sébastien Buemi, in his first test as an official Toyota team driver, started the marathon session, followed by his Le Mans team-mate in car number 8Hiroaki Ishiura. Car number 7 team-mates Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima also took turns behind the wheel of the test car. By the end of the test, Toyota said, the team achieved its primary goal of completing a significant number of laps to evaluate the car over very long distances – although it was clearly not a trouble-free session. Alex Wurz commented that, "We did encounter some issues but that is why we are testing.
According to Technical Director, Pascal Vasselon: "We were expecting challenges for everyone in the team and we weren’t disappointed! It’s not easy on the car or the people but we are all passionate about this project so a strong team spirit saw us through to the end. We are content with the results and the conclusions we have been able to draw, which will accelerate our preparations for our first race."
Toyota Racing will now concentrate on preparing an updated package for the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, may 4-5, its first race of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship season. The next tests are scheduled for April.
Toyota first competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 1983, and Toyota cars have raced in 13 Le Mans 24 Hours races, finishing on the podium three times, all second places.
For 2012, Toyota will return to endurance racing and the FIA World Endurance Championship as a full-time entrant with a hybrid LMP1 car, the TS030 HYBRID. The chassis has been designed and built by Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG), where the race team is based.
TMG is the former home of Toyota’s World Rally and Formula 1 works teams, and was responsible for design and operation of the brand's TS020 (GT-One) Le Mans car in 1998-99.