As race fans know, the Volkswagen Group’s Audi brand has been the most recent dominant force at the French endurance race. Audi racecars have won 11 out of the 13 LeMans races the German brand has entered since 2000, all the while, promoting its production car technologies like turbocharged diesel engines and lightweight materials. But after an absence of 13 years, Japan’s Toyota returned to the Saturday-to-Sunday Le Mans race in 2012, primarily to help sell production cars the following Monday.
The current Toyota TS030 racecar is not the first time the Japanese automaker has taken on the mammoth task of competing at the famous French race. Toyota racecars first appeared at Le Mans in the 1980s. The automaker’s last Le Mans effort was the 1997 to 1999 TS020, also known as the GT-One. The factory-backed cars never won the race, but in 1999, the GT-Ones were the fastest vehicles on the track, setting a lap record that stood until 2006.
While the 1990′s Toyota GT-One was a more traditional gas-only racecar, today’s TS030 hybrid is more technically advanced. Its 3.4-litre eight-cylinder gas engine is aided by a 500 kilojoule super capacitor energy recovery unit that sends energy recovered from the car’s braking system to power the Toyota’s rear wheels. While the all-wheel-drive Audi R18 e-tron quattro racecars were considered the favorites in last year’s FIA World Endurance Championship series, the Toyota hybrid racecar took second place to the Audi in only the TS030’s second race, at England’s Silverstone track in 2012. That early success was followed by the Toyota’s first win, later in the season in Brazil.
At this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the TS030 ended up not taking the chequered flag. However, Toyota did take and fourth place at the Circuit de la Sarthe. From a marketing standpoint, Toyota reiterated its intentions with its hybrid racer, saying “the team’s performance demonstrate the bulletproof reliability of both TS030 Hybrid racers, it has also become ever more evident that hybrid technology is now an integral part of world-class motorsport.”
As one of the 2013 Le Mans TS030 drivers, Alex Wurz, put it: "There is no more way to win this race [Le Mans 24 Hours] without hybrid."
As Toyota’s hybrid racing efforts seem to be on-track, what is the Japanese automaker doing to capitalize on its success? We’ll get part of that answer at this year’s Frankfurt auto show, and eventually, in Toyota (or Lexus or Scion) showrooms in a few years.
As it starts ramping up for the launch of a new-generation of Toyota production car hybrid technology, led by the forthcoming new Prius in 2015, Toyota will be showcasing its past, present and future hybrid vehicles at this year’s biennial German show, highlighted by the debut of the Toyota Yaris Hybrid R concept.
Using a two-door Yaris hatchback as a foundation, the Hybrid R uses a Toyota Motorsport-designed…