Toyota To Build All-New LMP1 Hybrid For The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA World Endurance Championship
The FIA World Endurance Championship is universally regarded as the toughest motorsport endurance series in professional racing and, since 1923, its premiere event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has been the gold standard of high performance competition. Consisting of a 24 hour long race that is held on France’s Circuit de la Sarthe, which incorporates both dedicated track and open road stretches, Le Mans is the ultimate test of both human skill and engineering, as only the most carefully-designed machines can survive an entire day’s worth of driving at speeds of up to 250 mph, extreme G-forces, and conditions that vary from night to day. It has also, in recent years, become a hotspot for the development and testing of the next generation of gas-electric powertrains, as only Le Mans Prototype-1 (LMP1) cars that combine speed and extreme efficiency have any chance of reaching the checkered flag first.
Now, after several years of fielding competitive gas-electric LMP1 cars in the form of the TS030 and TS040 Hybrids, Toyota Gazoo Racing is set to once again take the FIA FEC circuit, and the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans in particular, with an all-new TS050 Hybrid prototype.
While the TS040 LMP1-H design that Toyota first fielded in 2014 was a smashing success — it took first at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Fuji, 6 Hours of Shanghai and, overall, won that year’s constructor’s championship — its best finish at Le Mans was third and, in 2015, rapid technological developments in the high performance hybrid field meant that, despite being a relatively new design, it was already falling behind in terms of competitiveness. It’s for this reason that, ever mindful of maintaining a technological edge that can be passed down to consumers, Toyota authorized the development of an LMP1 car with an all-new hybrid powertrain for the 2016 season.
Whereas the Toyota TS040 that competed in 2014 and 2015 was powered by a Toyota 3.7L 90-degree, naturally aspirated V8 that was paired with a supercapacitor-based energy storage system, the new TS050 is likely to feature a smaller block gasoline engine, likely a high output turbocharged 6 or 4-cylinder engine, and a battery-based power storage arrangement that’s derived from one of the high-capacity battery systems Toyota currently has under development. The front AISIN AW and rear DENSO electric motors that complete the current Toyota Hybrid Racing-1 (THR-1) powertrain may also be upgraded.
“What’s clear is that we have to upgrade all areas of our car and that’s what’s in the pipeline,” Toyota Gazoo racing technical director Pascal Vasselon explained in statements to the press during last year’s FIA WEC. “[There will be] a new engine. At the moment it’s still difficult to talk about spec but for sure it will be a gasoline and probably not a V8.”
“We need to go to a smaller displacement engine because the fuel quantity, fuel energy, and fuel flow will drop significantly next year to keep the lap times under control,” he added.
The most important change to be incorporated into the new race car may not be the lighter, more athletic engine, however, as many teams now plan their strategy around using the hybrid boost provided by battery storage systems later in a race. While a consumer hybrid vehicle draws energy from its battery system to increase efficiency during long drives, energy can be left on a hybrid race car’s batteries until needed for an extra burst of power or, in the event that gasoline is running low during the final laps, to take up more of the workload from the gasoline engine.
While the technical details of LMP1 cars that are run in endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans may not seem to relate to consumer automobiles at first, there is a direct relation in terms of the research that goes into improving the products that families use on an everyday basis. Because it involves nearly continuous driving at extreme speeds from one day to the next, Le Mans is the perfect platform for testing the reliability and safety of batteries as well as their efficiency and true performance. Simply put, a new battery system receives far more abuse flying down the Circuit de la Sarthe than it will ever come close to experiencing in consumer use, as the internal stresses and temperatures generated within a race car are significantly greater than those encountered by hybrid sedans like the 43 city, 39 highway MPG 2016 Toyota Camry as they carry commuters or are used for casual driving around town.
On a similar note, professional racing gives engineers a venue in which they can test improvements and modifications to any powertrain in near real-time, as competition provides direct feedback in regards to what changes to the gasoline engine, electric motors, and batteries translate to improved fuel efficiency, endurance/reliability, and safety. Many recent innovations in automotive engineering, including lightweight aluminum engine blocks, were actually first fielded and proven within a motorsports context.
Fortunately, Chicagoland drivers do not have to wait for the benefits of the research that is being put into the new TS050 to trickle down into their own driveway, as Elmhurst Toyota currently sells a number of hybrid vehicles that incorporate the knowledge gained by racing the earlier Toyota TS030 and TS040 hybrid LMP1 cars. Among them are the aforementioned 2016 Camry Hybrid, which starts at $26,790, the luxurious 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which can attain 40 MPG city and is available at $36,650, and rugged utility vehicles the like 2016 RAV4 Hybrid and 2016 Highlander Hybrid. Toyota has even invested in hydrogen fuel cell/hydrogen-electric vehicles like the 2016 Mirai, an amazing feat of engineering that only emits water vapor while running. Though it’s not yet available in the Chicago area, Toyota plans to offer it in the near future once local hydrogen filling stations have been completed. In the meantime, however, drivers are always free to stop by Elmhurst Toyota at 440 W. Lake Street to test drive our latest advanced, fuel efficient cars from Toyota. Though they won’t be able to take a racecourse at 250 mph, they can definitely handle years of heavy highway and city use.