The car fit for endurance

Toyota TS010

There’s a trio of races in the competitive arena of top-level motorsport, each with their own unique personality.


Each one can keep the most hardened racing driver awake with excitement: America’s historic Indianapolis 500, Monaco’s glamorous harbour-side Grand Prix and, without question, the toughest test of them all the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The world’s oldest endurance race has been held near the small French town since 1923, and each year some of the most experienced drivers and advanced racing cars in the world come together to slog it out in an exhausting 24 hours of attrition.

As the jewel in the World Sportscar Championship’s (WSC) crown, and more recently the World Endurance Championship (WEC), the challenge of Le Mans has captured the hearts of many motor manufacturers, teams and drivers over the years. For Toyota, the Le Mans love-affair began in 1985.


Through the latter part of the 80s, Toyota’s Group C racing cars, as they were known, achieved competitive Le Mans results: notably a 12th place in its first race 1985, and a high of 6th position in 1990.

A year later, the FIA’s Group C regulations went through a significant change and, as a result, the opportunity arose for the teams to give their cars a thorough rethink. For Toyota, these changes would lead to the birth of a new car, one with fresh DNA, that would take on iconic importance by spawning a family of successful Toyota ‘TS’ endurance racers: the Toyota TS010.

At the heart of the new high-tech racer was a Formula 1-inspired 3.5-litre V10 engine to replace the 3.6-litre turbocharged V8 engines found at the back of its predecessor. Producing 600bhp in ‘Le Mans’ trim, and a ferocious 700bhp in ‘sprint’ configuration, the new car was engineered to take full advantage of the new set of rules. A brand-new chassis built by respected designer Tony Southgate featured a longer, more aerodynamic body to cut through the air at speeds as high as 350km/h while delivering huge levels of downforce (nearly double that of an F1 car).

The new car’s slippery body and distinctive red and white livery made its race debut at the final round of the 1991 WSC season, the Autopolis circuit in Japan. Driven by two Brits, Geoff Lees and Andy Wallace, the box-fresh new car ran well to 6th place, only a handful of laps behind the winner.

The following season couldn’t have started better: a win at the opening round at Monza in Italy, the perfect platform with which to mount a challenge for success in the remainder of the year.

By the end of the ’92 season the TS010s had powered Toyota to second in the WSC constructors’ championship, while a further two wins in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship gave Toyota an impressive Group C manufacturers' title to cap off a successful year.

An epic 24-hours at that year’s Le Mans saw the TS010 battle all the way to the second step of the podium. Even though they had missed out on the top spot, it was a tremendous result, and just went to prove that the car was one of the fastest on track.

Sadly, both the World Sportscar Championship and All Japan Sports Prototype Championship were cancelled in 1993 leaving Le Mans as the sole focus for the team’s TS010s. Three new cars were built for especially for the race, but even with a raft of improvements, including lighter chassis and more power from the engine, a 4th and an 8th position was the best the team could achieve.


Seeing one over 20 years since it was last unleashed in competitive action is quite a spectacle. This beautiful 1993 example, on display at the Louwman museum in The Hague, holds you in its spell the moment you get close. Heroic stories and high-speed scars ooze from its pores; the drivers’ names emblazoned on its flanks and a ’93 Le Mans official sticker stuck to the cockpit, confirming its history.

The car has clearly been designed with a no-nonsense attitude to outright performance. Every vent, every scoop in its body has a job to do: cooling red-hot brakes, forcing air into its hungry engine or diverting air over and under to force its huge tyres to the ground while cornering. You can identify this ’93 model by its exposed rear wheels: the change in regulations forced the teams to remove the aerodynamic rear wheel covers that made the earlier TS010s so easy to identify.

Body panels rise and wane over the sticky tyres with barely an inch of daylight between them as they travel to arguably the cars show-stopping appendage, the huge rear wing – a body panel so large you feel as if the car could skirt along supported by it with its nose in the air.

For such a long car, the cabin appears tiny when you are up close. It’s hard to believe drivers were expected to scamper in and out quickly with mechanics buzzing around them changing tyres, refuelling and washing bugs off the screen before the car would race out of the pit lane.


As you lift the door clear you’re presented with a typically intimate and functional race-car cockpit. A flat-bottomed steering wheel sits ahead of a large LCD display, while a bank of toggles, dials and switches sit alongside to give the driver a range of adjustment in the heat of the race. It must have been an exhausting place for drivers to be cocooned in for lap-after-lap, hour-after-hour, the only relief from the neck-snapping g-forces coming with a change of driver.

But for a driver at the top of their game, the fatigue and sheer physical demands would have been a price worth paying. Threading a car as rewarding to drive as the TS010 around a track on the limit of adhesion must surely be a memory that never fades.

“The aim of racing is not just to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to enable the development of the Japanese vehicle industry.”

Kiichiro Toyoda (Toyota's founder)

Even though the TS010 never went on to claim its much sought-after victory at Le Mans, it did more than enough to proudly leave its mark in the history books. As the foundations for future Toyota TS racing cars, its DNA went on to live in in the TS020, and then the Hybrid era with the TS030 in 2012.

In 2014, the 1,000PS TS040 HYBRID, in a nod to its ancestor’s legacy, went on to dominate both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ World Endurance Championship, putting Toyota’s Hybrid know-how at the forefront of a new age of sportscar racing.

In the latter part of his life, Toyota’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, spoke of his belief in the important role motorsport had in helping to build better passenger cars: “Manufacturers must participate in auto-racing to test their vehicles’ durability and performance and display their utmost performance.” He explained: “The aim of racing is not just to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to enable the development of the Japanese vehicle industry.”

With a history of racing success behind us, and an exciting era ahead, there’s no doubting the importance of historical greats such as the TS010 in ensuring that we all can enjoy a future of driving ever better cars away from the racetrack.

Many thanks to Ronald and his team at the Louwman Museum in The Hague for their help in producing this article.

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