TOYOTA GAZOO Racing at Le Mans 24 Hours

2015 World Endurance Championship - Round 3

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing completed Sunday’s 83rd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours with the TS040 HYBRID cars finishing in sixth (#1) and eighth (#2) places after a reliable, but ultimately disappointing race.

Although the team’s pace wasn’t sufficient to match rivals Porsche and Audi, the team acquitted itself with professionalism and in the true spirit of Le Mans.

“Our car was not fast enough this year to fight for the podium,” admitted Team President Toshio Sato. “We cannot be happy with this result, but I am satisfied with the professional work and dedication of the team. It has been a hard journey, but we never gave up. Now we start preparation for Le Mans 2016 when we want to return much stronger.”

The reigning FIA World Endurance Champions arrived at Circuit de la Sarthe full of motivation and expectation, hoping to build on last year’s third place, but knowing the competition would be tough.

With a longer-term view, the team focussed on race set-up during the qualifying sessions as it became clear the pace of the Audi and Porsche LMP1 cars would prove difficult to match in qualifying trim.

As a result the two TS040 HYBRIDs would start Le Mans 24 Hours from the fourth row. The #1 car, driven by Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, secured eighth position on the grid. The #2 car, with Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, claimed seventh.

“We didn’t try to fight for the pole,” said Stéphane after qualifying. “That was not possible for us this week. So we put all our energy into getting a strong car for the race.”

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Conditions were perfect for the race start, with bright sunshine and 20°C air temperature. The team had a largely trouble-free race besides an accident in the fifth hour, which dropped the #1 out of the top six. Anthony made contact with a lapped car, damaging the front right bodywork before a further impact caused left rear suspension damage.

“I touched a Ferrari going through the Porsche Curves trying to carry momentum,” explained Anthony. “It was bodywork to bodywork, corner to corner. A slight misjudgement in the timing meant that it peeled off my right front bodywork, which ruined the balance of the car. It just understeered on me in turn six. I touched the grass and sideswiped the barrier, which bent something on the left rear suspension. Thanks to the crew for repairing the car quickly and getting us back into the race.”

As midnight came, the TS040 HYBRIDs were sitting in seventh and eighth position. Once a clear pattern was established, the team focused on keeping a consistent pace with a target to maintain position and avoid further dramas.

Twenty hours of dry running during the race provided limited strategic options for the team. The two TS040 HYBRIDs ran consistently and reliably. A late technical issue with the #9 Audi elevated the #2 TS040 into sixth position with the #1 finishing in eighth.

“It was my first Le Mans in LMP1 and with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing,” reviewed Mike. “I learned a lot. We just hung in there and tried to make no mistakes. We were in our own race really. We kept pushing, then towards the end the third Audi came into play. That was more exciting because we had to push to keep a gap.”

An improvement of one second in terms of fastest race lap compared to 2014 was not enough for the team to challenge for a podium, but both cars did exceed TOYOTA’s previous record distance at La Sarthe - a testament to the reliability of the TOYOTA TS040.

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“We had great reliability with no technical issues and the team did a great job in the pit stops, as well as getting the car on track again after the accident,” said Sébastien. “In the end I think we finished where we deserved to, based on our pace. Race week at Le Mans is always a fantastic experience, both for fans and drivers, with many events occurring outside of the race itself. This year’s event also marked the 30th year since TOYOTA made their first official entry into the iconic race, so additional activities were held to commemorate the milestone. Fans gathered to receive autographs and take pictures with the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing drivers, as well as enjoy the display of the legendary TOYOTA TS020 entered into Le Mans in the late 1990s. The Le Mans Drivers’ Parade was as exciting as ever, with classic open-top sports cars adding to the entertainment for over 100,000 fans who gathered in Le Mans city centre to see the competitors. This was to be a taste of things to come at the weekend as a record crowd of 263,000 spectators watched the race live at the historic circuit.

In the run up the race weekend, former Team President Yoshiaki Kinoshita was awarded the prestigious Spirit of Le Mans Award by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. Kinoshita san’s work with the team culminated in securing the 2014 Manufacturers’ World Championship alongside the 2014 World Championship for Drivers.

Disappointed but motivated for improvements, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returns to its Cologne base eager to find improvements for Le Mans 2016 as well as the next round of the WEC, the Six Hours of Nürburgring – a home event for the team - which will be held on 30 August.

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