Toyota Gazoo Racing are preparing to defend their Le Mans 24 Hours crown next week in the most challenging race of the year and the final date in the FIA World Endurance Championship 2018-2019 season
The team have dominated the series since claiming Toyota’s first Le Mans win last year, and enter this year’s race already assured of taking both the teams’ and drivers’ world championships.
The drivers’ title will be decided between the crew of the No8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid – the 2018 Le Mans victors – Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, and their No7 car team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. The No8 drivers go into the race with a 31-point advantage, but with a maximum 39 points still to be won.
Looking ahead to the prospect of his second Le Mans, Alonso said: “Le Mans is the toughest race on the calendar. The victory last year meant a lot to me, it was a dream come true to achieve that on my first attempt. The podium celebration when you see the whole straight, the whole pit lane full of people after so much hard work makes you feel very proud of your team. Fortunately this year we do not have the pressure of winning for the first time and I hope we can enjoy the race a bit more, but we will work hard and it will definitely be very challenging.”
Toyota has competed at Le Mans with a hybrid-powered LMP1 prototype car since 2012. This year’s TS050 Hybrid has all-wheel drive courtesy of motor-generators on the front and rear axles and maximum power of 1,000hp. This high output supported by a regenerative braking system that recovers energy under braking for storage in the car’s high-power battery.
Because this year’s race is part of the same season as the 2018 edition, the competition rules prohibit any major changes to the low downforce-specification TS050 Hybrid, but the team have been able to fine-tune the car’s set-ups and their race strategies.
Preparations for race week stepped up a gear with the official Le Mans test day on 2 June, during which the two Toyotas set the pace. Buemi recorded the overall quickest lap, marginally slower than last year’s best test lap due to 10kg increase in the car’s minimum weight.
The Le Mans meeting encapsulates the spirit and challenge of endurance racing with close to 35 hours of driving, starting on Wednesday, 12 June with a four-hour practice session at 4pm, followed by two hours of qualifying from 10pm. Qualifying continues the following day with further two-hour sessions at 7pm and 10pm. The starting grid is decided by the fastest overall laps from any of the sessions. On Saturday a 45-minute warm-up precedes the race getting underway at 3pm.