24h Le Mans

The Ultimate Showdown: Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Ultimate Showdown: Toyota Gazoo Racing

24h Le Mans Centenary: 2013-2022 | Written by Richard Kelley

Ten years ago, Toyota arrived in Le Mans ready to take on the best Audi, and Porsche could deliver. Their dream was to demonstrate their right to stand equal with the Earth's most competitive automotive marques. Through no fault of their own, Toyota's Le Mans dream remains unfulfilled.

Although Audi dropped out shortly afterwards, Porsche remained a target, and by 2016, Toyota was ready. What should have been one of the greatest triumphs in the long history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans turned into heartbreak on the final lap. The #5 Toyota TS050 prototype was cruising to victory, only to lose power on the circuit. A connector between the turbo and the intercooler failed, causing a loss of turbo boost pressure.

The Gazoo Racing team was able to modify the control settings to restore power, but not quickly enough to complete the last lap in under six minutes, a Le Mans racing requirement. Ultimately, the #5 car was “not classified” in the final race result, effectively removing any shot at a podium finish. The bitter loss became their corporate reminder that, in racing, everything counts.

#5 Toyota TS050 stops on track outside the Toyota pit wall during the last lap at the 2016 24h Le Mans. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Toyota's triumphant Le Mans dreams were fulfilled when their TS050s were the last factory cars left racing in 2018. Over their five cumulative Le Mans triumphs since, Toyota has carried the burden that anything less than a win would be a shocking disappointment.

Toyota's record is staggering. Five wins put Toyota ahead of every historic factory effort but Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi, and Porsche. Five straight wins put it in a tier with only Porsche, Ferrari, and Audi, although Audi accomplished the feat on two separate occasions.

Out of context, it is the sort of thing that cements Toyota's current era as a legend of Le Mans. However, a complete lack of factory competition in those wins means it needs to be clear that Toyota has never been better at Le Mans than any factory team they have actually raced.

#8 Toyota TS050, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso, celebrate winning the 2018 24h Le Mans. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

In 2023, that challenge has arrived. The 100th running of Le Mans will see a Hypercar top class consisting of 16 cars. The new factories ready to battle Toyota at Le Mans - Porsche (Penske and Jota), Cadillac, Ferrari, Vanwall, and Peugeot present the massively formidable opposition Toyota must defeat to prove that their GR010 Hypercar remains the best of the rest.

Toyota GAZOO Racing developed the original GR010 HYBRID as the successor to the TS050 HYBRID in compliance with LMH (Le Mans Hypercar) regulations, and it competed in the WEC (World Endurance Championship) in the pinnacle Hypercar class newly launched in 2021.

In that inaugural 2021 season, two Toyota GAZOO Racing cars participated in the Hypercar class. They won all of the races in the series, which included winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the fourth consecutive year and taking the series championship for the third year in a row.

In its second year, the GR010 HYBRID won the team’s fifth consecutive Le Mans title with a 1-2 finish and took both the Manufacturer and Driver titles for the fourth successive season in the series.

#7 Toyota GR010 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez parked in the pits after the winning run at the 2021 24h Le Mans. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The 2023 model GR010 HYBRID will compete in the WEC Hypercar class for the third season represents a further evolution of the car based on experience and knowledge accumulated over the previous two seasons of actual racing, and it includes improvements in detailed areas to optimise reliability and efficiency.

The most apparent feature in their 2023 GR010 HYBRID is the bodywork. New dive plane aerodynamic devices (canards) have been installed in the front on the right and left sides to improve manoeuvrability and aerodynamic stability. At the same time, the rear wing endplates have been downsized to match more minor detail changes.

New ventilation measures have also been added to the front and rear of the car to both facilitate brake cooling and enable quick changes in cooling settings during the race. In addition, the headlight layout was modified to improve visibility when driving at night.

The primary powertrain fundamentally adopts the same layout as the previous model, with the rear wheels driven by a 3.5-litre V-6 direct-injection turbocharged engine. In contrast, the front wheels utilise a 200 kW (272 PS) electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery, with new weight-reducing measures for increased reliability.

Additionally, Toyota reduced the vehicle weight to approach the minimum vehicle weight of 1,040 kg allowed under the regulations for the 2023 season.

#7 Toyota GR010 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez amongst the competition prior to the WEC Sebring 2023. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

As the GR010 HYBRID enters its third season as a Hypercar, Toyota aims for its sixth consecutive victory at Le Sarthe. If they are successful, it will instantly change how Toyota's Le Mans victories have been judged. Dominance in their battles with Cadillac, Peugeot, Ferrari and Porsche will raise the entire Hypercar program to a point where critics could more easily bestow Toyota's past wins as more memorable victories.

If Gazoo Racing takes the 2023 Le Mans crown, Toyota will have mastered the ultimate showdown. Instantly, their last five victories will fundamentally change the cumulative historical record for the better.

#7 Toyota GR010 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez ready to take on the 2023 24h Le Mans. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Follow the link below to read more stories from the 100 years of 24h Le Mans and discover our celebratory poster collection in cooperation with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest.

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